From the book: My Spirit Is Not Banned by Frances Baard and Barbie Schreiner
When I got to court they said, 'Eh, you will be very surprised to see who is going to give evidence against you.' So I said, 'Well, I don't care who it might be. I left my sons at home; it may be one of my sons . . .
Well now, this person who was giving evidence against me, it was somebody that I worked with. As I have said, at this time we were working with the M-Plan and we had cells in the ANC. This man who was giving evidence against me was the chairman of our group, and so he knew everything that we had done and what we had said. When they told me that this person was giving evidence against me and I saw this man there at the court, I thought, 'Oh, is that you?' and I thought, 'Well, I am not going to say anything, because he knows everything, and they know everything. This man has told them everything. I am not going to make a fool of myself and say what-what, they can just do what they like.' And so they asked him, 'Yes, so-and-so, you worked with Frances Baard?'
'And what did you do?'
He told them what we did, everything as we did it. Then it came to my side and I had to answer this man.
'Well, I don't know what to say. You can just do what you like, because even if I say I didn't do that, or I did that ... I am going to be convicted, ja So I give you the right, magistrate, to do just as you like.'
So the magistrate said, 'Well, since you've stayed a whole year in solitary I am only going to give you five years to be in jail.'
So I was convicted for five years, and I went to jail for five years. I started at Kroonstad, and I stayed there for about two years. That's where I met those people who had been in the first case and had been sent to jail before me.
Jail is not a nice place. The worst place, jail. When you are there after you have been convicted they give you some khaki things to wear, a khaki shirt and a khaki skirt, and they give you a mat and blankets for sleeping on.
There's a bell, which rings in the mornings, very early, and they come and open the doors, and there is noise, and you get up and go and wash. They have bathrooms where you can wash. Then you make your beds. After the washing it is breakfast time. We eat outside. Porridge and bread and coffee. A mug of coffee and one slice of bread, perhaps two slices after you have had your porridge.
Then after breakfast you start working. You clean your cells, and if it is washing day you take all the things, which they have given you, the clothes of the prisoners, and you have to do the washing. And if there is something to be ironed, then some others will do the ironing. Sometimes when we were at Kroonstad we used to sew with machines, sew things, which were torn, and mend things.
Then it was lunch. It was mealies. Mealies only. When you are going to have lunch they lock the cells. You have to have lunch inside the cells. And then you can rest a bit until they come and-tell you that time is up now and you must go back and work.
In the evening it was sweet potatoes. (At Barberton they used to have big sweet potatoes!) They would cook the sweet potatoes and maybe some spinach for us. And then after supper, maybe at four o'clock in the afternoon, we are locked up again. And we stay there in the cell until it is time to sleep for the night.
We were all political prisoners together in those cells and we used to have schools there together. We used to teach the others who didn't know how to read and write, and we used to have choirs and singing. We didn't have any books there except some bibles, and they didn't give us anything to write with. But as a prisoner you must have something to write with. You don't care how you got it, and how you are going to get it, but you must have something. So we used to have some writing materials there too. And after we had given lessons we used to examine these people, like a proper school.
After the schools and the teaching in the evening when we go to sleep, we used to unroll these mats that they gave us to sleep on and we used to sleep 1,2,3,4,5,6 . . . on this side of the cell and 1,2,3,4,5,6 . . . on the other side, like that.
Anyway, I spent some time in Kroonstad jail and then they took us all to Nylstroom where they have a big jail. We had no visitors in Nylstroom jail because it was too far for our families to come and visit us, and a lot of people didn't know which jail we were in. We used to write to our families to tell them how we were and ask them how they were keeping, but many of the letters didn't reach them. So it was very lonely there in the jail. It was as if everyone had forgotten all about us. After a time I smuggled a letter out to tell the people where we were and that we were very lonely and unhappy in that jail, and what could they do about it. Nothing happened for a long time and I forgot about the letter. Then about six months later it finally ended up with a priest and he showed it to Helen Joseph asking her if she knew anything about it. She said, 'Yes, that is Frances Baard who has written that letter'. .
So she knew which jail we were in, and she told other people, and she told them that things were not good with us. So-' those people arranged for a group of women to come and visit us.
