Elizabeth Komikie Gumede (1921 - )
The Order of Mendi for Bravery in
Profile of Elizabeth Komikie Gumede
Elizabeth Komikie Gumede was probably one of the many tortured female prisoners in apartheid jails during her long period of incarceration for political activism in the 1970s.
An operative of the Azanian People's Liberation Army (Apla), the armed wing of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), she was taken from prison to prison, enduring some of the worst forms of torture, assault and abuse. The fact that she was a female combatant, of whom there were but a few at the time, did not deter the apartheid police from subjecting her to continued torture and harassment, with the ultimate aim of breaking her will.
Gumede's involvement in the underground activities of the PAC and Apla prompted the police's determination to wear her down in all manner of means, hoping to ultimately draw from her vital information which would enable the security apparatuses to finish off Apla as a military threat, once and for all.
As a result of relentless brutalities visited on her, Gumede's condition became so severe that she would scream from pain in her cell for long periods. Gumede's daughter, Busisiwe, passed away during one of her mother's arrests. Characteristically, the apartheid regime refused the brave but loving mother permission to go and bury her daughter.
In October 1981, at 60 years of age and still kept in solitary confinement, Gumede and four other women submitted an application against the Minister of Justice to have their isolation declared illegal. They reported how they had little exercise, were refused all reading matter except the Bible, and were allowed few letters or visitors.
Typically, the five women's appeal was dismissed, and the incarceration and the inhumane conditions accompanying it continued unabated.
The police were bent on forcing a confession about the whereabouts of wanted Apla members from her. Incidentally, her own son was among them, as was one Daniel Mofokeng, now serving the democratic order as major general in the South African National Defence Force.
Mofokeng acclaims Gumede for her 'extraordinary act of bravery', putting her entire life in jeopardy and sacrificing her family to protect people like him.
Gumede and two of her comrades, John Ganya and Dr Nabboth Ntshuntsha, both deceased, ran an underground PAC unit that recruited Apla operatives, sent them to neighbouring countries for training, and were responsible for harbouring and looking after them when they returned for clandestine missions inside the country.
Forming part of underground political structures in the face of an omnipresent apartheid police force that included the security police, secret service and a network of informers, was the very embodiment of fearlessness by this great fighter whose gender never became an inhibition to her at a time when it took real commitment to become a guerrilla fighter for a liberation movement.
Today, Gumede's left hand is paralysed - a condition she attributes to her prison experiences.
As for the 'crime' for which she had to endure all the pain, the suffering and the near death experiences – the crime of struggling for freedom and justice – Gumede has absolutely no regrets.
Gumede endured insufferable pain but never relented in her struggle against the apartheid system. Her persecutions at the hands of apartheid police only served to steel her in the firm knowledge that justice would ultimately prevail.
Elizabeth Gumede, now aged 85, resides in Chiawelo, Soweto.