Remembering the true struggle heroes

They were young, they were brave, their blood nourished the tree of our liberation.

Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba used this quote, inscripted on the tombstones of uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) martyrs, Coline Williams and Robbie Waterwitch, to remind those gathered at the commemoration of the 28th anniversary of their deaths, of the sacrifices young people made for freedom.

On Sunday July 23, ANC members gathered at the memorial site in Athlone, where life-size statues of the two were erected, to honour the contribution and the memory of Williams and Waterwitch. The two died in a limpet mine explosion, which is believed to have detonated prematurely.

After the wreath-laying ceremony, Mr Gigaba spoke of the bravery of those involved in the anti-apartheid struggle at that time.

“Think about July 1989 – just before the start of the Defiance Campaign. It was the end of a very difficult decade. Our people performed acts of heroism. They reached a stage of frightening bravery. In that moment, nothing could stop us from liberation. The youth took centre stage of the struggle. They did not know how their stories were to end, but they were a people living in hope – knowing whether they lived or died, their hope would live. We are not here today to revive anger, reignite hate or relive the pain. We are here to remind ourselves that our country must never again sacrifice our young men and women. We must never allow racial tyranny to come back again. We honour these comrades for who they were and their sacrifices,” Mr Gigaba said.

He also used the opportunity to call on ANC members to stop the disunity and infighting, because “the real enemy” is poverty, unemployment, the lack of land ownership and high university fees.

Roscoe Jacobs, from the ANC Youth League’s Dullah Omar region, said in the current democracy, young people are being failed, but he also called on the youth to get organised.

Speaking about Williams and Waterwitch, he added: “We are inspired by their sacrifices and will continue to fight the good cause.”

Selina Williams, Coline’s sister, said she remembers the events leading up to her sister’s death on July 23, 1989, clearly.

“That Sunday morning, we went to mass, my mom cooked and we did our chores. Later that day, Coline refused to take a lift with my brother, but she needed to be somewhere. She eventually left. The next day, my mother showed me a newspaper article and asked me if it could be my sister. I said it cannot be her, because it said a woman was killed, and in my mind, Coline was a girl, even though she was 22 years old already. We started searching for her on the Monday, and on the Tuesday, our parish priest came to us with the bad news. When I saw Robbie in the mortuary, I could not initially remember whether I had met him before. Later I realised I met him briefly a month before, at the Save the Press campaign, where I was helping making posters.

“Coline was a beautiful person and was quiet. Her exchange with people was always beautiful. The day before she died she gave flowers to mothers whose children were in exile. The last rose she had, she gave to my mother. She had a beautiful smile.

“Their deaths were unexpected, even though Coline spent 11 months at Pollsmoor prison. The way they died, was not their choice, but they were willing to die for what they believed in. I am proud of my sister.”