Monday, August 23, 2010


Today, 16 years since the advent of non-racial democracy, many younger people will have no real concept of what apartheid was like. Working for the liberal opposition, the Progressive Federal Party, in the early 1980s, I got to grips with some of the policy's most sinister aspects. There was a so-called "white corridor" between the nominally independent Ciskei and Transkei. The purpose of Vervoerdian "grand apartheid" was to make black people a minority in South Africa, as people supposedly returned to their "homelands". But of course nobody wants to move from where they have lived for generations, so the state started its policy of forced removals of "black spots". One such area was Mgwali, near Stutterheim. As noted in an earlier posting, the son of one of Mgwali's oldest residents, Kidwell Giga, visited us in our East London office and told us something about this historic place - and of how the Nat government was colluding with Ciskei officials to have the area "voluntarily" agree to be removed so some or other dumping ground in the Ciskei. The PFP made it its business to try to halt this removal and many others, including that of Duncan Village, a long-established black settlement in East London. Here the aim was to dump these people in Mdantsane, a sprawling township some 20km outside East London - and happily (for the Nats) in the "independent" Ciskei. They would lose their citizenship just like that.

My brother Ian, the senior PFP organiser in East London, and I, went with Kidwell to Mgwali to get first-hand information on the place. While meeting the people, we attended an emotional service at the historic Scottish Presbyterian Church there, where the people prayed that they'd be left in peace. This is a drawing of one of the Mgwali elders addressing the congregation.

I also did this sketch of two women in traditional attire during the lengthy, emotional service.

This is a quick sketch of part of the exterior of the Scottish Presbyterian Church at Mgwali, which was built in 1863.

As someone with a few writing skills, I penned this article on our return from Mgwali, and it was published in the Daily Dispatch on November 12, 1982, with a photograph taken by Ian. Rereading this, I think I made a mistake with the date. The Mgwali Institution would have been from 1853, not 1953. Dispatch subs failed me on that one.

This is the last last leg of text from the above article. The quote at the end I should have attributed. It is from a song by the same name by Buffy St Marie, a native American most famous for a song made popular by Donovan Leitch, Universal Soldier.

What is art? I see art in Helen Suzman's signature. More than that, I see in her signature the hand of one of this country's bravest women, who for about a decade single-handedly stood up in Parliament as the Progressive Party's only MP, and laid into the Nats' apartheid policy. I was privileged to receive this note from her after one of my naive offerings on the Mgwali issue.

The PFP boasted MPs of great intelligence, courage and dedication, such as Albany MP Errol Moorcroft and Walmer MP Andrew Savage. I kept this article by them on Mgwali for selfish reasons, not for its own sake. As you'll see below, the Dispatch ran it with one of my sketches. But do yourself a favour and read it - the bottom sections follow, you'll have to scroll up and down - and get some idea of what we as a nation were up against. A tip: right click on each section below and open as another tab. This will allow you to follow the columns fairly easily.

This is the last section of that article, which is undated. However, a bit of sleuth-work reveals it was probably published in March, 1984. This is because the page behind the article also carries a story about Italian opera singer Tito Gobbi having died that week. A Wikipedia search shows he died on March 5, 1984.

Also on the back of the article is a cross-section of other stories carried that day by the Dispatch, which also give an insight into the ludicrous and callous apartheid policy, as the sport boycott started to bite. Note the filler, bottom left, about "all-race audiences" at movie theatres. Bizarre!

This is another treasured letter I received, this time from Errol Moorcroft, assuring me the Mgwali issue is receiving attention. But what else could the PFP do to combat these things? As mentioned by Moorcroft, one key element was posing embarrassing questions in parliament which, to their credit, the Nats always answered, often blithely unaware of the extent to which they were exposing the bankrupt, ruthless nature of their policies. Here follows a series of questions put by PFP MPs, and the replies they received. There is a chilling similarity between the cold, bureaucratic offhandedness with which they addressed such issues, and the Nazis ruthlessly efficient handling of the "Jewish problem". As noted in Moorcroft and Savage's article, Mgwali was but one of about a dozen "black spots" facing removal. Another was Duncan Village, a black settlement in East London, which is also referred to in the following documents.

I have included these documents on an art blog in the same spirit as an anti-apartheid museum might exhibit such things. These bear testimony to how a hard-working opposition can use and exploit the limited space provided in a largely undemocratic system to expose and oppose a heinous policy of oppression. They also, as noted earlier, reveal the uncaring, callous nature of the apartheid system itself.

But the PFP was not prospering in East London. This is an envelope bearing the signature of our only Border MP, Errol Moorcroft, MP for Albany, a gerrymandered constituency which included a small, fairly poor and staunchly Nat area near the airport. In his letter below, he comments on the fact that the party has had to retrench me. However, this is not the end of my PFP-era postings, since, being an artist, I have drawings stashed away in a most haphazard fashion, so more are sure to emerge.

Given the above documents, I think it is shocking that when the ANC came to power in 1994, there was little or no praise for the work done by the PFP MPs at the height of apartheid. People like Moorcroft, Suzman and numerous others helped keep the flame of liberal democracy alive, enabling it to come to full fruition in the post-apartheid Constitution - although the racial imperatives in the Bill of Rights are in serious need of an overhaul. Why, many are asking, should young whites be discriminated against ad infinitum because of our apartheid past. Oh, by the way, I am happy to record that neither Mgwali nor Duncan Village was obliterated. A few small battles against apartheid were starting to be won in the early- to mid-1980s.


  1. This has been very informative for me indeed. I was born in Mgwali in 1977 and started my schooling there in 1981. My mother was a teacher at the high school i there which was known as "Girls' School" even though it was co-ed by then. My father moved from PE to work for the Ciskei government and in 1982 we also moved to the Ciskei for schooling but Mgwali remained our home until 1986. I was very young then and I did not understand what was going on. Even at that young age though I was able to pick up on the divisions in the community, with some villagers referring to themselves as Ciskeians and others Republicans. There was an under current to the subject that made it clear to me that it was taboo and therefore I never had the courage to ask my mother what it was all about. Anyway, I had always gotten into trouble for asking too many questions. Reading this blog post is the first time I have actually come to understand the events of those long ago years. The majority of the village did eventually move to Frankfort but there were families that stayed behind. I was extremely curious about the reasons why some people were moving and others not but never quite found the voice to ask. Now my questions have been answered, thank you very much.
    After leaving Mgwali we moved to Frankfort and live in tents supplied by the Ciskei government. The settlement was referred to as "Ezintenteni". According to my recollection we lived there in squalor for about 2 years and in 1988 were resettled to Ndakana Location, close to The great place of Nolizwe.

  2. Sjoe Spelinda. Thanks so much for commenting on my post. I hadn't realized that so many people had in fact been forced out. I really think the full story of these removals needs to be told. Best wishes, Kin