Today, 24 September, is Heritage Day, and we are told that the theme for Heritage Day this year is “Celebrating the Heroes and Heroines of the Liberation Struggle in South Africa”
Well, I’d like to celebrate one of my own heroes of the liberation struggle, and probably very few people know anything about him, and I doubt if any streets have been renamed after him.
He was a peasant farmer by the name of Enock Mnguni.
I don’t know a great deal about his life. His English was rudimentary, and my Zulu was even more rudimentary. So I ask anyone who knew and remembers him to add some more details in the comments space below.
I know that in 1960s he worked at Oxenham’s Bakery in Pietermaritzburg, where he led a strike, and that he was also detained in the 1960 State of Emergency. When I first met him he was a peasant farmer at Stepmore, on the Upper Mkhomazi River near Himeville. He and his wife belonged to an African independent Church, called the Ukukhanya Presbedia. It was founded by one Timothy Cekwane, who was (according to Bengt Sundkler) inspired by Halley’s Comet in 1910 to break away from the Presbyterian Church of Africa and form his own denomination, The women of the church wear distinctive red and green uniforms, and it is one of the few African independent churches that has red in its uniform. At Mnguni’s home at Stepmore there was special furniture in the rafters of the house, kept for the sole use of the church minister when he visited, The church was also, so its leaders, and everyone else said, strictly non-political. But Mnguni himself was not non-political. He was the chairman of the Stepmore branch of the Liberal Party, and was active in forming other branches in the Drakensberg foothills.
The police, and especially the Security Police, did their best to disrupt the meetings of the Liberal Party there and elsewhere. On one occasion there was to be a meeting of several branches all gathered together at Mnguni’s place. The day before the meeting the police arrested Mnguni on a trumped up charge of failing to pay his poll tax. Some speakers from Pietermaritzburg who had arrived by car heard about this, drove to Himeville police station and did a quick whipround to pay Mnguni’s bail, and the meeting went ahead. But it wasn’t always so easy.
But Mnguni persisted, and eventually he was banned. He was Enemy of the State number 1589.
Some years after the Liberal Party had been forced to disband, Enock Mnguni went to the Valley Trust to learn some improved agricultural methods to try to increase the yield of crops on his land. He went and learnt from a Mr Mazibuko, and came back and tried the methods he had learnt. He noted that the first fields where he tried the new methods gave increased yields of mealies, so he applied them generally..
A group of us went to visit him, and spent a couple of days there, helping him to build a chicken run. At night, sitting around the cooking fire chatting, he remarked how strange it was that some people knew just one thing. He cited Mr Mazibuko as a case in point. Mr Mazibuko knew a great deal about farming. He had to give him that. Mnguni was very impressed with his agricultural knowledge and expertise.
But Mr Mazibuko, said Mnguni, knew nothing at all about politics. In that area he was incredibly ignorant and naive. In his office at the Valley Trust Mr Mazibuko had a picture of Dr Verwoerd, and when Mnguni talked to him about politics, he appeared to know nothing.
There are many heroes of the liberation struggle, some well known, some unknown. But Enock Mnguni is one of the greatest heroes to me. He stood up for what was right, and persisted with patience and perseverance evenwhen the State did its best to stop him.