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Theresa Solomon

in conversation with Prof. Daniel Plaatjies

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Theresa woman

1945 Born in District Six

1963 Completed her schooling

1975 Joined the Black Women’s Organization and became actively involved in the Civic Movement

1976 Raided by the police because of her activism

1976 Office secretary of the Western Cape region of the Black Sash

 1979 Set up CAHAC,  part of the United Democratic Front (UDF)

1980 Organized one of the first marches against rent increases in Woodlands

1980 Involved Consumer Boycott, Bus Boycott campaigns

1983 Involved in the formation of the UDF

1983 On UDF General Council of the Western Cape, Secretary of the Mitchell’s Plain Region

1985 Consultant to the Bishops Convention

1988 Treasurer of the UDF Western Cape region

1989 Full-time co-ordinator of the Woodlands Peoples Centre

1998 Spokesperson on crime in the ANC, at the Provincial Legislature

Theresa Mary Solomon embodies the spirit of activism in its truest form. She was born in 1945, and while growing up, she was actively involved in the church’s choir. This was an environment she credits for creating a form of political awareness in her.


She joined the Black Women's Federation in 1975, and at that point, she was keenly aware of the power that came with using her voice to demand change. In the same year, she got arrested, the first of seven arrests that were to follow, for public violence.


Theresa recalls that in the early days of the struggle, activism was a way of life and no matter how many times she got detained or charged, her resolve was only strengthened. She soon joined the Western Cape region of the Black Sash movement, helping to set up a number of Civic Organizations, which formed the Cape Areas Housing Action Committee (CAHAC), and which later formed a part of the UDF in the Western Cape.


Her work in these civic societies saw her organising and leading protest marches demanding reforms, laws, basic amenities, and a better quality of life for the common man, woman, and child in the society. Due to her activism in these civic groups, they managed to get a hospital and police station built in the community of Mitchell’s Plain. They canvassed for children to be safely and conveniently transported to attend schools outside of Mitchell’s Plain, including making a city council reverse rent increases.


Today Theresa continues to actively work in her community, making herself accessible to the youth whom she acknowledges are in dire need of role models. Her work demonstrates her belief that a bright future for South Africa lies in the work of nurturing sound children and youth today.

Theresa leader

Never hide your conscience

or activism

Key Quality of a Servant Leader

Theresa Solomon

Theresa interview

Things You May Not Know About Theresa

These are drawn from the full interview, which for Daniel was from "OneComradeToAnother. Watch the full interview here.


Please note this is a word-for-word transcript from Daniel and Theresa's conversation. 



"... When I was a teenager I belonged to the church youth… That introduced me to mixing in with other young people… and that initiated the consciousness of my being. When I moved into Athlone I got involved with the black women's federation… that was 1975 and shortly after, I was raided. That was my first action with security police… I was put in solitary confinement, I was detained in Middelburg, then I was detained in Johannesburg… I was also subsequently detained at Pollsmoor. I was very often at Pollsmoor and also at the Mitchells Plain police station… I had seven charges of public violence. And I believe that I was the only woman in South Africa that had seven charges for public violence you know. It often reminds me of Elizabeth van der Heyden. Who spent 10 years straight in prison. She was in the same trial with Neville Alexander etc. She spent 10 years straight, five years banned and house arrested. And nobody mentions anything about Elizabeth Van Der Hayden. You know I think that is a pity because there needs to be more emphasis on the struggles of women. Because many women were detained..."

The only woman in South Africa to be charged 7 times for public violence


A narrow escape, thanks to a guardian angel

"... I found myself a place in this girls’ hostel and they were very strict. And I was always the one who was in problems because of my work, meetings, sleeping out, ‘cause sometimes you see I don't have money to go home, we never got paid. So as I came from the girls’ hostel this morning, not knowing that there was a swoop - meaning that the plane stopped and knew then where to go and they had prepared for months and months who was going to be arrested and so on - so I walked up West Street to come to the head quarters, and this one… comes walking to me. I’m approaching and he's approaching me and when he got to me he's saying: “Please, don't go there.” So I say “Why? Go where?”. He says: “To your office, that office where you work.” So I said, “Why?” And he said: “Because there’s trouble. They arrested a lot of people, and they have been here three times waiting for you because they say they wanted people who are working here.” So he says, “Please don't go there”. So I turned on my heel and went away. I went back to the hostel..."



