Rebecca Makgomo Masilela (1928 - 2006)
The Order of Luthuli in
Profile of Rebecca Makgomo Masilela
Rebecca Makgomo Kekana Masilela, affectionately called “Magogo”, was born on 12 December 1928 in Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria, previously Farm 396 Leeuwkraal. Her father, the Chief of the Ndebele, Abraham Jambo Kekana, bought Leeuwkraal on behalf of the Ndebele people and later named it Kekanastad. This was a transaction spearheaded by Jan Kekana, Masilela’s grandfather.
In 1945, after the Second World War, she met Solomon Buthongo Masilela, popularly known as “Thongo”, at the Lutheran church in Kekanastad, when he returned from the war. They were married in 1951.
Masilela and her husband moved to Swaziland in 1961 due to the political injustices in South Africa. It was in Swaziland where Masilela played a crucial role in the Umkhonto we Sizwe struggle. She provided shelter and motherly nurturing to many African National Congress members who were exiled from South Africa.
Her house, Number 43 Trelawney Park, was immortalised by her son, Elias Masilela, who chronicled her selfless work in a riveting book. Magogo’s house has been equated to Lilliesleaf farm in Rivonia for its pivotal role in the waging of the struggle for South Africa’s liberation. Her contribution through housing the ANC members remains vivid in the memories of many comrades.
Masilela’s house worked side by side with the “White House” in Trelawney Park and “Come Again” in Fairview. It outlived both these properties. Ntate John Nkadimeng established the “White House” when he arrived in Swaziland in 1976, as the predominant safe house for the ANC at the time. He chose Trelawney Park for this residence, owing to its strategic proximity to Number 43.
For a very long time to come, the ANC used Number 43 as a base and a bridge with the “White House”. The “White House” replaced “Come Again”, which was used by former President Thabo Mbeki and ANC President Jacob Zuma during their stay in Swaziland. Bafana Duma affectionately known as “uMdumane”, who worked with Moses Mabhida, another ANC veteran, manned “Come Again”.During her lifetime she enjoyed recognition, which was unprecedented among the women of her time. In June 2006, Masilela was acknowledged by His Majesty King Mswati III, at the occasion of the book launch, telling the story of her life and that of South Africa’s liberation history, as staged from Swaziland. Also showing recognition for the works of Masilela, at the same occasion, were the Prime Minister of Swaziland, Absalom Themba Dlamini and Jacob Zuma.
In August 2006 Masilela was recognised by the President of South Africa, on the occasion of National Women’s Day, as one of the women veterans. The Premier of Mpumalanga, Thabang Makwetla, also recognised her as a leading woman veteran. In September, Masilela was honoured by the former Premier of Limpopo, Sello Moloto. At the same occasion, her efforts were also recognised by Sydney Mufamadi, King Vho-Thobela, MPK Tshivase and Chief Vha-Musanda Vho-Thobela.Masilela and her husband were blessed with nine children, all of whom contributed to the struggle to varying degrees. Some of these activities are documented in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report through the accounts of various friends, comrades and foes who operated from and around Number 43. Rebecca Makgomo Masilela could have chosen to limit her motherly nurturing to her children but she opened her home to many for the good of South Africa. She was a remarkable woman of strength who was a living example of selflessness and generosity.
In September 2006, Masilela bowed out of this world having done an exceptional job that touched the lives of many struggle hero and heroines.