Theresa Mary Solomon, affectionately known as “Com T”, short for Comrade Theresa, and the original residents of the Woodlands area in the mid-1970s proved that if they worked together on common causes they could demand services from the council and the then apartheid government.
While they moved into a dormant town of sand dunes and houses, members of the Mitchell’s Plain Co-ordinating Commitee (MPCC) never rested on their laurels but rather organised themselves and campaigned in a disciplined manner.
They rebuilt the dormitory township, which was where coloured people were designated to live, kilometres away from the city centre, where they worked.
Ms Solomon, her former husband Marcus Solomon and daughter Lee-Anne (Solomon Levendal)) moved into the area in 1975.
About a year later she and her neighbours had mobilised and formed the Woodlands Ratepayers’ Association, which then became the Woodlands Residents’ Association to include tenants.
“When people started moving into Mitchell’s Plain there were no schools.”
She said pupils had to be bused out of the area to attend schools elsewhere and parents could not afford to pay school fees.
They arranged a bus to take the parents to the education department, which was then in Wynberg, and demanded transport for children to attend schools outside of Mitchell’s Plain. “We wanted schools to be built before the houses.”
Margaret Kolbe, 81, who moved to Tafelsig in the early 1980s from Manenberg, attests to this. Her newly established residential area hardly had any infrastructure”(Decades of service”, Plainsman, August 15 2018).
However, within the first few days of being in a new house, she was paid a visit by activist Mr 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.
A political and social activist, Mr Solomon is also the 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.
Ms Kolbe 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.
As an ANC activist Ms Solomon helped to form the Tafelsig Residents’ Association, as well as the Portland Ratepayers’, Westridge Ratepayers’, Eastridge Residents’, Lentegeur Residents’ and Woodlands Residents’ associations.
These associations all worked together under the umbrella body of the Mitchell’s Plain Civic Association in late 1975.
Four years later the council increased the rent thrice in one year.
“The community could not afford that,” recalled Ms Solomon. “So, on New Year’s Eve in 1979 hundreds of people marched to the council’s Woodlands office, and handed a petition with 600 signatures demanding an end to all of the increases. This was a major victory for the civic organisation,” she said.
The need for a general hospital was voiced with the slogan “We want a hospital for health and not for profit”, she recounted.
In the interim the health department built Lentegeur Psychiatric Hospital.
“We asked for a general hospital and not for a psychiatric hospital, which was also necessary considering all of the challenges the people of Mitchell’s Plain were facing.”
The fight for a general hospital is part of the history of Mitchell’s Plain said Ms Solomon.
At the time there was only one ambulance servicing Mitchell’s Plain.
Mitchell’s Plain District Hospital, in AZ Berman Drive Lentegeur, only opened its doors in 2013 with the first patients transferred to the hospital on Monday July 1 2013.
“We had no police station, which again residents had to lobby for and got a house in Westridge.”
The population outgrew the make-shift police station in Silversands Avenue and the Mitchell’s Plain police station opened in 1989, followed by Strandfontein police station in 2000 and Lentegeur police station in 2013.
Ms Solomon said they also canvassed for a pedestrian bridge over Eisleben Road, where they recorded several accidents and deaths. “We were settled with pedestrian crossings but the crossing of the road and the accidents were really traumatic,” she said.
Another matter the association tackled with the Electricity Petition Committee (EPC) was calling for a standardised single monthly payment of electricity.
Ms Solomon said throughout these trying times, while fighting these issues, she and many other activists were detained on several occasions. “We were in the forefront of the struggle in Mitchell’s Plain. “We used to go to the City council and we had set a standard of discipline,” she said.
Ms Solomon said these are but a few issues they raised and dealt with as a community, with organised structures and committees who were prepared to serve.
There was a Woodland People’s Centre in Orpheus Crescent, there was a creche, a resource centre, advice office, computer centre, a hall and a library, which local pupils managed.
Shesaidthestructures needed to be acknowledged as the people took up important issues to realise a better life for all.
Ms Solomon said the struggle was never against “white people” but rather against the system of exploitation.
“I sacrificed nothing. It was a way of life. Struggle for us was a way of life. This was our commitment that the children of South Africa would have a better life. The future needs to be dealt with today. We were taught at an early age to be responsible citizens. We were ensured a value system by our parents to have a strong community,” she said.
Ms Solomon said former Plainsman reporter Simoné* de Bruin, now Cape Community Newspapers assistant editor, was the contact for their organisation.
“A lot of praise must go to the Plainsman who popularised our organisation. Simoné* was always there at our events. She was a young fresh journalist, who was very accommodating. In the ever-changing world of community, I miss that link of having a journalist with whom we could connect and share our news with,” she said.
Ms Solomon now lives in Pretoria, where she is the chairperson of the Glenstantia Library User Interest Group. She also volunteers at the library, helping children to read.