The Mayor’s march unto herself

"... There was a March on to Civic Centre when I was mayor, it was about electricity if I remember correctly. I led that march onto myself by the way. I was wearing the chain and the robe, and I led the march on to the council… I forgot that I'm actually sitting in there and I had to march here… but I prefer to be here. One of the political parties got up and said ‘how dare you Mayor lead a march onto yourself’, so I said it was easy, I just walked… I think what was the advantage for me, that I could then go into townships, march with people against the drug abuse in the communities, against gangsterism and I would lead those marches and it was also a way to kind of show young people that there can be a place for you somewhere if you are committed to what you feel is the correct thing..."



Oppression is not unique to South Africa

"... What South Africans don't know is that Tanzanians used to give blood to the liberation movement, to those that were fighting, the SWAPO... the ZWANO… they used to donate blood to the freedom fighters... Every child in Tanzania used to give a Shilling or a Penny towards... to buy food for those people that were in exile in Tanzania. And that is why it is so sad when we have xenophobia in our country, and it's because our government hasn’t shared the experiences of the people who were in exile, and what those countries did for them, that enabled them to come back and govern South Africa. When there's a xenophobic attack, you can't blame the people that are attacking because they don't realise what these countries have done to ensure that we got our freedom… It's sad that we have not been able to share those experiences with communities, to make them understand that someone from Tanzania selling an orange on the street is not taking their jobs... Canada has got the first nations, so-called Red Indians, some of whom I became very close to. If you visit the first nations reserve, you will think that you are in Manenberg... These very beautiful people also had to struggle… Canada was first called Kinata, which was the name the first nations gave, and then the colonists came and changed the name to CANADA… The first nations people were a warrior nation... like the Mauris, but things got taken away from them… I was exposed to the fact that oppression is not only unique to South Africa. It's happening all over the world where there are first nations…"




The struggle was led by women

"... We often went on hunger strikes, we would go for six days, eight days on a hunger strike… But when the men at Victor Verster (prison) would go on hunger strike for three days… they will get sick, because they're macho and they want to still jog and run and lift up weights and do exercises. But we relaxed… So nothing was mentioned in the newspapers, that the women at Pollsmoor Prison were on this hunger strike for so many periods. But when the men at Victor Verster went for three days, there was a big fuss… I'm just very fortunate to be interviewed by you, but there are so many out there that have been participating in struggle and are lost (not visible) because of all sorts of reasons. The struggle that we went through is the struggle that many, many women have gone through. Those women who work in your kitchens, those women who make soup in townships for children, poor women making soup for other poor children in townships. We don't talk about that, you know I think the emphasis is that we must try and also popularise the fact that the struggle was actually led by women. If you look at protests, who are those people in the front? it’s the women. If you look at the issues at nursery schools and schools where children are being educated, and there's a problem at the school, who are the people that go and confront it? It’s the women you see. Yet it's played down...”



When calling Amandla sent you to jail

"... When I was at Pollsmoor Prison the young activists were separated from us. But suddenly two of them came in from Worcester. One was a young lady who was crying all the time. The comrades asked me to please talk to her in the shower find out what the problem was as it upset our morale. So I went to her and I said: “Comrade what is the problem? We will support you as far as we can.” She said she is very sad, because she is not involved in politics. It turns out she was walking down this road in Worcester and her boyfriend was on the other side of the road, walking towards her. But on the other side of the road, there was a police car coming down. Her boyfriend’s name was Amandla and she called him Amandla! Amandla! And the police stopped her, picked her up, told her she was shouting Amandla in the street. Yet she was calling her boyfriend. That is what upset her, not the fact that she was calling her boyfriend, but she was in prison because her boyfriend’s name was Amandla. Maybe it was his nickname, but there, she ends up in a police van and taken to Pollsmoor. So that obviously had an effect on all of us. However when she told us the story it was very difficult for me not to laugh, it was extremely difficult. But when we went to the other comrades and we told the story, we laughed about it… It's not even safe to have a name like Amandla. You call Amandla and then you go to jail..."


Mitchell’s Plain was her university

"... You know what my University was? Mitchells Plain, that was my Uni… that was where I got experience campaigning, learning how to conduct myself, how to be disciplined, how to approach people, how to talk to the elders, and so forth. That was my University and I took it with me throughout all positions that I held. When I went to Tanzania, it was extremely easy for me, because Tanzanians love South Africans and they loved the High Commission… they were very friendly, the Tanzanians are warm friendly and genuine people. I learned a lot about the ANC more than what I learned back home..."



