Mirriam Hlazo (1937 - )
The Order of Luthuli in
Profile of Mirriam Hlazo
Mirriam Hlazo was born in October 1937 in Knysna, where she also attended school. She is a community leader in the Bon-golethu Township of Oudtshoorn. Whose leadership of the women in the Methodist Church during the 1980s propelled her to various other significant roles in her community.
Her leadership skills in the church led to other prominent roles in organisations such as Bongolethu Civic Association, United Democratic Front (UDF), Parents Detainees Committee and Education Crisis Committee.
Hlazo has distinguished herself as a community organiser, both in her local community and in the cause of the broader ideals of liberation in South Africa. She mobilised the youth mainly under the Bongolethu Youth Organisation, which was a branch of the Bongolethu Civic Association.
She was also chairperson of the Bongolethu Women’s Organisation, which rallied women activities, including those geared towards liberation of this country. She was also the local organiser for the UDF during the volatile 1980s.
Hlazo, through her involvement the Parents Detainees Committee, which looked after the welfare of detained youth, played a leading part in the effort to find out where they were detained and for how long; and seeking to provide all necessary support that they could manage. In the Education Crisis Committee, Hlazo and members of the community campaigned and mounted efforts towards the building of a secondary school in Oudtshoorn, since pupils had to attend high school in Cape Town at great cost. She also participated in the campaign for the freedom of locals to operate businesses in the area.
In the volatile 1980s in South Africa, Hlazo’s roles in these organisations inevitably led to a collision course with the apartheid forces and the police continually harassed her. She was detained several times and her family suffered the same wrath and brutality from the security forces.
Three of her sons, equally politically active, were harassed, detained and tortured many times. Her youngest son, Nkosinathi, was killed in 1987 in Lawaaikamp, George. Her eldest son, Joe, left the country for Tanzania in 1985 to join Umkhonto we Sizwe. On his return in 1990, he was integrated into the Air Military Wing of the South African National Defence Force until his death in 2005.
In June 1985 she was arrested and tortured, and was detained for over a year at various places dating to the 1980s, though clandestinely, she was a very committed member of the African National Congress (ANC) Women’s League. Hlazo, and some women from Worcester, received several awards for their contribution to the upliftment of their communities. She was also in the group that clandestinely travelled to Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, in the 1980s to seek support for the ANC internationally.
Hlazo gave heartbreaking testimony at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings about the death of her son at the hands of security forces. Hers has been a life of selfless commitment to the life of her community and to the service of the South African nation. It has also been a life of pain and suffering imposed by the loss of her children.
Despite this ordeal, Hlazo’s determination was not dimmed and she continued to play very important roles in community-based organisations and projects.
Hlazo is an ardent community worker and served as chairperson of the Masakhane Community Project in Bongolethu, Oudtshoorn. This is a sewing project which the community is trying to sustain, though facing resource challenges.
Miriam Hlazo opted in life for a role of raising political awareness and participation, which is significant in the development of the country. She is still an active member of the ANC Women’s League in Oudtshoorn.