Mme Makwena Matlala

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Biographical information

Mme Makwena Matlala Image source


banished person

First name: 
Mme Makwena
Last name: 
Ban information: 
A banished chieftainess of the Mtlala people, deep in Northern Transvaal, hundreds of miles from Johannesburg.
Lives of courage

The Native Affairs Department (NAD) report for 1949-50 noted that ‘in the Matlala Location [Matlala's Location, Pietersburg District, Transvaal (now Polokwane, Limpopo)]because of the attitude of the Acting Chieftainess”¦much difficulty was and is still experienced.’ Makwena Matlala’s consultative style of leadership and opposition to state initiatives did not endear her to apartheid officials. In 1949, Makwena Matlala was deposed by the NAD on the grounds of ‘various abuses”¦of her position as Acting Chieftainess, and particularly her refusal to co-operate with the (NAD) in the reclamation of Matlala’s location,’ and was instructed ‘to go back to her father’s kraal.’

In early 1950, the banishment of Makwena Matlala was advocated by the Chief Native Commissioner (CNC), Percy Carmichael Tweedie, for her ‘refusal to co-operate with the Native Affairs Department in the reclamation of the Matlala’s location.’ It was alleged that ‘she would not call meetings when requested, and she would sabotage any programme initiated by the government.’ Matlala was summoned to the NAD office in Pietersburg and told that she was being banished to Hammanskraal, [Transvaal, now Gauteng] where a house awaited her. The CNC is reported to have said that ‘you must not put your foot here again.’ She was among the first, and certainly the first woman, to be banished by the new apartheid state. She refused to accept her banishment order saying: ‘I, Makwena, will not go and stay in a house that I did not build, a house that I did not labour on”¦ and I will not leave my own house. Above all I do not intend to move from my home, as I have never been out of Matlala’s Reserve before.’

The actual order of 7 March 1950, which banished her to Temba in the Hammanskraal district, accused Matlala of causing ‘dispute and friction,’ of refusing to stop her ‘agitation,’ of being ‘a cause of internal unrest,’ and stated that her ‘presence in the area (was) inimical to the peace, order and good government of the Natives’ and that it was ‘in the general public interest’ that she should be banished. Matlala refused to comply with the banishment order and the lawyer representing her, in her challenge of her deposing, persuaded the NC to permit Matlala to go into banishment in due course, warning that forcible removal would in all likelihood be met with fierce opposition.

She left for Pretoria on 3 October 1950 but refused to live in Temba and instead lived in Atteridgeville [Pretoria, now Tshwane] because ‘she wanted to stay close to her supporters, the majority of who were working for ISCOR [a major steel producing company] in Pretoria-West.’

Following the killing of the Acting Chief Joel Matlala, Makwena Matlala was arrested in Pretoria, and taken to an office where her clothing was ripped and was assaulted. The next day there were further assaults, with questions like, ‘Why don’t you listen to this government’ and injunctions that ‘you must agree with everything the government wants you to do.’ She was transported to Pietersburg ‘to face a charge of incitement to violence’ and was fined two hundred pounds, which her people paid believing that she would then come back to them. The CNC, however, indicated she had to return ‘where you came from.’ She went back into banishment in Pelindaba Township where she remained for a year supported by the Matlala community.

Then, in 1951, a policeman visited her and told her that because she was ‘still communicating with your people in Matlala’s”¦we are taking you to the police station and tomorrow you will go to King William’s Town.’ She was banished from 40 Maboya Street, Pelindabato Zwelitsha Native Reserve, King William’s Town District, Eastern Cape [now Eastern Cape].She was ‘given a pot of raw mealie meal’ and taken to a ‘bare and empty house’ in a place where she was not able to speak or understand the local language. The authorities provided no financial or other support until twelve days later and she had to depend on help from road workers who happened to be from gaMatlala. Later she asked for her son, Mpao, to be allowed to join her, which he was allowed to do.

In  1962, Helen Joseph visited Makwena Matlala in King William’s Town. She observed that Matlala was a ‘chieftainess of the Matlalas’ but because she ‘was a black woman she could be insulted, slapped, stripped. From that humiliation she had gone to her banishment.’ She described Matlala as a ‘heavily built but erect’ woman who ‘bore herself with dignity.’ She was ‘still a chieftainess’ despite her simple clothing and her life of ‘poverty’ in a ‘scantily furnished”¦tiny room”¦.’ Her banishment order was withdrawn on 9 February 1966, though she and her son, the Chief-elect were permitted to return in 1965.

• Contribution by Professor S. Badat on Banishment, Rhodes University, 2012. From the book, Forgotten People - Political Banishment under Apartheid by Professor S. Badat.

Last updated : 13-Jun-2018

This article was produced by South African History Online on 26-Mar-2012

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