Lee Mostert at a march in Mitchells Plain. Picture: Facebook

Cape Town - While some teenagers were writing love letters, 17-year-old Lee Mostert, her sister Freda, 18, and their friend Estelle Leonard, 18, were writing fierce letters of encouragement to their fellow political prisoners in Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town.

The young women were student activists, members of MIPSCO (the Mitchells Plain Students Congress) and were among the many students detained by the apartheid police in the 1980s.

One recipient of a letter from the trio was Chris Giffard, who was in Pollsmoor facing charges of terrorism as part of the so-called Yengeni trial. He was held in the white male section adjacent to the Women's Prison and, according Giffard, "the young activists were able to talk with the white male juvenile delinquents in the section I was in, across a small gap between the two prisons. Then they smuggled a letter to me via the kids, probably using a "cable" (even with a stamp)".

On June 16, 2019 he posted his letter as well as a tribute to the "young and fearless" youth of the 80s saying that he had never met the letter writers before or since.

But that is all about to change. Within minutes friends on Facebook had identified one of the writers as Walleen "Lee" Mostert.

The four are planning to meet soon.

On Tuesday morning Lee explained to IOL how they came to be in prison and write the letters.

"I was a student activist from Mitchells Plain. During 1989 the apartheid government was clamping down on all our activities. That year many of us were picked up and held for questioning/interrogation and with every sweep they would become more and more aggressive. 

"So my sister and I knew it was our time. After many months of being on the run, we went home and tried our best to prepare our parents. My late dad in his wisdom said: 'If they're taking you, they will have to take you from home.' During those times kids would go missing or be shot while 'running’ from police or fall from 10-storey buildings or the police would just hold them and not inform parents.

"We spent more than 23 hours a day in a cell so our days were made up of a routine so that we didn't lose our minds. Part of the routine was to write letters. We would send letters every day. But these letters were special because we had to make sure we kept them safe until we could send it out."

Lee says they have no idea how many letters they sent out.

"Nothing could break us"

"We were over being scared. The scary part was being on the run before they picked us up. They say a prisoner has his/her best sleep the night he is caught. We were there now and nothing could break us." 

Lee Mostert pictured in front. Picture: Facebook

In an interview with CapeTalk on Monday night Giffard said it was "so inspiring to have letters like that ... the fierceness, the courage of these schoolgirls."

"It was really important  when you were in prison to have those kinds of messages from other people, both from outside the prison but also from other prisoners.

"But I think there's something special about these young women, these youth who were so brave."

Lee said: "So every June 16 I post one picture to remind me of my involvement and to bring attention to the struggle of my generation. The reason I post that picture is mainly because we never took pictures at that time. We couldn’t take the chance that the security police would get it and we would be compromised. So when Chris posted those letters it was like finding something precious you lost without knowing that you lost it. My note to Chris said: 'Thanks for reminding me who I was, who I am.'

"To the youth of today I want to say: Look what we did! You can do it too. Help shape the course of your country’s future. However moving forward does not erase the past. Learn from us and from our mistakes. In order to do so sometimes you have to listen to the stories, watch the movies and read the letters."