If you met Nomvo Booi in the streets, you wouldn’t have given her a second glance. You wouldn’t have known that she was a premier patriotic. She had no airs and pretences about herself, preferring to be part and parcel of the hoi polloi. She was one with the Azanian masses.
She was in effect a fish in the sea, as a woman soldier in the art of guerrilla warfare. The sea were the African people in their everyday ordinariness. Freedom fighters couldn’t survive in their mission without the oxygen obtained from being integrated with the masses.
After the PAC had been proscribed in April 1960, Nomvo Booi became actively involved in the Poqo Insurrection when armed struggle started on 11 September 1961. She worked under the guidance of the PAC’s national organiser, Elliot Mfaxa, and the leadership of John Nyathi Pokela in the boader region of the eastern Cape province.
At the time, women were often seen but never heard. They were not mentioned, even in news reports. African womanhood was undermined and disparaged by the hard oppression of a conservative system under colonial apartheid. Booi resisted the oppressors by defining herself as an anti thesis and opponent of the colonial settler system.
She came to understand the calling of the African Revolution. The aggrieved and degraded were their own liberators. Her heart was in it, and she subsequently devoted herself to the fight to free occupied Azania.
She was bred, and “buttered”, in the rural villages of the Eastern Cape province, and she loved her life just like that. She did not pretend to want or need anything else. Her devotion in the struggle was to restore the dignity of the African people, and to claim back what was rightfully theirs – the land of the ancestors. She had no desires to be personally on the front pages of the tabloids.
In 1963 she was arrested in Engcobo and convicted for Poqo activities and served five years in the women’s sections of the prisons in Nylstroom, Barberton and Kroonstad. She ranks as one of the first female guerrillas to be imprisoned for the armed struggle.
On her release she continued working as an underground operative of the PAC in the rural areas of the Cape province. In 1981 she was assigned to the PAC’s Mission in Exile to work in Lesotho, Tanzania and later in Zimbabwe. She was responsible for welfare and health in the Central Committee of the PAC.
She maintained fraternal relations with the Azania Kommitee in the Netherlands and with women comrades in the Chama cha Mapinduzi ruling party in Tanzania, and ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe. She worked closely with Comrade Joyce Sifuba – who was the chief representative of the PAC in Harare, Zimbabwe. They were in combat with patriarchy in the context of African Nationalism.
In April 2016, this special woman gave in to a long battle with her deteriorating health. She had suffered a stroke in 2009, followed by memory loss, then other ailments to her physical body. She had put up a good fight nevertheless.
The exiled community of Pan Africanists adored her to bits, because she attended to their everyday needs. She worked at finding solutions rather than moaning and moping.
I was with her and ten others when the Communist Party of China took us to their Party School to study the classics and to learn from their socialism with Chinese characteristics. We were taken through the Peoples Republic of China’s vision and strategy to come out of stagnation and rise as a world economic powerhouse. We have now lived through the actualisation of this vision.
I was also with Ma Nomvo Booi at the Zeph Mothopeng Military Academy in Tanzania for refresher courses in infantry. She wanted to be treated no different from younger women guerrillas such as Pinky Monyane, Peggy Mokoena and others. She was always ready and able to reinvent herself.
Booi was a humble soul who offered the warmth of motherhood to youngsters who swelled the ranks of APLA in the mid eighties. Those who claim not to have known Mam’ Nomvo in the military camps would have to be checked for veracity as genuine APLA cadres. She had a telling presence.
If anything, her death should offer a lesson to those who are in the PAC that the heroines of the great Azanian liberation struggle truly sacrificed their comforts and steady lifestyles in return for suffering in the cause for the ultimate liberation of Afrika.
Nomvo Booi never shirked her responsibilities as a loyal and disciplined cadre of the Party, and she never asked for special consideration on the basis of gender. She blended with the environment and performed her revolutionary tasks with distinction. It will be a challenging effort for younger people to emulate her.
Her expressed wishes were to be buried in dignity by APLA forces under the leadership of the PAC. Booi was a devoted Christian. She will be taken to her final resting place on Saturday, 7 May 2016, in East London.
By Jaki Seroke.
PARI chairperson and Secretary for Political and Pan African Affairs – PAC.