South Africa plans memorial to banished chieftainess

28 August 2015

A memorial site in honour of the first African woman to be banished by the apartheid regime would be unveiled on 31 August at the Bakone Traditional Council in Limpopo, announced the Department of Arts and Culture.

In partnership with the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA), a burial and memorial site will be created in honour of the late chieftainess, Makwena Matlala, to mark her contribution to the apartheid struggle.

The theme for the event is “Remembering the forgotten, honouring victims of political banishment in South Africa”.

Arts and Culture Deputy Minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi said banishment was one of many methods used by the colonial and apartheid governments to silence opponents who were opposed to their policies under the Bantu Authorities Act in 1951.

“Given her prominence as the first known African woman to be banished by the apartheid regime, unveiling and commemoration of the burial and memorial site of this unsung heroine is a fitting tribute as it culminates Women’s Month,” Mabudafhasi said.

Matlala’s fight

As chieftainess, Matlala refused to accept the government’s policies. In response, in 1949, the Native Affairs Department deposed her.

“The actual [banishment] order of 7 March 1950 accused Matlala of causing ‘dispute and friction’, of refusing to stop her ‘agitation’, of being ‘a cause of internal unrest,'” explains South African History Online.

“It stated her ‘presence in the area (was) inimical to the peace, order and good government of the Natives’ and that it was ‘in the general public interest’ that she should be banished.”

She was banished to Temba in Hammanskraal, in what is today Gauteng, then to King William’s Town in Eastern Cape. Upon hearing the news, she stated: “I, Makwena, will not go and stay in a house that I did not build, a house that I did not labour on. and I will not leave my own house. Above all I do not intend to move from my home, as I have never been out of Matlala’s Reserve before.”

In 1962, anti-apartheid activist Helen Joseph visited Matlala in King William’s Town and described her as a “heavily built but erect” woman who “bore herself with dignity”. She was “still a chieftainess despite her simple clothing and her life of ‘poverty’ in a ‘scantily furnished tiny room'”, notes South Africa History Online.

“Her banishment sparked a revolt among other local people,” said the Department of Arts and Culture. “Subsequently, the apartheid government removed and banished over 50 people who were identified as supporters of Matlala in an attempt to quell the rising tide of discontent.”

She and her son, the chief-elect, were permitted to return in 1965 and her banishment order was withdrawn on 9 February 1966.

Source: SAnews.gov and SAinfo reporter