Politics of Alexandra and the Clinic during the late 80’s and early 90’s

Apart from the more obvious curative health services like the Casualty and the chronic disease clinics, the Centre also started developing preventative and educational services in the late 1980s. One community involvement project and an additional outreach service and other activities were started in the early nineties.

An Occupational Health Outreach programme to neighbouring factories in Kew, Wynberg and Marlborough (when these were vibrant and viable industrial areas) was started in 1990. Fifty factories contracted with the AHC. Factory workers were then consulted around the service they would like, and a risk analysis service as well as chronic disease screening was offered. This helped identify a few residents who were interested in health issues and showed some leadership potential. Work was then done with various Alexandra community and political organisations to set up a community based health advisory committee to support the policy development of the board and management of the health centre. The political context of the time was particularly interesting and characterised as follows:

  • The ANC was only recently unbanned and the branch structures had not yet been established.
  • The oldest civic organisations that operated in the absence of the banned ANC was the Alexandra Civic Association (ACA) with aging leadership and a withering active support base. It was essentially an unelected group (a hangover from a more repressive era) but dominated media contact, and gained membership of the Transvaal UDF structures of the time (that filled the gap created in the 80s by the banning of the black consciouness organisations of the 70s).
  • The mass based trade union movement, Cosatu had strong branches in and around Alexandra, controlled by the left leaning Metal and Allied Workers Union led by Moses (Moss) Mayekiso, an Alex based resident. His brother Mzwanele Mayekiso, launched a mass based, democratically elected alternative to the ACA, called the Alexandra Civic Organization in the early 80s in response to the lack of accountability of the ACA leadership to the community. Other prominent leaders of this new group were Paul Mashatile, Obed Bapela, and Richard Mdakane. This group were more strongly union aligned but eventually also affiliated to the UDF and it’s South African Civic Organisation (SANCO) in the late 1980s.
  • The school pupils were relatively independently organised into the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) with a number of other prominent but younger leaders.
  • These groups lead the uprising in Alex from the mid-nineteen eighties with several dramatic mobilisations of the community in vast numbers culminating in marches to Johannesburg city centre (as part of the UDF) to protest Inkatha violence in 19901 and 1992 as well as the massive march on the ‘whites’ only Edenvale hospital to demand it’s opening to the residents of Alexandra. The AHC participated prominently in this march, leading the development of the strategy, supplying first aid, ambulance and casualty support, and addressing the gathering of at least 20 000 and possibly up to 50 000 people in the Alexandra Stadium. In addition the clinic outreach staff generally participated in several other mass mobilisation events including commemorations of Sharpeville Day in 1990-4, protests against Inkatha’s illegal occupation of the new Mens Hostel, and high profile protest funerals following the Alex Massacre.
  • The ANC re-emerged in to this context of a highly unified mass participation movement with relatively divided leadership. A highly contested election of the first ANC executive in Spring 1992 took place. Dr Grant Rex, at the time heading up the Alexandra Health Centre outreach programme, was voted on as a member of the 1st ANC Branch Executive on the Health portfolio and participated actively on the executive under the leadership of Justice Ngidi, for that term, with weekly meetings planning the signing up of membership, collection of membership subs, setting up of bank accounts. The clinic was used as a venue for some of these meetings.
  • An ANC health committee was launched as part of this responsibility and took over from the AHC community health committee with significantly overlapping membership. The committee in turn participated in the election of the AHC community based board members.

The Health Centre constitution included a board with a majority of community representatives. Three of these were elected per annum with a three year tenure. The election took place at the AHC annual general meeting which was open to all residents and widely advertised. Attendance, initially poor , grew and by the mid 1990s had reached around 100 people.

Independently of this, Dr Rex participated in the ANC underground and supplied arms to Catherine Mvelase (not of AHC), a recently returned exile previously based in Angola who was an Alex resident. She was setting up the resistance to Inkatha and given the proximity to her and and his cover as a doctor working after hours in the area, it was identified as the easiest route for supply of AK 47’s, ammunition, hand grenades and RPG rockets to this network. A few bootloads of this was driven to the AHC and emptied under cover of dark by her and her comrades. The attack on the Inkatha stronghold in the hostel and the south west corner of the township from London Road between 1st to 8th Ave was launched and Inkatha were expelled after 2 years of terrorising the unarmed members of the community (the most protracted battle involving MK inside the borders of the country and possibly the largest armed battle inside the borders of the country since the Boer War a century earlier).

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