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Tribute to Molly Blackburn

My mother Molly Blackburn was best  known for her work in the Eastern Cape standing up against the apartheid regime. As someone who took the side of the the under dog, and was appalled by the gross in-equalities in our country. She listened to the youth who had been shot or detained by security police. She was a mother to many who were detained. I have memories of her telling me how she had had a call from a mother desperate to find her child. Molly said to me ‘Well I just I popped in un-announced to one of the PE jails, walking around calling the missing child’s name.’ She told me how she  heard the response…MOLLY MOLLY…I’M HERE.
Molly was also a mother of 7 children and a loving sister and wife. There was always a bit of chaos in our  family home. With 7 of us children, all at different stages of our lives, there was no such thing as ‘ my room’ in our house….the minute one of us left for boarding school or university the next youngest would decide to spread their wings and up-grade to the nicer room. At one stage I returned from overseas, to find there was no bedroom for me. My mother simply moved a bed onto the stoep, which became my quiet refuge.
It was amazing when we were all together, mostly at supper time-at 8 o clock on the dot. A large family table, always candle lit. Looking back on it I think my mother was preparing us for our future of load shedding. We were a tight knit family, but the doors were always open.
Many nights of the week we would have to FHB which is short for family hold back on supper portions, and add extra place settings to the table.
In those days many of the guests were out of towners, having come to PE for meetings with no where to stay. Helen Susman, Colin Eglin and many others were frequently invited for supper. So too was Matthew Goniwe, and who ever else was with him.
In Port Elizabeth in the early 1980’s  it was un-heard of for an African person to walk in the front door of a white persons home, let alone stay for supper and sleep over. As you can imagine, our
family was excluded from many social gatherings in Port Elizabethnot subtle disapproval of Mollys involvement in the struggle
So I would like to share some stories of Mollys work.
The first Molly heard of the Langa Massacre on 21st March 85 was from her sister, my aunt Judy Chalmers  who had taken a  call at Mollys home. She was asked to relay the message ’Tell her to come. They are killing our people’
By the time Molly got to Uitenhage the road blocks were up They made their way to Maduna Road…..there was huge tension with fully armed police, live ammunition and no riot gear. The community, angry and poised to retaliate.  Molly knelt on the ground and said ‘Let us Prey’ Everyone knelt down and disaster was averted.
She spent the next 3 days trying to find the 71 people missing in this clash, documenting, capturing and meticulously recording her findings. By sharing her well documented reports with the overseas journalists and local press she gave voice to the voice less. She had a natural gift for providing news worthy statements and established useful contacts with overseas embassies and the press. Because of this publicity there was a serious shadow cast over the government.
It was June 1985 that Matthew Goniwe’s wife called Molly to tell her he had not returned home. His burnt out car was eventually found near the PE/Grahamstown road….Molly had worked tirelessly with Matthew helping him form civic organisations that  gave them a framework to have an effective voice. She empowered the communities to legally resist….something they had had no idea how to do. They were individuals being bullied by a strong force. Molly showed them how to organise themselves into effective structures. It gave them the weapon they desperately needed. She was tireless. I know she came close to despair quite often but she refused to give up
One young man in Cradock summed it up like this
’They are coming with us, they don’t just give us their ideas, they come along with us in our struggles. Molly Blackburn, Helen
Susman, Judy Chalmers, all these old ladies-we call them our mothers’  She was often referred to as MAMA MOLLY.
So Molly created a legacy. I say this because when she died on the 28th December 1985, 20 000 people attended her funeral. In Cradock there was not enough transport organised-people were up in arms “ I have to go-why is there no transport’ Word was sent out-the next morning every available car in Cradock was in PE for the funeral.The funeral was completely peaceful-a day of extraordinary harmony.
At her funeral I sat in the front row of St Johns church . Mollys coffin was surrounded by about 10 young men and women shoulder to shoulder all of their fists held high in  salute. They acknowledged the contribution that Molly, a white woman from a completely different background, had made. She consciously chose to make a difference, to choose a path that required enormous courage and self sacrifice. She was a Warrior for Peace.
I would like to challenge you all to take action-decide what is going to be your voice. Recognise you will have to step out of your comfort zone. You too can choose to leave a legacy.
In the words of Nelson Mandela
“the fight against Apartheid liberated all South Africans-Africans Coloureds Indians and Whites.
The struggle for gender equality will benefit both men and women. The prosperous future to which we aspire calls for a united front of all South Africans across both the colour and gender divides.”