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THE legacy of Thoko Mngoma, a remarkable anti-apartheid activist, lives on long after her death – a plaque was unveiled in her memory at a Marlboro clinic named after her, on Monday, 18 June.
The clinic, on the corner of Third and Ninth avenues, has always been known as Thoko Mngoma Clinic, though it did not have an official plaque. Yesterday’s unveiling was another in a series of events taking place this year to mark 100 years since the founding of Alexandra.

Present were the member of the mayoral committee for health and social development, Nonceaba Molwele; the deputy minister in the presidency and chairperson of Alex Centenary and Heritage Association (ACHA), Obed Bapela; the Mngoma family; local councillors; and members of the Zone 13 ANC Veteran’s League.

Not to be left out, residents of Alexandra came in their numbers to cherish the name of a woman who is considered by many to be the mother of the community, an organiser and a revolutionary. Speaker after speaker hailed her for selfless service to the community.

Mngoma was a founding member of the Federation of South African Women (Fedsaw), an organisation that advocated for the rights of women. Under it, women fought for an equal place in society and challenged some of the stereotypes attached to them.

The organisation was one of the leaders of the 1956 Women’s March to the Union Buildings in Pretoria against the apartheid pass laws. After the ANC and the leaders of Fedsaw were banned in 1960, Mngoma helped to form the Alexandra Women’s Organisation (AWO). Under the new organisation, women were able to convene again. They would meet at her house to hide from the apartheid police.
She was a member and a staunch supporter of the ANC and its alliance partner, the SACP.

Speaking at the unveiling, Molwele said the country needed more visionaries who would follow in the footsteps of Mngoma. “Our children, and in particular the children of Alexandra, must run with the baton from Gogo so that our freedom translates into economic freedom. Let us understand who Thoko Mngoma really is and what motivated her to devote her life to the struggle of the poor and oppressed black masses.”

Recalling memories of Mngoma, Bapela said she was a woman full of humility who put the interests of the community before her own. He challenged young people of today to take the lead to make a difference in their communities.

He admitted, though, that development was still lagging. “A hundred years later, a lot still needs [to be done] to better the lives of the people of Alexandra.” He stressed that poor health and hygiene conditions were serious issues that needed to resolved, as soon as yesterday. Bapela referred to illegal dumping, sewage water that overflowed on to the streets and uncollected refuse. “This creates unhealthy living conditions,” he said.

Buhle Xaba, who spoke on behalf of the family, described Mngoma as humble but mighty. “I know her from my childhood; she used to live [in] our house on Ninth Avenue. She was passionate about the community of Alexandra, particularly the youth. Even during the toughest times of apartheid, she would organise us. I am very proud that today we are gathered here to honour her legacy. We need to tell our children about these stories.”

Sophie (Photo: Enoch Lehung, City of Johannesburg)Sophie Msiza: Young people should learn from Thoko Mngoma's story (Photo: Enoch Lehung, City of Johannesburg)Sophie Msiza, a member of Zone 13 Women’s Veteran’s League, said young people could learn a lot from Mngoma’s story. She rebuked the notion that young people were the lost generation, and pointed out that the war against teenage pregnancy and HIV could be won only of parents took the responsibility of reviving the moral fibre of society.

She said the clinic should be used as a research centre to find solutions to the many social ills faced by the youth and by society at large.

Molwele also encouraged people to adopt healthy living actions to avoid lifestyle-related illnesses. “Exercise and eat nutritious food. They are not expensive; at least make sure that you include vegetables such as spinach and cabbage in your meals.”

To help entrench a culture of healthy lifestyle, the City is organising a 7km fun walk in Soweto on 24 June. It will mark the launch of a series of such events planned for all City regions. The fun walk will be paired with a range of educational workshops to educate people about chronic illnesses such as tuberculosis and diabetes.

In advancing the common goal of cultivating a culture of healthy living, Bapela said the ACHA was in talk with the Gauteng provincial government to set up structures to promote physical health in Alexandra.

Related stories:

A hundred houses for 100 years
Alex: celebrating a centenary
Documenting Alex’s history
Longing for the old Alex
Alex remembers its heroes