When Margaret Kolbe moved to Tafelsig in the early 1980s from Manenberg, her first thoughts were about where her children would go to school.
Her newly established residential area hardly had any infrastructure. However, within the first few days of being in a new house, she was paid a visit by activist Marcus Solomon, one of the founders of the Cape Areas Housing Action Committee, one of the most instrumental organisations in the United Democratic Front, who encouraged her to get involved with lobbying for a school in the area.
Born and raised in Oudtshoorn, this planted the seed for Ms Kolbe’s community activism in her Tafelsig neighbourhood for the ensuing decades.
Ms Kolbe, fondly known as “Auntie Makkie”, recently celebrated her 80th birthday where she was hailed for her community involvement in, among others, the Tafelsig Residents’ Association, the Tafelsig Health Committee and its project for malnourished and underweight children, the school governing body of Tafelsig High School and in the Tafelsig branch of the ANC.
In 2002 Auntie Makkie got a special mention during the budget vote speech to the national assembly by the late Dr Zola Skweyiya, the then Minister of Social Development, when he thanked her for her services. He praised her work in the malnutrition project, which at the time, despite many difficulties, increased the number of children in their care from 60 to 360 children. “Mama Margaret you have our deep appreciation and enduring gratitude,” Dr Skweyiya said.
Speaking to the Plainsman a few weeks after her birthday on July 6, Auntie Makkie said when they moved in there were no schools in Tafelsig and her first worry at the time was her children’s education. “There was nothing going on here, no clinic, no shops and Marcus asked me whether I wanted to join them,” she said.
Mr Solomon and his former wife, Theresa Solomon, who would become Cape Town’s first black mayor in 1995, lived in Woodlands. Founder of the Children’s Resource Centre which recognises children as potential change agents, he was imprisoned on Robben Island for 10 years, then under house arrest for another five years, due to his political activism in the Western Cape during apartheid.
Auntie Makkie said after finishing Standard 8 in Oudtshoorn, now known as Grade 10, she had gone to work in the laundry as a checker for four years, before moving to Cape Town, where she worked as a char.
When she married Joseph Kolbe, she moved from Sea Point, where she worked as a domestic, to Manenberg where the couple initially settled. She said while her community work started in Manenberg, she made her mark in Mitchell’s Plain, where together with the Cape Areas Housing Action Committee and the Tafelsig Residents’ Association, they held meetings and protests, demanding schools and resources for Tafelsig. “We had an information centre on the corner of Dassenberg and Piketberg streets” she said.
The association operated from three houses, one of which was used as a clinic at night, for those coming from work to attend. Another house was used as a creche in Mosterdhoek Street, she said. “Ons main problem was die skole,” she said.
Auntie Makkie said they took a bus to the then Department of Coloured Affairs office in Wynberg and they stood there with placards reading: “We don’t want buses, we want schools. We are not fools, we want schools”.
She said they demanded and gave the department no option but to build schools. Within a week of the protest, Auntie Makkie stood on her stoep and saw how trucks offloaded the bricks to start building Huguenot Primary School.
She was among the first employees at the school, where she worked as a cleaner.
Once they had the school up and running, Auntie Makkie got involved with establishing Tafelsig clinic. She was instrumental in the establishment of the Tafelsig United Aids Project (TUAP) in the early 1990s, which raised awareness about the disease, formed a support group and offered skills development like sewing and beading. TUAP was also a resource centre for education, home-based care and community home-based care.
Auntie Makkie said back then community work was all about working together. “Ek weet nie hoekom mense dinge opbreek of afbreek nie,” she said in response to recent protests. She said it was unnecessary.
She said there were discipline and respect among neighbours. “Today I speak to my neighbours and their children and I tell them education is very important because no one can take it away from you,” she said.
Her children have gone on to qualify themselves in different fields, with one daughter Angeline Lakay, the mayor of Oudtshoorn, another daughter Joslyn Swartz, a teacher, Grant an architect, Marlon, a Correctional Services officer, Wilroy, who works in retail and Noel, a mechanic.