Legacy of courage: snapshot of a struggle family 30 years on
The Cape Town clan will reflect on the bittersweet poignancy of this Freedom Day weekend
When I first got to know Lwam Jack he was a toddler lurching around his grandmother’s house in Nyanga East. He was missing his mother, Buyiswa Jack, a feisty activist and MK soldier, who had been locked up in solitary confinement in Cape Town. That was 1988.
Now Lwam towers over me. He has two children of his own whom he adores, and a financial management degree. He works at Nedbank and is studying part-time for an MBA. The athletic 30-year-old is a Cape Town City FC fan and will try to get tickets for my son and I to watch a game with him.
A struggle veteran, 62-year-old Buyiswa has been an exemplary role model for her children, Kholeka, Lwam and Aluta.
She works for the Western Cape government in development, having graduated with a public administration and project management degree in the 1990s.
“Interacting with people as a community activist for government, I am doing as much as I was before,” says Buyiswa, whose husband was killed two weeks before she began the job in 2005.
“If you feel pity for yourself, you will never move. I just had to pick myself up and get going.”Before that she was a tourism co-ordinator on Robben Island, where I stayed with them in an ex-guard’s house with penguins waddling past the windows.
We became friends in the late 1980s, working at an anti-apartheid organisation together during the height of the extended state of emergency.
These days Buyiswa lives in Khayelitsha and her second daughter, Aluta, stays in the family home in Nyanga with her three uncles. Aluta, a commerce graduate who works at Philip Morris, was born soon after Buyiswa was released from Section 29.
During Buyiswa’s long isolation as a political detainee, I visited Lwam regularly and became part of the family at 68 Cala Street.
Buyiswa’s mother was courageous, like her children. The matriarch of a staunch ANC family, she repeatedly endured loss but also lived long enough to celebrate the flourishing of her family after the democratic elections.
With the changing of the guard, Buyiswa’s oldest daughter even joined the police – once the family’s worst enemy.“I needed a job. The olden days were different to now,” said the good-natured Kholeka, who has raised many of her relatives’ kids along with four of her own.
Security police hunted Buyiswa’s brother, “Pro” Zonke, until he finally ended up in prison on Robben Island, being released after five years as a political prisoner in the late 80s.
Pro was a powerfully charismatic man, who people listened to, and when he was asked to mediate in taxi violence in Nyanga and Gugulethu, he did.
Then in 1992 he was shot dead on a street corner in Nyanga. He was only 33, and thousands of people filled the streets of Nyanga for his funeral.
Pro had survived apartheid police only to be killed close to home, in a hit that was never resolved by the TRC. One of his nephews looks like him and it’s bittersweet when he smiles.
His assassination devastated the Jack family, and then 13 years later Buyiswa’s husband Malusi Bungane got fatally shot in a hijacking in Gugulethu. A gentle businessman with a boisterous laugh, Malusi always wanted to escort me out of Khayelitsha to keep me safe after I visited.The Freedom Day weekend is around the anniversary of his murder, and it’s a sad time for Buyiswa.
She remembers: “I got home from a community meeting and there was no supper so I called Malusi and his phone went to voicemail.”
Buyiswa knew then something was wrong.
Soon after that the Gugulethu police called Buyiswa to tell her Malusi had been shot and rushed to Groote Schuur Hospital.
“At the hospital one doctor who was talking to me wanted to know what type of person Malusi was. I told him he was one of the best golf players.
“He said to me: ‘With his injuries, he will never be able to do anything for himself if he survives.’ He did not make it,” says Buyiswa, who was consoled by her friends and her Christian and ancestral beliefs.
The best doctors at Groote Schuur couldn’t save Malusi, but an expert team has saved the life of Kholeka’s son, Limile, who got a kidney transplant last year.
Born with a severe kidney condition, Limile has spent more time in the Red Cross Children’s Hospital than at home. He’s virtually a mascot and a bubbly, sweet kid.
Kholeka says: “He’s so calm when we go in for check-ups. He asks the nurses: ‘What’s my BP (blood pressure)? What’s my oxygen level?’ He knows what this means.”
Limile is one of 23 great-grandchildren and 32 grandchildren Makhulu had seen mature, by the time she passed away.
On the day of her funeral, Lwam and I got drenched by rain at the graveside, but we didn’t mind. Rain is a blessing.