Obituary: Jane Tabata

Norman Traub
Monday 13 May 1996 00:02 BST

Jane Tabata was one of the first black women to play a major role in the South African liberation movement. She was active in that movement for most of her adult life and her contribution to the shaping of the whole body of politi- cal thought in the struggle was immeasurable.

Tabata was born in Cape Town to a prominent family. She remembered as a child Gandhi staying in her parents' house when he came to Cape Town to meet General Jan Smuts. She studied at the University of Fort Hare and after graduation entered the teaching profession. She became involved in politics in the early 1930s together with her brother, Dr Goolam Gool, and I.B. Tabata, who later became her partner.

They were the first generation of black leaders whose political training did not take place under the tutelage of the white liberals. They became immersed in socialist politics and were founder members of the Workers Party of South Africa. They were able to chart an independent path of struggle for the blacks, which culminated in 1943 in the formation of the Non European Unity Movement, now known as the Unity Movement of South Africa (UMSA). The UMSA adopted a principled programme of struggle, the Ten Point Programme and a policy of non-collaboration with the oppressor. By adopting the Ten Point Programme, the UMSA set a plateau below which the demands of the black population could not fall.

Jane Tabata played an active role in training the youth. She helped found a students' organisation, the New Era Fellowship, and also a youth organisation, the Society of Young Africa. She played a leading role in the teachers' organisations, the Teachers League of South Africa and the Cape African Teachers Association, in the struggle against Bantu and Coloured education. In 1961 she became a founder member of the African People's Democratic Union of Southern Africa (APDUSA). She was banned in 1961 for five years under the notorious Suppression of Communism Act.

In 1963 she and other members of the leadership left South Africa clandestinely on a mission for UMSA to seek aid from abroad for the South African liberation struggle. She was a member of the delegation to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963, which presented a memorandum to that body requesting aid for the liberation struggle and for the recognition of the UMSA The request was turned down as the OAU feared the UMSA's aims were too revolutionary.

In 1964 Jane Tabata became the official representative of the UMSA in Zambia. Enforced exile neither crushed the spirit nor diminished the energy of this indefatigable fighter for the liberation of South Africa. She was a person of strong principles and her singular characteristic was the sharpness with which she constantly defended the ideas of UMSA against all attempts to dilute them, for to her the struggle for liberation was a struggle for life.

She wrote many articles during her political career and also a booklet "The Crimes of Bantu Education". She was a prodigious reader and loved literature. When I phoned her earlier this year, she complained that I had taken her away from the latest novel she was reading, Like Water For Chocolate!

Jane Tabata returned to South Africa from exile in Zimbabwe in 1993 and was elected president of the UMSA in the same year. In concluding a paper read in the UMSA conference when she was elected she said: "Today after more than 40 years of fascism, apartheid's rule has fallen apart, rotten at the core, the people in penury, its economy destroyed, and fraud and corruption reigning supreme. The broederbonders have fallen out and they cannot rule in the old way. And now we, the oppressed, stand at the dawn of building a new life."

In an interview with the Cape Town paper South in 1994, turning to the future, she said: "We are soon to face a new historic period: that of socialism. Class differences will come to the fore under this new government. It will be rich against poor - a stark maturing of conflict will take place and workers and peasants will eventually be rewarded."

Jane Gool (Tabata), political activist: born Cape Town 19 March 1902; died Cape Town 6 May 1996.

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