This series features Dr Tlou Setumu’s works on our history, heritage and culture. This week the excerpt is from the biography of SACTU/ ANC/MK veteran, Tlou Theophilus (TT) Cholo.
IN THE early 1930’s, when T.T. was about six years old, his family and relatives had to relocate from Ga Matlala area. The main reason for Rasenaka (T.T.’s father) to relocate with his people from Ga Matlala was because of the search for better grazing for their livestock.
The successive whites-only governments had deprived black communities of their land and people and livestock were lumped in rural reserves where overcrowding of people and livestock resulted in serious damages such as overgrazing and erosion.
As a result, land in villages such as those at Ga Matlala was no longer able to cater for people and livestock. People had to find ways of saving their livestock. That was how the idea of merakeng was born.
According to the merakeng concept, livestock owners took their animals to faraway places in search of grazing where they would camp for extensive periods of time.
Boys and young men would settle in those outposts in temporary makeshift homes while looking after the grazing livestock.
That system was temporary because at some point, the livestock and its tenders would return home. As with the case of Rasenaka, he used to periodically send his livestock with his elder son, T.T., to merakeng.
The traditional rulers – magoši – held land in trust of their subjects, and that principle was even recognised by the whites-only governments, although the land of the black majority was greatly reduced.
Again, during those times land was still mainly open in accordance with the African philosophy of communal landownership in which land was shared among people.
That was in direct contrast with the European-originated idea of treating land as private property owned by individuals. It was during the reign of Kgoši Sekgwari Matlala (Mokoko) at Ga Matlala when Rasenaka Cholo and others were grappling with the challenge of saving their livestock through the merakeng system.
Rasenaka and his fellows would send their livestock to camp and graze as far as the banks of the Mogalakwena River in the vicinity of Mmakala. That area was the jurisdiction of Kgoši Matlala, that was why his subjects were allowed to camp and establish grazing posts there.
As time went on, it became increasingly clear that merakeng were gradually becoming permanent homes, rather than temporary grazing posts.
People gradually moved their earthly possessions one by one to the cattle posts, until most of them realised that they had nothing left behind to go back to.
They became increasingly convinced that merakeng represented their new homes as that was where their main sources of survival – livestock – was being saved from extinction. The fact that land was still freely available and open, made settlement at merakeng fairly easy.
Rasenaka Cholo and his brother, Tlou (who shared the same family name with T.T.), relocated to merakeng permanently in the early 1930’s. They settled in the Mmakala area with their families, as well as the families of Selolo and Mushi. Their new place came to be known as Matlojwane. Although the area where they had settled had abundant grazing, water was a very scarce resource. They had to travel as far as the Seepabana River (a tributary of Mogalakwena River) at Mahlwareng to get water for livestock and people.
While boys and young men drove livestock to Seepabana, girls and women carried clay pots on their heads to fetch water for household needs.
Later the residents of Matlojwane dug a pit full of water which they aptly referred to as petseng. In addition to livestock, people at Matlojwane cut plots where they cultivated their different crops.
In the 1940s the clans of Phooko, Boshomane, Matsetela, Kgomo and Chokwe joined the earlier families of Cholo, Selolo and Mushi.
Those later families had been exposed to western form of education and Christianity. Those later groups – the Phooko and Boshomane families in particular – brought the idea of building a school in Matlojwane. The idea of a school was based on the teachings of the Lutheran missionaries which the Phooko and Boshomane were exposed to before relocating to Matlojwane.
The school which they established was named Mulhem School, a German name, something that demonstrated the impact of the teachings of Berlin Missionary Society on Africans during those days.
The school, with its Christian bias, represented the emergence and spread of a new kind of religion among the Matlojwane residents who had by then followed their African ways of life, including their own African religious beliefs.
The advent of Christianity in Matlojwane – as in other areas – divided communities into Christians and the rest of the community.
Conversion to Christianity also led to the early Christian families to live far from the other community members. The Christians separately settled next to the school which also served as a church on Sundays and their separate settlement soon came to be known as Setaseng. The Christians, with their Eurocentric indoctrination, began to discriminate and look down upon other community members whom they gave derogatory labels such as “heathens” or “baditšhaba”.
