Epainette Nomaka Mbeki (née Moerane), known as MaMbeki, was born in February 1916 in Mangoloaneng, in the Sotho-speaking section of the Mount Fletcher district of Transkei. Ma Mbeki’s family, the Moeranes, are Basotho members of the elite Bafokeng clan. Her parents, Christians active in the Catholic Church, were successful peasant farmers strongly committed to securing the best available schooling for their children. Piny, as her friends and family called her, had moved from the nearby boarding school at Mariazell to Lovedale and then to Adams College Amanzimtoti, near Durban, Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal) where she completed her teacher training.
She began her teaching career at Taylor Street Secondary School in Durban. One of her fellow teachers was Govan Mbeki, the man who would later become her husband.
In 1938, Bettie du Toit recruited MaMbeki into the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) in Durban, making her the second black woman to join the CPSA after Josie Palmer (Mphama). Other CPSA members with whom the two young teachers, spent time with were George Ponnen and Vera Poonen.
MaMbeki volunteered for the Child Welfare Organisation in Durban, helped to organise a rent boycott, worked as an agent for Inkululeko(the CPSA’s newspaper), and ran the Party’s night school.
In January 1940, she married Govan Mbeki and the couple moved back to Mbewuleni in the Transkei, Eastern Province (now Eastern Cape) driven by their calling to help uplift the region’s impoverished rural masses. They lived in an area where there was no electricity, no telecommunications and no water. MaMbeki had to travel several kilometres daily to collect water from the nearest well.
The Mbekis obtained a concession to set up a trading store in Mbewuleni, in the ldutywa district, which became the family livelihood. While her husband became involved in national politics, MaMbeki ran the store and raised her four children: Linda (who passed away in 2003), Thabo, Moeletsi and Jama (who disappeared in 1981) while also contributing to her husband’s newspaper, Inkundla ya Bantu (Peoples Forum).
At the same time, she was an active member of the Zenzele movement, a women’s self-help movement, of which she was recording secretary for many years. MaMbeki was also a founding member of the National African Chamber of Commerce and was the secretary of the ldutywa agricultural show for many years.
After her husband was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Rivonia Trial and her three sons went into exile, MaMbeki remained at Mbewuleni. It was a time of deep trauma and hardship for heras she attempted to eke out a living from her shop while enduring unspeakable harassment from the authorities.
In 1974, MaMbeki moved away from Mbewuleni to Ncgingwane, closer to the town of Idutywa. Here she set up her shop again, and continued to work as an activist for social upliftment to the community.
An ardent supporter of land tenure reform in the Transkei, Ma Mbeki has chosen, to remain with her community. She is the patron of a successful community farming project and has organised the women of her village into a successful craft and beadwork co-operative called Khanyisa.
MaMbeki has worked tirelessly to bring secondary schooling to her district and her efforts have been rewarded with the establishment of the Nobeko Mbeki Secondary School, named after her and for which she is the patron. She has also been involved with the establishment of an AIDS hospice at Mbewuleni and a children’s home at Komga, Eastern Cape.
MaMbeki has been honoured with numerous accolades: the Community Builder of the Year Award; the King Cetshwayo African Image Award; the Eastern Cape Arts and Culture Award for the Khanyisa project. In 2012, Rhodes University conferred the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa on MaMbeki.
In 2006, the South African Government conferred the Order of the Baobab in Gold on MaMbeki for her “exceptional contribution to the economic upliftment of the underprivileged communities of the Eastern Cape and her commitment to the fight against apartheid.”
At the age of 96, MaMbeki still works a full day supervising her many projects and dispensing advice and assistance to all who seek it.
MaMbeki passed away on 7 June 2014.
Bundy C. (2012). Govan Mbeki,(Jacana Media) pp.44-48|
Tanya (2007).Mark Gevisser’s Thabo Mbeki: Public Discussion and Three Gripping Excerpts from Jonathan Ball Books LIVE online. Available at: www.jonathanball.bookslive.co.za [Accessed: 19 September 2012]|
Susan (2008). Epainette Nomaka Mbeki ”“ A Humble Journey on her Footprints from David Krut Publishing online. Available at: www.davidkrutpublishing.com [Accessed: 19 September 2012]