Women Forgotten In The Shadow Of History: Boniswa Ncukana

APLA Cadre, Established Unionist, Gender Equality Campaigner, Journalist, Murdered 10, March 1985

Boniswa Ncukana was a political fighter, veteran trade unionist, gender equality campaigner, qualified journalist and an Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA) combatant.

She was born on 26 September 1946, at Macibe Location, in the Centane district, Eastern Cape (former Transkei). The fifth of seven children born to Gwebumzi Govan Ncukana and his wife Winifred Nowonga Ncukana, nee’ Mgudlwa, of the AbaThembu clan in Qhumanco (Ngcobo district), Boniswa was introduced to politics at an early age.

Her earlier life is one of a confident and brave young woman who believed in the equality of men and women. She learnt to ride horses and ended up being an accomplished horse rider to the extent that it became her mode of transport to school when the family car was not being used. She drove her father’s  8-ton Dodge at a time when the sight of a woman behind a driver’s seat was not common and even founded a football club, the Muskateers FC. She also loved to cook, gardening and music. Naturally, her choice of music was slanted more towards revolutionary songs, the late Miriam Makeba’s songs being among her favourite. 

Ncukana’s leadership skills included working with rural folks and encouraging women to change from docility to open confrontation and challenge oppressive tendencies. She broke the reactionary traditions of keeping women down but she shone the light on progressive traditions that pushed the advancement of African women. She mobilised women workers and encouraged them to participate in the shop stewards council to negotiate and bargain on their own issues with the factory owners.

She argued for “Adam Kok” to have all the needs of women guerrillas in the APLA camps. “Adam Kok” is the name given to Mzana (the women’s quarters) in the military academy of APLA. Boniswa Ncukana believed that leaders must be on the ground and do what they expect their charges to do.

She grew up in a very strong political environment as six (6) of her brothers ended up incarcerated at the notorious Robben Island prison for Poqo-APLA uprisings. She got politically involved and ultimately joined the Pan Afrikanist Congress of Azania (PAC) while at school in the 1960s.

Writing in an article titled: “Fallen PAC Woman Combatant Revisited”, Muriel Dimpho writes that such was Boniswa’s commitment to the liberation of the African people that she always spoke of wanting to be a soldier: “I want to be a soldier. I want to carry a gun”.

She was a dedicated and conscientious soldier of the PAC military wing, the Azanian Peoples Liberation Army (APLA), in the 1970s and 1980s. Boniswa Ncukana was detained by the security branch of the South African Police in East London in 1980 for working in the PAC underground and setting up labour unions as fronts for the banned PAC. She was tortured severely and handed to the Transkei police who detained her further on a ninety days emergency law.

On her release she left the country for further training in clandestine work and armed struggle.

At this time, the PAC mission in exile entrusted her with the responsibility of organising the working class for the establishment of a trade union for Afrikan workers inside South Africa. She was later to become one of the leaders of the Black Allied Workers Union in the Border Region [East London, King William’s Town and surrounding areas], together with the likes of Monde Ncgukana, Cunningham Ncgukana, Malusi and Sam Mngaza, and others.

She remained an underground operative of Apla, moving in and out of the country. She was later discovered by the enemy and frequently detained, tortured and harassed. After several arrests, the party instructed her to join her compatriots in exile on a full-time basis. She left the country in 1983, to join the PAC in exile.  

Together with her comrades including Malusi Koli, she was among key figures the Eastern Cape in the early days of AZANYU (founded to develop the PAC underground structures inside South Africa and to recruit soldiers for the people’s army, APLA (Azanian Peoples Liberation Army).

Joe Tholoe, Thami Mazwai, and Phillip Dlamini were other key members in AZANYU. https://ilizwe.wordpress.com/about/about-payco-history/

During her brief stay in exile, she distinguished herself with her undisputed commitment to the liberation cause of the African people. She dedicated her efforts on the work of both the political and military missions in exile.

Boniswa became a labour attache of the PAC and represented the organisation in labour conferences organised by the United Nations and the International Labour Organisation in countries like Italy, Kenya, Tanzania and numerous other countries.

In 1985, Boniswa met her untimely death when together with her comrades they were ambushed by enemy agents, while on a homeward mission at Qachas Neck in Lesotho. She was ambushed and brutally murdered with her comrades-in-arms, Thami Zani, Koekie Barnabas, Nkululeko Masemola, Siyabulela Twabu and Rex Mkhethi while crossing the Lesotho border into South Africa. She indeed was a soldier – she died carrying a gun. 

Their remains were exhumed and reburied in the Eastern Cape in February 2011, twenty-five years after their brutal murder. 

Editor’s Note:

Like so many of those lost in the shadow of history, her surname is even misspelt – at times she’s recorded as Boniswa Ngcukana and rarely as Boniswa Ncukana. The only two pictures we could find are very faint, you can barely recognise her. 

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