An iconic stalwart and a mother to all

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iol news pic Amina Cachalia

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Amina Cachalia was one of the activists who marched to the Union Buildings on the anti-pass issue in 1956. File picture: Phill Magakoe

Feisty, courageous and outspoken is how close comrades, friends and family remember ANC veteran Amina Cachalia, who died in Johannesburg last week.

Former Robben Islander and ANC veteran Ahmed Kathrada, who remembered meeting Cachalia when they both served on the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress executive from about 1946, said:

“Amina was outspoken against the (apartheid) government and a bit feisty with the police. She wouldn’t tolerate any nonsense.”

Kathrada said Cachalia’s older sister, Dr Zainab Asvat, had influenced her when in her third year in medical school she went to prison.

Cachalia had volunteered to go to prison, but was “too young for that”.

During her time with the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress, it called for a boycott of overseas sports, Kathrada said.

 

Fellow Federation of South African Women leader and ANC MP, Sophie de Bruyn, remembered Cachalia’s “pivotal” work mobilising Indian women to participate in the 1956 women’s march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

“In the early 1950s, we were all young women. Amina and I didn’t finish high school. (ANC activists) Lilian Ngoyi and Helen Joseph were almost my mother’s age, and they groomed, nurtured and moulded us,” De Bruyn said.

”Amina would plead and explain to the men that it was crucial for the women to be at the march and she would give the assurance that they would be safe,” she said.

 

De Bruyn remembered in particular male comrades from the Indian Congress flexing their “culinary skills” by helping with the cooking.

But there was a “triple burden” for women, who as younger activists were also “respectful of the older” comrades. “We would be painting slogans on the walls of Johannesburg, dishing out pamphlets or holding up boards saying ‘All roads lead to Kliptown’ and we would still be the ones doing the cooking as well,” she said.

Going into exile or being asked by the movement to stay in South Africa and carry on “underground” activities had created different challenges.

Kathrada said that while he was by that stage already imprisoned on Robben Island, he imagined Cachalia and her husband Yusuf were involved with underground work.

He said a little-known fact about Cachalia was the long trip she had undertaken with white anti-apartheid activist Helen Joseph to provide support to banned activists who had been banished to far-flung parts of South Africa. “The apartheid government of the time not only imprisoned and banned people, others were banished, without anything, from the Eastern Cape, for example, to remote parts of the Transvaal,” he said.

“With Helen Joseph she took a motor trip spanning 11 000km, visiting many people – not only to establish contact, but they sought to make people comfortable in terms of basic amenities such as food.”

De Bruyn said that looking back, as activists who were also mothers, there was a sense of sadness about not being able to give their children their undivided attention.

“Our children are sitting with the scars of (us) not being able enough to nurture them.

“You can’t be much of a mother under those circumstances, putting the struggle sometimes before the children,” she said.

Cachalia’s daughter, Coco, said her parents had decided to send her and her brother abroad for their schooling due to the repressive apartheid laws.

While Coco was able to obtain a passport and see her parents annually, her brother Ghaleb was not so lucky, and did not see his parents for five years. (see Ghaleb’s tribute)

 

Cachalia remained outspoken on issues such as sexual violence against women, children and infants, as well as a general decline of morals, De Bruyn said.

 

The loss of another person of that generation had left her devastated and shocked, she said.

 

Cachalia’s husband, Yusuf, died in 1993. She leaves behind two children and a stepson, Yunus, as well as four grandchildren.


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