Kholiswa’s Story

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“In 1976, I was working as a domestic worker in Cape Town when my employer told me that there was trouble in the townships and that I should go home. The schoolchildren were protesting and the police were beating and killing them. My daughter was just 6 years old at the time and I was worried about her, so I left to go find her. When I arrived home, I was so relieved to find her safe inside. She made me laugh because even though she was so young, she was dressed up and shouting ‘Black power! I am ready to fight!’ My daughter was like me – she believed in fighting for freedom.

I grew up in Nyanga when the pass laws were very strict. We couldn’t even move from one township to another without a permit. The government wanted to divide us. At night, the police would go door-to-door to check our passes. I was 15 years old and people around me had started to throw away their passes in protest. The police retaliated by sending some people back to the Transkei, arresting and even killing others. They called us monkeys. I threw my own pass book away three years later. I said ‘no more!’.

I took part in a lot of protests but there is one night that I will never forget. The police came to my community and they burnt down all the houses. Many people were killed and shot. It was a terrible night. We lost our home and everything we owned – and because we had no rights, we didn’t know where we could go next. For a while, I slept on the floor of a church with my children, until my family could fix up my house again.

Many of my family members were killed in the struggle. My cousin was an activist in exile for a long time. When he came back, the police found him. They called our whole family together and then they killed him in front of us. I knew that I could never stop fighting for our freedom because of my family members who died in the struggle.

Kholiswa sits with fellow members of the Masincendiswe senior club in Khayelitsha.

Years went by and Mandela was released. I watched his speech on my black and white TV and I hung on to his every word. We were so excited to vote. We didn’t not understand this voting thing but we were excited, whatever it was! On the day, we were dressed and ready to vote at 4am! It was an exciting day. Everything was new. Mandela won. The ANC won. We won. And we felt relief.

Mandela served us very well. But today, our leaders have forgotten that it was us that put them there. It was us that also fought. South Africa is not what Mandela fought for now and it is not what we fought for. It is not what we thought it would be.

Our people are still living in very small houses. They say we are free but we do not feel free. There is no progress or success and there is still so much poverty. I do not even feel safe in my own home. When I come home from the senior club, I lock myself in my house because the gangsters know that I live alone. I am not free from the crime and I find it hard to trust the police. When you are a grandmother living alone, you are a target. We still have hope that things will get better. We still have hope. We will never throw in the towel.”

Kholiswa Zwana attends the Masincendiswe Senior Club daily, where she is provided with two warm meals, healthcare and counselling services, income-generation projects, recreational activities and companionship. She is one of over 1,000 seniors who attend Ikamva Labantu’s senior clubs.