Final farewell to Aunty Hettie

HAZEL ALLIES-HUSSELMAN

Fellow comrades, friends and family gathered at St Mary of the Angels Catholic Church in Athlone on Friday March 11, to pay their final respects to Henrietta Waterwitch-Coetzee, 68, the mother of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) fallen hero, Robbie Waterwitch.

Ms Waterwitch-Coetzee, known as aunty Hettie, died on Friday March 4, after a long struggle with muscular dystrophy.

Her sister, Beatrice Snayer, described her as a meticulous person, who “read widely”. Ms Snayer added that she read all the political books her son owned, after his death.

Mr Waterwitch died at the age of 20, in July 1989, along with Coline Williams, his fellow MK comrade. Their deaths were shrouded with mystery. Their bodies were found opposite the Athlone Magistrate’s Court. The courts were then regarded as legitimate targets by MK because they were used to register voters in the 1989 tricameral elections.

Mr Waterwitch was a first-year BA student at the time of his death. He and Ms Williams were part of MK’s Ashley Kriel Detachment, named after the youth leader who died two years earlier at the hands of apartheid officer Jeffrey Benzien. Even after Mr Waterwitch’s death, his mother was in close contact with his fellow comrades, and many considered her their “adopted mother”.

Ruth Bruintjies were among Mr Waterwitch’s friends who maintained a relationship with Ms Waterwitch-Coetzee over the years.

Ms Waterwitch-Coetzee became a seamstress after high school, and she worked at Leliebloem Youth Care Centre, in Belgravia Estate. However, after she was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy as an adult, and she could not operate a sewing machine, she started doing embroidery and beading. Speaking at the funeral, Ms Bruintjies thanked her family for “sharing” Ms Waterwitch-Coetzee with them.

“Aunty Hettie created beauty – beautiful sons, beautiful art, and beautiful friendships. We lost a mother-figure, a teacher, a friend and a comrade. Aunty Hettie referred to us as her children, and even after Robbie’s death, she was always positive, held no bitterness, and she understood the broad community and national challenges. She read widely and appreciated Robbie’s collection of books on political history and struggle. She was an organiser and communicator and loved to talk.

“Aunty Hettie appreciated Robbie’s friends who stayed in touch with her. She loved to host and often invited us for tea. With her embroidery skills, she created the faces of Saartjie Baartman, Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe, and Steve Biko, among others.

“Aunty Hettie’s room was a creative, warm space, where all felt welcome. In her room, she built friendships, created a network, shared hopes and dreams and manoeuvred her way safely and independently.

“Her sense of humour inspired us. She was a fighter, and she was a giving and generous person. Her life enriched our world and her legacy will live on in future generations,” Ms Bruintjies said.

The Dullah Omar region of the MK Military Veterans Association – all former comrades of Mr Waterwitch, released a statement expressing their condolences: “Hettie your compassion has inspired us. As a dedicated Catholic, your life was committed to the service of the most vulnerable. Children from Leliebloem Youth Care Centre, to whom you dedicated your working life, the poor who knocked at your front door for food and never went away empty-handed, and charities close to your heart,” the statement reads.

Ms Waterwitch-Coetzee’s youngest son, Brandon Coetzee, died in 1996, at the age of 20, also from muscular dystrophy.