Protector of the fugitives

Len Maseko

Len Maseko

In the heat of the conflagration that characterised the 1976 upheavals, many black parents literally lost control of their children who braved the might of the Nationalist Party government - armed only with the will of the Black Power salute.

It was the David and Goliath battle that shocked the parents to the core, as they tried to make sense of the devil-may-care bravado that had suddenly seized their children.

No one in their right mind could dare the wrath of the apartheid machinery that had already all but neutralised liberation movements such as the ANC and PAC by locking up their leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and Robert Sobukwe - and metaphorically threw the jail keys away.

With stones and collective will, the youth tore at the military facade that had prevailed over the Southern Africa region with an iron fist.

Parents were petrified. Fathers were cowed, and literally surrendered their patriarchal status to their rampant sons and daughters. But mothers held ground, daring not their seemingly wayward children but the apartheid government that had condemned the black folk to a sub-standard existence.

Some mothers, like Winnie Mandela, galvanised the fighting spirit among the youth and, with her infectious brand of courage, willed them on.

Also in the rearguard of the battle lines were other mothers, such as Phindi Mthembu. Unsung heroines. She, like the few others, opened her home to scores of student leaders seeking to elude the dragnet of the security forces hunting them.

Her home became a sanctuary to student leaders Khotso Seatlholo, Chief Twala, Reginald Tebogo Mngomezulu, Sipho Mngomezulu and George Twala.

This, despite these youngsters having been accorded the label of terrorists by the state. Police had warned the public not to dare approach them nor harbour them in their homes. But to Mrs Mthembu, these were children and posed no danger, least of all to her or her neighbours.

She cooked for them, kept their spirits high, knowing fully well the dangers of harbouring "terrorists" at that time.

The price was too high. Any whiff of a terrorist in the neighbourhood would, at the time, be met with the most ferocious of forces that the apartheid security forces could muster.

It was cold comfort for the Mthembu family bearing the chilling knowledge that once the authorities detected that fugitives were hiding in their home, they would waste no time in blasting off the roof and the walls of the house to ground with a fusillade of machine gunfire and explosives.

Their objective would be to destroy any moving thing in the house - collateral damage being hardly their consideration.

Even the spectre of all that danger looming on the horizon did not deter scores of mothers. They still opened their homes to pupils on the run.

Thus, like Mrs Mthembu, they will remain unsung heroines.

l The 81-year-old mother of seven will be buried at Lenasia Cemetery tomorrow at noon. A two-hour service will be held at her 1590 Jabulani home in Soweto, from 9am.