Mulhem School offered formal western education up to Standard 3, and later Standard 4 was added. Rasenaka Cholo who had learnt a bit of writing while he was a migrant labourer in the Johannesburg area, came to realise and appreciate the value of education. He was also greatly influenced by Clements Kadalie – charismatic Industrial Commercial Union (ICU) leader at that time.
As a result, he sent his young son, T.T., to the school at the age of about 12. It was during that period when girls were not sent to school. It was believed that girls would soon get married and sending them to school was pointless.
T.T. started with Substandard A in about 1936. He then did Substandards A, B, Standards 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 between 1936 and 1944. He only repeated standard 4 which he did in 1941 and 1942.
Because Mulhen School was having Std 4 as its last class, T.T. had to move to Carlsruhe School to further his education.
That was in 1943 when he enrolled for his Standard 5 at Carlsruhe School in the Khala village.
Khala was quite a long distance from Matlojwane and the young T.T. was walking about 30 kilometers every day to and from school. He was waking up very early and he was leaving home long before sunrise.
T.T. was the only learner from Matlojwane to travel to Khala and as a result, he walked alone to school. However, he was later joined by Samuel Komape and the two boys walked together to and from school.
Although Rasenaka was a unionist who had seen the importance of education, and also ensured that his son should receive good education, however, he did not want his son to be a teacher – he just wanted him to be educated.
Rasenaka somehow did not have high regard for teachers, whom he maintained, feared the whites. With his trade union background, he did not fear the whites himself. He considered himself braver that the teachers who had never been exposed to the rough conditions of working class struggles.
After completing Standard 6 in 1944, T.T. decided no longer to continue school. At the back of his mind he intended to start working.
His father wanted him to continue with education, and was disappointed when T.T. decided to quit schooling. T.T. was supported by his mother in his decision of going to look for employment.
T.T.’s decision to opt for employment was mainly influenced by his peers who had started working earlier than him while he was still at school.
Some of them worked on the Boer farmers and when they returned home, to him they looked very nice in nice trousers, shirts and masantase (takkies).
When seeing his peers looking fancy like that, T.T. also wanted to work as well. T.T. was also a big boy among the village boys and he felt that he was old enough to go and work like his peers. He then made up his mind and geared himself for the job of looking for a job.
At the beginning of 1945 T.T. arranged with his friend, Shadrack Phooko who was working in Johannesburg, to go with him to the cities with bright lights.
After departing from home T.T. and Shadrack stopped in Pretoria at another peer, Marcus Phooko, who was working in a dairy.
The purpose of the Pretoria stop was to ask Marcus to help T.T. in looking for a job.
T.T. was then dropped at Primrose Hill in Germiston with Godfrey Boshomane who was a domestic worker.
T.T. was supposed not to be seen by the white employers of Godfrey as that would have seriously offended those employers. Therefore, T.T. had to come in at specified times to avoid the owners of the premises, and had to wake up early in the morning before the owners noticed anything about the presence of a fugitive in their home.
T.T. played that hiding game at Godfrey Boshomane’s working place for about six months. He was looking for a decent job in the meantime – a clerical post – because he believed he was well-educated (Std 6) and could speak English. That was precisely why he took such a long period without employment as he was selective.
Later T.T. got several menial jobs around Johannesburg. Towards the end of 1940s and early 1950s, T.T. increasingly became involved in politics, especially after joining the South African Council of Trade Unions (SACTU) and the African National Congress (ANC).
The increasing militant and radical nature of resistance movement against apartheid heightened the stakes which led to significant moments such as Defiance Campaign; Sharpeville massacres; banning of liberation movements; arrests; trials; and so on.
It was under such subsequent circumstances that T.T. Cholo, like many others, left the country in 1961, heeding the call to fight for the fatherland. T.T. would join the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), going on to be trained militarily in the Soviet Union and China.
Dr. Tlou Setumu is Author and Researcher of History, Heritage and Culture. His books include: Biographies of Bra Ike Maphoto, TT Cholo and Max Mojapelo; His Story is History; The Land Bought, the Land Never Sold; Ideas with no Space; Footsteps of Our Ancestors; etc. Books are available on www.mak-herp. co.za; and also in Polokwane – Academic Bookshop (opposite CNA Checkers Centre); and Budget Bookshop (c/o Rissik and Landros Mare Streets).