South Africa


Jwara! Induna’s Daughter, by Joyce Piliso-Seroke

On the night of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, Joyce Piliso-Seroke was a guest at Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s residence in Cape Town. She inadvertently ended up being a co-host of his welcome home dinner, as she describes in this extract from her memoir, ‘Jwara! Induna’s Daughter’ (Tafelberg).

When Nelson Mandela was released from Victor Verster Prison on 11 February 1990, by God’s grace, I happened to have been placed in Cape Town. Mich had been accepted to UCT and had coerced me to accompany her for her registration. I had been reluctant to go because I was caught up in the festivities that abounded after the release of the political prisoners and unbanning of the political parties. Also, my stokkie group and I were working with Nomalizo Tutu on preparations for a celebration she and the Archbishop would host in their Soweto home in honour of Advocate George Bizos. So I was torn. I found Mich’s insistence that I travel with her to Cape Town very strange because she had always been so independent. She had not wanted me to accompany her to boarding school, so I really did not understand her reasoning now. Begrudgingly, I relented.

Mich and I departed for Cape Town two days before the registration date and travelled by Greyhound bus. Nomalizo had generously arranged with Lillian, her housekeeper, to provide us with accommodation at their Bishopscourt residence. Obviously, her kind offer was most welcome because the cost of hotel accommodation for four days would have left a big hole in my budget.

After we arrived at the station, we booked a small car and drove to the Tutu residence. When we got there, imagine our excitement when told that Madiba had been released that very day and that the ANC had arranged for him to stay over in Cape Town to address his people at a rally outside City Hall. I was thrilled and could not restrain my enthusiasm. Then Mich gave me a chiding look as if to say, “You would have missed this glorious day had I not insisted on you joining me.” I apologised profusely and thanked her.

We took off for City Hall and could not wait to get there. Soon we arrived and mingled with the estimated 50,000-strong audience who had waited all day to see their messiah. Unfortunately, after the long delay, the crowd became restless and impatient. Small clashes sparked up at short intervals but were quickly quelled. After some time, we decided to leave before seeing Madiba. I consoled Mich on the way back that we might watch the proceedings on TV at Bishopscourt. We were so disappointed that we hardly spoke to each other.

When we reached Bishopscourt, Lillian welcomed us with a big smile. As we were about to tell her about our fruitless venture, she instructed us to toss our handbags aside and give her a hand with preparations for a dinner for Madiba and his entourage. I was speechless, while Mich kept muttering, “Awesome, awesome.” Lillian had been told to prepare for a sizeable group of Madiba’s relatives, including Winnie and their daughter Zindzi. Mich and I promptly made up Madiba’s bed in the apartment that had been set aside for his first night outside prison. Later, we joined Lillian to help her in the kitchen.

Unfortunately, Nomalizo had not been able to leave Johannesburg to co-host with the Arch, so she phoned me. When she asked me to stand in for her, I was speechless, thrilled and humbled by that incredible gesture. Nomalizo quickly spread the news to my stokkie friends, including Betty Wolpert in London, who in turn spread the news to her friends. All were abuzz, and the much-repeated questions were, “What will you wear, and what are you going to say to him?” I realised that the clothes I had brought with me were not appropriate for the occasion, but fortunately, Nomalizo suggested that I choose something from her wardrobe, and I settled on a lovely caftan.

Calling out the clan names of someone you wish to address is the highest form of respect among Xhosa-speaking persons. So I phoned mother to ask her for Madiba’s clan names. She was so excited, and as she breathlessly rattled them off, I had to stop her midway, since I only needed a few. The anticipation was unbearable as we rehearsed our different roles. Finally, the much-awaited hour was upon us and we changed into our special dresses.

When Madiba entered the room, flanked by the Arch and many others, I was struck by his elegance and confidence. As I shakily walked down the stairs, I hailed him, “Madiba, Sophitsho, Ngqolomsila, Yem-Yem, Velabambhentsele,” and he looked up smiling. As I reached the last step, to my surprise, he responded with my clan name, “Jwara”. I was dazed and wondered how he knew I was a Jwara. I was taken with his graceful presence and smile. He did not look like someone fresh from prison after so many years. His smiling face was etched in my heart. As I stood there, I remembered how the black people of South Africa for so many years had set their hope on his release.

