Very little has been written about Alzina Zondi, but without men and women like Alzina, South Africa’s liberation would just not have been possible. Alzina is one of the thousands upon thousands of everyday people who risked their lives to stand up for what they believed in. She was one of the twenty thousand women who marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against the oppressive pass laws. Speaking about this time Alzina tells how so many of the women were carrying ‘babies’. “What was funny was that these babies did not cry even once during all that commotion”, says Alzina as she explains that many of the women carried a bundled rug and cushion in the hope that it would protect them from being beaten by the police. And this is but one moment in a lifetime of memories that Alzina has of the many years that she fought the apartheid government. Alzina’s name appears in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report when Nomzamo Nyawose recounts how Alzina cared for her in Swaziland where her parents were in exile. It was Alzina who had to tell Nomzamo that her parents had been killed by ‘the boers’. “I was very close to Alzina Zondi. I almost thought she was my mother”.
After completing her Standard 8 in the late 1920s, Alzina Zondi moved from Pietermaritzburg to Durban and joined the liberation struggle. She sold the New Age newspaper at taxi ranks and was subsequently engaged in recruiting other women to the African National Congress, especially among vendors selling goods at taxi ranks.
During the 1950s, Alzina participated in a crucial era of struggle history in KwaZulu-Natal, and she is recognised as a stalwart of the region. On 9 August 1956 she became one of more than 20 000 women who petitioned the then Prime Minister, J.G. Strijdom, over a law forcing women to carry passes.
Her activism in the African National Congress was during a difficult period in the organisation’s history, when members were persecuted with arrests, time in prison and frequent killings of activists. Alzina’s siblings strongly discouraged her commitment to the struggle, and often demanded that she leave politics, as they were afraid for her life. Alzina persisted in her convictions, however, as she believed she would assist in bringing the apartheid regime to its knees. Ironically, Alzina is the only Zondi sibling who is still alive today.
Her involvement in the liberation struggle came with considerable personal costs for Alzina, including her marriage. Her neighbours disapproved of her involvement in the struggle, as she brought unwanted attention of apartheid police to the area, and some residents even betrayed her location to the police to facilitate her arrest. Such pressures, combined with the breakdown of her marriage, forced Alzina to leave South Africa for exile in Swaziland.
In 1970, due to her continued work with the ANC underground, Swazi officials informed Zondi she would have to leave Swaziland, and only gave her three hours to collect her belongings and depart the country. From there she first moved to Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, before she returned to South Africa in the 1990s, soon after all political parties were unbanned.
Despite the tremendous conviction and courage shown by Alzina her name barely features in the records of South Africa’s history. It is precisely these ‘ordinary’ people that the Ulwazi Programme wishes to honour, so that they can recognised and thanked for the extraordinary contributions they have made to society.