A guerrilla arrives in the back of a Mercedes

African National Congress national executive committee member and former Umkhonto weSizwe guerrilla Ruth Mompati this week received a tumultuous welcome when she returned to her birthplace in the northern Cape after 28 years in exile. The conservative town of Vryburg was bustling with excitement when the ANC leader arrived on Tuesday morning. Relatives, activists and other members of the community were waiting for her at the entrance of the town when she arrived at 8.45am after a four-hour from Johannesburg. 

She was escorted into the town by a 500m-long motorcade before going to Huhudi township 2km away. Mompati was returning to the area for the first time since she fled South Africa in 1962. When she arrived in Huhudi, Mompati struggled to fight back the tears. “It’s unbelievable,” she said, looking at the horizon and kissing and embracing relatives. Along the road municipal workers in orange overalls saluted with their tools at the passengers in the motorcade, who were waving miniature ANC flags. Women at a clothing factory ululated and shouted: “Viva ANC!” A strong contingent of uniformed policemen watched as the motorcade cruised by. A massive South African Communist Party flag fluttered above the ANC leader’s car. At the head of the procession, two youths held an ANC flag high. 

In the back of the Mercedes Benz, Mompati sat with MK guerrilla Thandi Modise - released 18 months ago after serving an eight-year sentence - with whom she had travelled from Johannesburg. Tears welled in Mompati’s eyes when she finally arrived at the house where she had spent her formative years. The place was teeming with people, and children were sitting on trees, roofs and on top of cars around the old six-roomed building. The crowd surged forward and children jostled for space as Mompati disembarked. The bespectacled leader came out and clenched both her fists. Waiting with hands outstretched was Mompati’s cousin, 60-year-old Motlalepula Seichoko, who wept uncontrollably as they embraced at the gate. 

Mompati and her entourage were then driven to the double-storey house of Fuzi Maruping, a local businessman whom Mompati had taught many years ago. Tea and cake were served, and Mompati commented on the changes in Huhudi. “The place is as drab as ever. The only change I notice is two tarred roads, one of which is uneven. Most significant, however, is the people’s commitment to the struggle. I noticed this when I knew for the first time that a Thandi Modise had joined our armed forces.” 

Mompati stared through the window. A swirl of dust blew past. There are only two tarred roads in the 100-year-old township, which has a population of 25 000. The bucket system is still in use. Flush toilets are for the few who can afford the facility. Mompati’s Pholoholo Street home is among those who use a bucket for sanitation. By 6pm the massive St Luke’s Anglican Church was bursting at the seams, with many people standing outside. Young and old from all over Vryburg, Huhudi, the coloured township of Colridge and the Bophuthatswana villages of Dry harts and Pudumoe, came in the black, green and gold ANC colours. 

Then Mompati spoke, and her many years of exile in Europe did not prevent her from addressing the people in impeccable Setswana. Mompati gave a brief account of the deliberations during the recent meeting with the government, and the ANC’s stand on the question of negotiations. , “We can never negotiate in an abnormal political climate. The ANC will not negotiate any constitutional issues with the many obstacles still intact.”

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.



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