… And so, strengthened and impelled by the memories of that glorious meeting with Nelson Mandela, I decided to accept the TRC invitation. Hence, on 3 March 1996, I was proud to take my place alongside the other women and men who would serve in that most crucial component of South Africa’s transition to democracy.

Five years after that auspicious occasion, I received an invitation to serve in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). I was overwhelmed and doubted my capability to work in an organisation with such a daunting mandate. As I contemplated my response, I mused on the chain of events that had led to my glorious encounter with Madiba on that day of his release in Cape Town. Our meeting could only have been prompted by God’s grace. In the first place, I had not intended to be in Cape Town on that day, but strangely, Mich had insisted that I travel with her to the University of Cape Town. We had not expected him to be released on that day, either. The crux of our journey to Cape Town had been not so much about her registration at UCT but about something bigger and more wondrous. Nomalizo, the Arch’s wife and my dearest friend, should have been the one to welcome him to their home, but for some reason she could not be there. Instead, she had graciously asked me to substitute for her. When Madiba had responded to my salutations by calling out my clan name, “Jwara”, I was astounded, but then remembered that, as a young man fleeing from his home in Transkei to look for a job in Crown Mines, he had been received by my father uJwara Piliso, the nduna there.

That was all beyond coincidence: it was God’s design. It had to be. And so, strengthened and impelled by the memories of that glorious meeting with Nelson Mandela, I decided to accept the TRC invitation. Hence, on 3 March 1996, I was proud to take my place alongside the other women and men who would serve in that most crucial component of South Africa’s transition to democracy.

At that time, I had still been engaged as General Secretary of the World Affiliated YWCA of South Africa, and so I was sad to bid farewell to an organisation that had been my home and inspiration for 30 years. My 94-year-old mother was disappointed when I told her that I had resigned from the YWCA to join the TRC, as she had been a member of the Zenzele self-help movement in Sophiatown and one of the pioneers who had worked with Madie Hall-Xuma and others to transform it into the YWCA of the Transvaal. Mother cherished many beautiful stories of how committed leaders and volunteers of the organisation had bravely opened doors to countless women and girls in disadvantaged areas of the country to change their quality of life. Hence, she was proud that I had followed in her footsteps. But Mother firmly believed in the Scriptures and had raised my siblings and me to believe in the teachings of the Bible, so she wavered about my decision to work for the TRC because she had not yet grasped its objectives.

Mother told me that she had taken her pain to God when she had suffered during my detention in the Johannesburg Women’s Jail and when my brother mysteriously disappeared. She believed that the TRC had no right to judge those who had wronged us and that we should leave everything to the Lord: “Don’t take it upon yourselves to repay a wrong; trust the Lord, and he will make it right (Proverbs 20:22).” But when I explained that the TRC had been set up to bring healing to victims who had suffered gross violations of human rights in the past, she smiled and nodded, for she believed that it was not Christian-like to harbour hatred and anger when you are wronged. Surprised by her sudden change of heart, I decided not to engage her further on what I had perceived to be a simplistic analysis of the TRC’s mandate. I was just relieved that she had given me her blessing. DM

Joyce Piliso­ Seroke grew up in a gated compound for the mining elite at Crown Mines outside Johannesburg. At Fort Hare, she studied under ZK Matthews and qualified at Swansea University in the UK. Back home, she taught at Orlando High School. Politically active, she was detained as the 1976 revolt rocked South Africa. Piliso ­Seroke championed women’s and human rights as vice-president of the World YWCA, served on the TRC and was chair of the Gender Commission. She is the recipient of the following honours: Father Trevor Huddleston’s Naught for Your Comfort Award; conferred the National Order, The Order of the Baobab in Silver; and the Order of Simon of Cyrene.


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