We need a reading nation

"... Many of our children can't read... children have difficulty in reading… Is the fact that we don't have enough access to libraries? In the townships are there Mobile libraries where children can have access to books... books are very expensive and it’s very difficult to buy a book for a child… Our country needs our population to start reading… One way our youngsters can assist our young adults is by offering their time during the school holidays. For example, two days in the week, a high school student negotiates with the principal and says to him; ‘bring me some of your students that are having challenges with reading and we will assist them by way of making reading fun… Another challenge that we have is that our learners have difficulties with maths… I’m looking at what high school students can do to assist even after school in their community. If we have one or two or three children that you can assist with maths or reading… That’s how they start becoming involved. The other thing is to start youth clubs... That would address the issues that are affecting the youth…"




Why she doesn't like blankets or braai's

"... To be in solitary, you have no communication with anybody except the security police and that's not communication, that's interrogation which is very different. When they bring your food, they will throw it in, and just lock the door again. So you are with yourself all the time and that is the time you need to to be focused on how you're going to survive… You jog, you pray, you jog and you pray. And you psych yourself up. They take you out for a couple of hours and they put you back into solitary and that breaks you. I do not wish on anybody, not my worst enemy, because the side effects… it stays with you. Not all of us went for trauma counselling afterwards right… The prison regulations say I must have six blankets, it was winter and they brought in the six blankets… I went under the blankets and I fell asleep, they don't close the grill, they close the grill, they don’t close the door, so you know it’s cold in Karoo, very, very cold, freezing cold. During the middle of the night I started itching… the next morning I folded the blankets and put it down and lo and behold those blankets were riddled with white lice. Up until today I cannot sleep under a blanket… that was years ago, I still cannot sleep under a blanket. If I go and visit one of my best friends she always says: “Please don’t put a blanket on Theresa’s bed.” It's still what's left with me, right. When we were at Pollsmoor, we smelled the braais the wardens would have and now I have a kind of dislike for braais, although I liked braais before I went in. Now we don’t want to braai because it reminded us of when we were in prison..."



The march of 500 that stopped rent increases

"... I think it was the year 1980, new year’s eve in Cape Town, imagine new year’s eve, and we took a march to the rent office because that year there was an increase of rent thrice the amount, people were just not able to cope, so we took a march, predominantly women. We were about 500 and we stood in front of that rent office. It was the divisional council and we had asked them to stop the rent increases. You know what happened next? The Divisional council stopped increases of rent throughout the Western Province for the divisional council areas! A small group of 500 women did that! It was the middle ‘80’s and when we got to the rent office the security police were there, I was in disguise by the way and the security police shouted ‘where is Solomon’, it was an amazing thing as every woman was saying I’m Mrs Solomon, I’m Mrs Solomon, I’m Mrs Solomon… that was unity, civics brought us together. Women took up issues of washing lines, they would fight over the fact that there was not enough space for their children to be playing in safe areas, there were no proper pavements, no schools in the areas, fight for children to be transported from one school to another because it was not safe for them to be walking… all those issues…"


Rhino's have more protection than women in South Africa

"... There are many laws that protect women but it is difficult for women to access them… I think that if it was in a male situation, they would be able to access them much more easily than women. For example battering of women, the lack of safe houses for women that are being battered daily, women are being murdered. How many girl children are being raped and beaten monthly? Someone asked me the other day, ‘if you could be reincarnated, how would you like to come back?’ I said as a rhino! they said why as a rhino, I said, but they are more protected than women. There are rhino protests, there are people that are picketing against rhinos… Yet how many protests do we have for women's rights? How many women can stand on the corner and say; ‘I’m a battered woman’? Do children have to have to be raped first before they can go to court and stand then say, “don`t release him” “no bail for him” in the meantime what is the protection for those people that have been injured and battered?..."


Full Interview 

Theresa Full Interview
Theresa lesson

Servant Leaders must never hide their conscience or activism


".... How do we expose them and that is part of what the young people must be doing, and they can only do it if they are influenced, or getting knowledge from conscious people, you see we mustn’t hide our consciousness, we must expose it to enable other youngsters to understand you see that this is how it should be and this is how it must be and racism is personified it's terrible, and it seems to be getting worse, you know, but again I’m saying within the context of the racism so is the gender issue..."

Daniel in conversation with

Theresa Solomon




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