I will never forget that day. It was’ a very special day. The guards came and told us that there were visitors to see us. We ' didn't know who these women were but they told the prison people that they were our relatives and so they were allowed to see us. We didn't know who they were but we knew that they were from the ANC so each woman said, 'Ja, ja, it is my relative.'
Each woman brought something with her and there was one woman to visit each woman in jail so that each one of us had a visitor. We were so happy to see these people man! I just danced when they came! We had something to talk about for the whole day, for the whole month after that. But the second time they tried to see us they were not allowed. I don't know whether they had moved us to another jail already, or whether they stopped those women, but they never came to see us a second time even though I believe they tried.
While we were in Nylstroom some of those other women finished their sentences and they went out of the jail. Then they took the rest of us to Barberton. There is a very big jail there, and big people! I've never seen such big people as the guards there, big and healthy, and they said, 'Ne, I must tell you that this is Barberton. Ons het klaar gehoor van julle hier.' [We have-already heard about you here.] So that was the last place, and we stayed there.
Mrs. Matomela who was my best friend in Port Elizabeth, she was there too from the first lot of people who were tried. One day they came and they gave her a telegram to tell her that her husband had passed away while she was in jail. She asked them if she couldn't go home, to bury her husband. They said, 'No, you can't. There are some people there that will bury him.'
This poor woman was so upset you know. It was pathetic. You see her sitting in that corner and you go to her, and she'll get up and leave you and go to that other corner. It was too cruel for anyone to tell you that you can't bury your own, own husband, and you are not even a criminal; you are just there because you oppose the government. And so that was that. She went out 'after her time had expired and she went home. And when she was home she got sick and she passed away after only a few months, I too didn't know what was happening with my family that time I was in jail. I used to write to them but they never got my letters, and they couldn't visit me because I was so far away in Barberton. I didn't know whether they were well or sick, or where they were. It is very hard to be a mother without knowing how your children are or anything. My younger son got married while I was in jail but I didn't know until after I was out.
At least it was better in jail than it had been in solitary confinement. In jail there were other people to talk to, and things. Were better. They used to allow us to go to church on Sundays then too. There was a preacher or a minister who used to come and deliver some sermons to us on Sunday mornings. After the sermon we would sing some hymns, and then we would go back to our cells.
At that place they used to call us to the office and say the sergeant or what, big what baaswants to see us. So we get there and there are some questions we have to answer, and then we can go back to our cells. So one day when we got there the women were called into the office one by one. I waited there, and when one of them came back I asked her, 'What is it now?'
'They asked us are we still members of the African National congress?'
'Oh. What did you say?'
'No. We said no, we are no more members.'
I said, 'Wait until they come and ask me!'
When they came and it was my turn, I went in and this man asked me, 'Are you still a member of the African National Congress?'
'But the organization is banned.'
'But my spirit is not banned. I still say that I want freedom in my lifetime. I don't care if the African National Congress is banned or what-what, my spirit is not banned.'
'Loop! Gaan hier uit!' [Go! Get out of here!] And I was chased out of there!
You know, when I was in jail one time a man came in there with his big belly, a policeman or something. He opens the door. 'Hey! You communist what-what!'
I said, 'what? I know nothing about communist. What is a communist?'
'You are a communist.'
'Hawu! I have never seen a communist in my life. What is it, a person, or a snake or what?'
He called me a communist bitch, and it made me so cross that I had to say some other things to him!
I remember some of the other women from the Eastern Cape who was there in jail with me, Florence Matomela, Viola Bisset, Mangathia, Thalitha Tshaba and Bendu, she was a nurse. There were six or seven of us in one cell. There were also about four coloured girls from Cape Town. They were arrested in Cape Town. And then there were some other African women on this side. After a while those African women left and I was left alone with the coloured girls. Those coloured girls, they got a long sentence so they stayed after me. There were also some old women there who got the same thing as me. Some person they worked with went and told the magistrate, telling him lies how these old women used to go about with little axes saying they are going to kill every white person. Hawu! How can old women do such a thing? It was pure lies, and these poor women, they had to go to jail and stay there for eight years for absolutely nothing. I left those poor women there when I finished my five years; I left them there to finish their eight years.