The life of Maggie Bopalamo tracks the history of the Rustenburg area in a remarkable fashion. From humble beginnings, she climbed the educational ladder to become a teacher and eventually an education official in the new democratic South Africa. Along the way she served time in prison, following allegations of political activity and treason levelled by the Bophuthatswana government.
Bopalamo, one of a family of six siblings, was the daughter of a labourer and a domestic worker.
She was born in January 1939 in Polonia, a village founded by German Lutheran missionaries, situated between Brits and Pretoria, near the headquarters of the Bakgatla-BaMmakau tribe. Most of those in Polonia were members of the Bakgatla tribe.
Polonia's economy depended on the sale of clay pots to people from Brits and Pretoria. The pots were made from a red clay soil from a mountain in Mmakau and sold at the Krugersdorp market. Bopalama’s grandmother would leave Polonia for the farm Rankotea, and return with bags of maize and corn. Today this is platinum territory.
Her maternal grandparents bought a farm in Moiletswane (Elandsrus in Brits, which includes today's industrial area), while her paternal grandfather bought the farm Rankotea, known as Krokodilkraal. Her maternal grandparents were resettled from Moiletswane to Dipompong.
Bopalama began her schooling at the Polonia Mission School in 1947. In 1954, she passed Standard 6 with distinction and went on to do Form 1 (Grade Nine). At the end of 1955 she did well enough to skip Form 2 to advance to Form 3 (the Junior Certificate) at Mmantoshe Moduane Secondary School. She was awarded a Teachers’ Certificate at the end of 1957.
In 1960 Bopalamo married, and went on to teach at various schools in the region, beginning at Peela, 85km west of Rustenburg. Since she had no choice about where to teach, she accepted this posting at a town remote from home. She taught at Hebron from 1965 to 1971, during which time she got her Matric and enrolled at UNISA for a BA degree. She then did a brief stint at Tlhabane Training School.
In 1974, she completed a BA degree, and she moved to Tshukudu Secondary School in Bleskop, where she introduced Matric classes for the first time. While there, she was determined to maintain an independent stance, and refused the ruling party of Bophuthatswana permission to hold political meetings, a move that would later bring upon her the wrath of the Bop government, which removed her from the post.
She was then moved to the Herman Thebe High School in Matau, teaching English to Std 9 and 10 pupils. While there, department officials accused her of misappropriating funds, and they attempted to force her to “return” the money, but she refused to be intimidated, and instead wrote a letter to the department detailing the irregularities in the investigation of the alleged theft. She never heard from them again.
In 1983, she began teaching at the Tlhabane Training School, and by 1988 she was appointed as the head of the African Studies Department. In 1985, she passed exams for the B.Ed degree.
In February 1988, after the abortive coup in Bophuthatswana, Bopalama was arrested by the Bop police, as was her husband Solly. She was taken to Mafikeng and eventually to Rooigrond Maximum Security Prison, where she also found the Queen of the Bafokeng, Semane Molotlegi, and Rocky Malebane-Metsing’s wife, the coup leader. The women were released after two weeks, except for Mrs. Malebane-Metsing.
After her release, Bopalamo made a trip to Harare, via Botswana, to collect funds for the legal costs of those detained, like her husband and Kgosi Lebone. On her return, she was arrested by Bop police and taken to Mogwase Police Station and interrogated. Then she was moved to Motswedi Police Station in Zeerust, and questioned by South African security branch members. Later still, she was moved to Mafikeng, and then to Khupe, a prison used by the Bop army, and finally to Rooigrond again.
After three months in prison, she appeared in court, charged with sedition, for allegedly planning a second coup. But while awaiting trial, before Christmas, Bopalama became ill and moved to Bophelong Hospital. But she was moved back to prison soon after. By March 1989 she was allowed out on bail, but was under house arrest. Charges were eventually dropped in December 1989 after the state failed to prove its case.
In January 1990, Maggie was diagnosed with breast cancer, and underwent a mastectomy in February. While recovering Maggie was dismissed by the education department. She ran the tuck shop at Mankwe Christian College after being turned down for a teaching post. She was approached by security policeman to spy on anti-apartheid comrades. She spoke to Bishop Kevin Dowling, and they arranged for her to record the next meeting with the security policeman. She kept refusing to spy for the security police, and some time later she was informed that she would no longer be allowed to run the tuck shop at the college.
She eventually got a teaching job in kwaNdebele, today known as Mpumalanga. Bopalama was appointed by the Women Ministries of the South African Council of Churches as a delegate to attend a conference in Switzerland in 1990. She attended many conferences organised by the SACC and the Institute for Contextual Theology, drawing attention to the suffering of people in the rural areas of Bophuthatswana.
In 1994, Bopalama was appointed circuit education officer by the new government’s education department, and became the district manager of education in Rustenburg, where she was tasked with integrating all the formerly separate departments.
One other development is worth mentioning: some of the land bought by her grandparents has been restored to her family, and today is the site of platinum mines. The proceeds of the mining have been distributed for the benefit of the entire family, once again reflecting her relation to another major trend in the Rustenburg area.