BELEDE – Pan Africanist Feminism

Belede Vabaza (Mazwai) and her age mate companions of female, militant journalists such as Ruth Bengu, Zodwa Mshibe, Castalia Moleke, Thembeka Mbobo and others, brought radical changes in the newsroom and on the newsprint with their challenging writings.

They put the bar high for themselves and aimed to occupy leadership positions at their workplace on merit. Partriachy and misogyny they had defeated with their attitude to life. They brooked no nonsense. They were a bunch of assertive African women.

They were also creative, young and brought a fresh perspective to the usual fare of writing that conservative editors preferred. They were also influenced directly by the twin rise of Black Consciousness and Africanist views that they confidently carried with them in person and in their relevant content for the post-June 16 readership of newspapers aimed at the Black market.

Ruth Bengu wrote a regular column entitled Madispecs in the daily Post and later in Sowetan after the former was banned. She commanded a significant following.

Thembeka Mbobo was instrumental in the rising influence of Medupe Writers Association until it was prohibited on 19 October 1977. A university graduate, she wrote poetry and read it out at political rallies. Mbobo wrote for the Star. She now lives in the UK.

Castalia Motshabi Moleke, returned from exile in 1998, and is now blowing hot and cold with mental illness in Kroonstad. She wrote for the Voice ecumenical weekly. Azanyu as a political front for the Africanists was founded from her place in Orlando East in Soweto. She had to skip the country in 1982 when the link with the PAC was discovered by the security branch police.

Zodwa Mshibe was an underground operative for the banned Pan Africanist Congress of Azania. Her beat was crime and politics. She was not interested in fluffy assignments. Her jealous boyfriend threw her from the 11th floor of a block of flats in Berea, Johannesburg.

Belede Vabaza, on the other hand, had an overarching influence on the group with her insistence on craft development and professionalism. She later married renowned journalist Thami Mazwai. She had played a back office support role for the PAC underground. She worked for the Sunday Star. In 1991 as a full time student at Wits University, heavily pregnant with unborn child, she worried over the pace of struggle and things to come from the impending changes. She soon thereafter had complications of child birth. The Mazwai’s son, named Osagyefo was born. Belede unfortunately could not make it. Belede read Kwame Nkrumah’s works voraciously.

It is perhaps moot to say that in Belede’s case both her resurrection and reincarnation could now become a subject for review and extensive discussions by young people.

Her musician daughter, Thandiswa Mazwai, has released an album entitled BELEDE. It is a fitting honour. She has picked emerging and established instrumentalists of great promise to accompany her. It is flavoured with avant garde idioms of modern free jazz, her interpretations of powerful compositions by Caiphus Semenya, Miriam Makeba, Dorothy Masuku and other Azanian greats. Her exceptional rendition of ‘Mamani’ is beyond belief for someone her age. ‘Jikijela’ is laced with protest speeches of the #FeesMustFall students. There are several more ditties worth the value of this album.

We suggest you get yourself a copy. If only as a dedication to the memory of the Pan Africanist feminism of Belede Mazwai and her journalist comrades.

By Jaki Seroke
PARI chairperson and Secretary for Political and Pan African Affairs – PAC.