Thandi Modise was termed “the knitting needles guerrilla”. She was termed this because while she was operating underground as an MK cadre reconnoitring potential military targets she tried to look as ordinary as possible and carried a handbag from which a pair of knitting needles protruded. In an interview shortly after she was released after serving an eight year prison sentence, she said:
I’m a guerrilla because I’m a mother. Some people have accused me of being an unnatural mother but I did it for her (her daughter). It’s better to leave your child and fight. I’m very pleased my children will never turn around to me and ask, ‘Why did you do nothing?’ We have to have a better South Africa for our children. I do it for the children … all the children. (Interview 1991)
Thandi Modise was tried in the Kempton Park Regional Court along with Khowi Moses Nkosi and Slim Aaron Mogale. She was charged under the Terrorism Act, Sabotage Act, and faced charges of arson and malicious damage to property. Specifically, she was charged with undergoing military training between October 1976 and January 1978, with being in possession of a machine gun, ammunition and explosives, and with placing explosives in two department stores in Johannesburg.
Modise was convicted on three charges under the Terrorism Act and sentenced November 7, 1980 to a total of sixteen years, eight of which ran concurrently. Nkosi was sentenced to five years. His counsel lodged notice of appeal and bail was fixed at R2,000. Mogale was sentenced to two years and six months, suspended for five years.
Modise told the court that she had joined the ANC (African National Congress), had the ideology of the ANC explained to her, and had received military training in Tanzania and Angola. She said that the ANC’s aim was for South Africa to belong to all its people, irrespective of color, and that everybody was entitled to enjoy equal rights. At Funda, in Angola, she was instructed in guerilla warfare, specializing in sabotage, topography and reconnaissance, and learned how to use the Scorpion and Uzi firearms.
Until now, the South African Political Prisoner Bracelet Program has focused on political prisoners serving life sentences. These people were used as symbols for all political prisoners in South Africa. To date, only men have been given life sentences. Due to the many requests for female prisoner bracelets, and given the integral role women have played in the liberation of South Africa, we now include Thandi Modise; the woman currently serving the longest sentence in South Africa.
The source of this information is International Defence and Aid’s newsletter, Focus, issues 32 and 33. We appreciate their permission to use this material.
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