I Still Want Freedom in My Life
With Youth Month in our midst, and Women’s Month coming up in August, Solomon Star will be embarking on a journey of commemorating South African heroin’s and ordinary people who have done extraordinary things. A special focus will be placed on those from the Northern Cape or who have resided in the province at any point in their lives. This is the start of the series.
“I still want freedom in my life” reads a quote in her autobiography that pinnacles why she chose the path that she did in her life, She wanted FREEDOM. Her book titled, “My spirit is not banned” was co-edited by Barbara Schreiner and covers a period of 80 years of her life. A narration from a fierce yet noble woman, she gives the reader an account of personal and frank experiences of a black African woman, mother, wife, trade unionist, political activist and enlightens us on her involvement in the African National Congress (ANC) and national campaigns in the diaspora of liberation for black people, thus giving a glimpse of what it was like for black African women in the day and age of apartheid.
Today, you will find her standing with her hands on her hips, draped in bronze at the corner of Bultfontein and Lennox Road at the New Park Shopping centre in the Central Business District (CBD) of Kimberley. One can almost feel her powerful life-force as she stands tall as if ready to march on, sing and chant like she did on 9th of August 1956, to the Union Buildings in Tshwane, alongside Helen Joseph, Lillian Ngoyi, Sophie De Bruyn, Rahima Moosa and more than 20 000 other women to protest against the threat to introduce the “dompass”. Their mission was to hand over a memorandum to then Prime Minister JG Strydom. The statue stands there as a commemoration of her contribution to the struggle. The statue was unveiled on the 9th of August 2009 by Ms Hazel Jenkins who was the Premier of the Northern Cape at the time.
Frances Goitsemang (which means “who knows”) Baard was born Frances Masuabi in 1909 in Beaconsfield, Kimberley. She was the daughter of a Tswana native, Herman Masuabi whom she describes as well-educated. He came from Ramotswa in Bechuanaland, to Kimberley to find work on the mines. It was there where he met with Frances’s mother Sarah Voss who was also of Tswana origin and from Kimberley.
What is known today as the Frances Baard District Municipality used to be Diamantveld District Council, the district was renamed after the struggle leader in June 2001. The heroin is also remembered by the renaming of Schoeman Street in Pretoria in her honour.
Mma Baard as she was also known to many, grew up in a religious home as her father was a steward in the Methodist church. She loved to sing and play netball. She attended the Racecourse Primary School and moved to Lyndhurst Road School in Malay Camp when she was in standard six, she was shortly sent to Perseverance Training School where she was trained to teach. It was around that time that her father met his death and she was unable to continue paying for school fees and was forced to drop out. She consequently went to teach at a Pardieberg in the Free State where she was soon let go because she was not a qualified teacher. She then found work as a domestic worker. She later met Lucas Baard, who was Xhosa and thus became Mrs Baard in 1942. “He was a jolly person” she describes in her book”. Together they had two children.
Baard in her earlier life did not care or bother much with politics as she states in her memoir but due to the oppression and exploitation she experienced under the regime she became radical, one could say she had a “political awakening”. She became involved in ANC in 1948 when she met Raymond Mhlaba and Robert Mji who played an influential role in her politics.
Frances became a trade unionist and served as an executive member of the South Africa Trade Unions (SACTU), an organiser in the African National Congress Women’s League (ANCWL) during the 1952 defiance campaign and actively took part in the drafting of the Freedom Charter which was adopted in Kliptown just outside of Johannesburg in 1955. She served on various posts which include, secretary and treasurer of the Women’s League in Port Elizabeth as well as on the National Women’s League as National Treasurer and President of the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW).
Her rebellion against the injustices landed her in prison in 1960 during the State of Emergency and the banning of political organisations and again in 1963 where she was kept in solitary confinement for a year. The following year she was arrested again under the Suppression of Communism Act for her involvement in the ANC activities and campaigns.
During her imprisonment, her children were taken care of by relatives. When asked by the publication SPEAK, in 1993 if she had any regrets, Mma Baard affirmed that she does not have any regrets. “My wish is that I live to vote for the African National Congress on the 27th of April next year. Her wish must have been met as she passed away in 1994 at the age of 84 years.
Upon her release she was banned to Boekenhoutfontein, a place close to Tshwane. She further told SPEAK that after she was released from prison, as she walked out there was a voice inside her that said “go to the council of churches, they will help you”. That was the voice of Winnie Mandela “the voice was very important to me because I was just dumped at Boekenhoutfontein, I did not know where I was, that dry place was not my home and the worst part was that I did not know where my children were”, she says.
On the 20th August 1983 at the national launch of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in Rocklands the activist was elected to be an executive member and patron of the UDF.
Mma Baard is remembered as a strong, powerful and influential woman for her selfless role in South African politics. She died at the age of 84 years in 1994.