Situated on the Tsomo River in the Sakhisizwe Municipality, 28 km southwest of Elliot is Cala – a town plagued by poverty and ravaged by the apartheid-era Bantustan policy. However, this rural town and the surrounding Xhalanga district boasts a number of prominent people, who are products of its dusty streets and aided the anti-apartheid struggle by empowering themselves through education.
They placed a value on obtaining liberation through education, which is a running theme in the history of Cala. Another theme that runs parallel to this is that of resistance and democratic tradition. In their book Unfinished Business: South Africa Apartheid and Truth, Terry Bell and Dumisa Ntsebeza, pen this perfectly; “But the fact is, indisputably, that Cala had a democratic tradition and a broad commitment to education”.
Both the democratic tradition and the commitment to education is evidenced, firstly by the town’s resistance to the tribal authorities imposed on them by the apartheid government. Working on a system of self-reliance, there were reportedly only two minor chiefs whose authority was limited to the bounds of their farms (this forms part of a long-term study by Prof. Lungisile Ntsebeza who is a Cala-born academic).
Secondly, the commitment to education was initially encouraged by the churches and schools – mainly the Anglican Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the Dutch Reformed Church. The schools included the Arthur Tsengiwe School (which is a training college today) and the Matanzima Secondary School, which was renamed the Bathandwa Ndondo Senior Secondary School in 1998.
Books and debates had a major influence on the young people who were determined to fight the unjust laws of the apartheid system. This is how the Peoples’ United Front for the Liberation of South Africa (Puflsa) started. Activists such as Dumisa Ntsebeza, Lungisile Ntsebeza and Godfrey Silinga, were at the forefront of Cala’s political awakening, along with the likes of Mathew Goniwe who was from Cradock and part of the Cradock Four that were murdered by the apartheid police 1984.
In a time when the apartheid government resorted to terror, intimidation, imprisonment and murder as a tactic to maintain control, many South Africans had to pay the price with their lives. While some activists who fought have gone on to become prominent figures in society, we remember those who have left rich legacies that will continue to inspire generations to come.
Also read: An introduction to CALUSA.