Female political prisoners tell their traumatic experiences in new film

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Johannesburg – Women liberation fighters formerly detained in the apartheid regime’s notorious John Vorster Square prison have told their stories in a gripping documentary film.

A brainchild of Mmagauta Molefe, jailed following the 1976 Soweto Uprising, Surviving John Vorster Square takes one through the traumatic experiences of the female political prisoners.

Nine women take turns to tell tales about their arrests and detainment at a prison that was infamous for the mysterious deaths of those who put up a fight against apartheid.

A number of anti-apartheid activists never made it out alive after being taken to the prison.

Claims that apartheid security operatives made for the deaths included that the activists had jumped to their deaths or simply that they had slipped in the bathroom.

“Are they going to kill me just like (Ahmed) Timol? I was just paralysed with fear,” Nomakhaya Mafuna recalls what went through her mind as she was driven to the police station located downtown Joburg.

It was 1975, four years after Timol’s mysterious death in the same jail.

The apartheid government maintained that Timol had jumped to his death from John Vorster Square’s 10th floor.

He had been arrested after being found with pamphlets of the Communist Party in the boot of his car.

A judge presiding in a fresh inquest ruled two years ago that it was far from the truth that Timol had committed suicide. Retired policeman Joao Rodrigues, who was present when Timol was thrown from the 10th floor, is now facing trial over the killing.

Surviving John Vorster Square was launched at the Constitutional Hill on Monday. The launch, which entailed the screening of the film, coincided with Women’s Month.

Molefe, an activist aligned with the Steve Biko-famous Black Consciousness Movement, identified a void in the documenting of women as liberation fighters, hence the documentary.

She was targeted for her involvement in the movement and imprisoned.

The same fate befell many Black Consciousness Movement members in Soweto as they were identified as the fuel behind the uprising through which learners made their rejection of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction clear.

“We want people to know that women also gave their lives to the Struggle. We want the new generation to know that,” Molefe told The Star.

“The stories of women are not told. Importantly, this is a story told by the victims of apartheid themselves.”

In addition to Molefe and Mafuna, other female political prisoners recounting their stories in the documentary include Sibongile Mkhabela, Daphney Khoza, Maleshane Mokoena, Joyce Dipale, Lele Abrahams, Pepe Luthuli and Unjinee Poonan.

The film will be screened again at the Constitution Hill on August 26.

Molefe said talks with television stations to flight it were under way.


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