Sunday, July 16, 2006

Jo’burg, South Africa: Conversation with Mosie Moolla

This morning we got up and I made omelette and pancakes for everyone for breakfast. We decided that we would cook dinner at home tonight and since there was a Sunday flea market around the from Kathy, we would go and check out the activities before going to meet Issy and Ramni at 3pm.
I love flea markets. They are so much better than the big department stores and so much more interesting. There was everything from soup to nuts in the market. I found some gifts for my family and checked out the Indian spice section. There is a kind of pepper powder called peri-peri but I didn’t buy any. I did buy some biryani rice mixture which I cooked for dinner along with some soy protein and veggies. Kathy bought fish and I made a kind of curry with coconut milk and lime (first time trying that invention and it turned out great).
We left home about 2:30 to go to Issy’s place and when we got there Mohamed was waiting for us. We met Issy and Ramni and they offered to take us to one of their friends who lives “right around the corner” (actually 10 minutes drive by car). He said that his friend was the SA Ambassador to Pakistan and Iran but also lived in exile for a period of time.
We arrived at this most beautiful house belonging to Mosie Moolla and what we were about to hear next would literally mesmerize all of us.
Mosie was a slight man with silver hair and beard and one of the most dynamic and interesting people I’ve listened to in a very long time. He was introduced to us by Issy as one of the youngest people in the history of South Africa to be charged with high treason. He then took over by giving us a history lesson in South African history and what a lesson.
He started off by telling us that he arrived in Jo’burg as a teenager in 1949 to go to school because there was no high school in the little village he was living in. The year before (1948), the Nationalist Party came into power and they believed that they were ordained by God to save the blacks The “Black Manifesto” was enacted against all non-whites.
The history lesson went like this:
□ 1652- first whites arrived in SA
□ 1820’s – first British settlers arrived in SA
□ 1834 – slavery abolished
□ early 1860’s - Indians arrived as indentured labourers to work on sugar plantations and mines; many of these labourers went to British Guiana, the Caribbean and Mauritius
□ late 1860’s – passenger Indians arrived; settled as shop keepers and business people
□ 1860’s – diamond discovered – industrial and gem grades; rush of diamond seekers
□ 1880’s – gold discovered; gold rush; conflict between the Afrikaners and Brits; beginning of the Anglo-Boer War
□ 1890’s – Mahatma Ghandi called to settle a case and stayed for 20 years; had his own business, began to organize people for the civil disobedience movement
□ 1894 – Natal Indian Congress is first political party on the African continent; start of the colonizers educating some of the middle class to serve the empire
□ 1906 – Bombatha Rebellion where the Brits retaliated mercilessly
□ 1912 – African National Congress (ANC) formed - direct response to government dividing up the country and allocating 87% of land for whites and 13% for non-whites
□ 1930’s – the era of the Great Depression; many Afrikaners became “poor whites”
□ 1940’s/50’s – Industrial Conciliation Act whereby only whites were allowed to hold positions of authority; South Africa has highest prison population in the world;
□ 1944 – Nelson Mandela is part of the youth league of the ANC
□ 1949 – ANC Youth League took over from ANC; wanted t confront the enemy which was not whites but the policies of the white government
□ 1950 – Suppression of Communism Act – to suppress opposition to nationalism but on the pretext of suppression of opposition to communism; general strike called; first in the history of SA
□ 1952 – nonwhites oppose apartheid laws and went to jail for defiance; Congress of the People Campaign lasted for almost 2 years
□ 1955 – Freedom Charter established
□ 1959 – Pan African Congress (PAC) formed to serve interests of black SA; PAC expelled from ANC because of intent to use violence
□ 1960 – state of emergency called; ANC and PAC banned; Freedom Charter became the rally cry and what bound people to a common cause
□ 1961 – Spear of the Nation founded; rather than attacking individual whites, terror attacks would be made to symbols of white power
□ 1961 – Treason Trial – 156 people picked up and charged for high treason including Mosie; lasted for 9 months Monday to Friday and Mosie had to attend each day; 60 charges were withdrawn; 30 convicted
□ 1962 – Mandela arrested
□ 1963 – ANC underground headquarters discovered
□ 1963 – law enacted whereby anyone could be detained for 90 days without charge; Mosie was picked up and served first 90 days; served second 90 days; served almost one year in jail without charge sometimes in isolation and incommunicado (even from lawyer); many exiles left SA for lives in other countries; Mosie exiled and goes to India to set up arm of ANC still fighting apartheid
□ 1990 – Mosie returns to SA

By the time Mosie was finished with that part of the story, two hours had passed and Issy asked him to wrap up but how do you wrap up your life in a few minutes. We wanted to stay but it was getting late again. Issy told us to ask about the time Mosie escaped from jail dressed as a woman in a sari but we didn’t get an opportunity. Mosie told us of the time he and Mahatma Ghandi’s son were imprisoned for civil disobedience. He beseeched us to visit what is now Constitution Hill (in earlier years it was simply known as The Fort (the jail) and it was a place of terror. We wanted to hear more of his life but time was not on our side.
On our way out, I asked Issy about his time in prison and he said it was horrible. He served his first 90 days and then his second 90 days and by the time he was finished that, the law was changed so that a person could be detained for up to 180 days without charge so he served another 180 days for not producing his Pass card when he was asked to do so by the police. The Pass card was in essence a card that restricted people’s movements to certain areas of the city or country and if you could not produce it when the police asked, you were thrown in jail. Some people chose to serve the prison time than walk with their cards. Issy was one of them.
The seven of us came home very solemn. It’s one thing to think that such atrocities happened, it’s another to meet the people it happened to and to see that they survived without the bitterness. Nelson Mandela was also one of them. What a troubling story but one of indomitable spirit.

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