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AS PART of the Alexandra centenary celebrations, the City of Johannesburg has paid homage to one of the township’s heroines, Thoko Mngoma.
The city unveiled a plaque yesterday in Mngoma’s honour at the community clinic named after her.
Mngoma was a founding member of the Federation of SA Women (Fedsaw) in the early 1960s after the ANC was banned, and she participated in the women’s march to Pretoria’s Union Buildings in 1956 to protest against pass laws.
Her involvement with the SA Communist Party led to her being placed under house arrest for five years.
She assisted in the founding of the Alexandra Women’s Organisation, which together with other organisations held meetings at her house to avoid police harassment.
Mngoma’s niece Busi Xaba, 53, said her great aunt was largely influenced by her preacher father who was at the time the most politically aware member in the family.
“He was tough, had a sharp intellect and could rally anyone with a simple but powerful utterance of mayibuye iAfrica,” said Xaba.
Much has been written and said about Mngoma’s work and legacy, but Xaba feels that it up to the family to keep her memory alive.
She said that every year they have a family gathering to remember Mngoma’s life and contribution to the community.
“It is how we keep her spirit alive with us,” Xaba said, adding that what made the unveiling extra special for her was that Mngoma helped to build the clinic. She died in 1995.
Mngoma’s great-granddaughter Heidi Mngoma said that it was both intimidating and inspiring living in the shadow of a giant like her great-grandmother.
“I don’t remember much about her, but I know I have been given a standard to live up to.”
Heidi believes that Mngoma’s legacy is one of selflessness and service to the people.
“The one thing that has remained with me was what she asked of me,” recalled Ronnie Mngoma of his grandmother’s last days.
“She made me promise to keep the family together.”
Conny Bapela, the city’s speaker, said what she remembers most about Mngoma is her mentorship.
“You must remember that you are a flower and must attract bees and not repel them,” Mngoma once told her.
A nursing sister at the Thoko Mngoma Clinic’s maternity ward, Sophie Msiza, who worked with Mngoma during the defiance campaign, said although much progress had been made in the last 100 years in Alexandra, much still needed to be done.
“Overcrowding, lack of clean water and sanitation are still issues today that are part of the reasons why we have TB, waterborne diseases and rodent infestation in Alexandra,” Msiza said.
She added that according to the reconstruction and development programme, there should be a clinic every 5km, “but we still walk 10 to 20km to access basic health care services”.
There are only three clinics in the overcrowded township.
The city’s mayco member for health and social development, Nonceba Molwele, who unveiled the plaque, urged the community to “take care of the clinic as it is here to take care of them”.