Greta Apelgren: Grace Under Pressure

Most people credit the abolition of apartheid to many organisations and leaders, such as the African National Congress and Nelson Mandela. It is, however, unlikely that most would think of the women who retaliated against the oppression in honour of their communities and well-being. Colonialism and apartheid affected women in different ways than their male counterparts. For one thing, women were subjected not only to racial discrimination but also gender discrimination. However, their contributions  to the struggle against apartheid were much greater than even they could have  expected. Greta Apelgren is a true freedom fighter who retaliated against the oppression of the apartheid regime.

On entering her home, you are greeted by a warm space that feels comfortable and attractive and has a distinct personality. The interior is tastefully furnished and incorporates details that add character and visual interest 

She is the life of any gathering that she attends. People enjoy her anecdotes and sense of humour. However, she is a focused individual, who does not have the time for the mundane.

She is sincere and courageous when faced with most life matters. She is always successful  at most things that she is involved in, whether it be simple tasks or more ample projects. This is also because she is motivated by the fear of failure and by how much she dislikes cowardice. She needs to feel herself in control and on top of the leadership ladder, but at the same time, when someone deserves dignity, she is quick to offer it.

She is currently the president of Durban South Women In Business(DSWIBA).These are women in the business community who are blazing a trail in their business, are respected for accomplishments within their industries, give back to the community, and are sought out as respected advisors and mentors within their field of influence.

From 1980 to 1986, she helped establish and manage the Wentworth improvement Centre, which focused mostly on the social development needs of the youth of Wentworth. She was an executive member of the Board of Management of the centre. She was also an executive member of the Wentworth Residents Association, and an active member of the local Catholic church, Christ The King, working mostly with youth programmes . Prior to her arrest, she was employed as a professional community development officer by the Durban Child and Family welfare Society, dealing mostly with issues affecting township women and children, impacted upon mainly by the inequalities of apartheid.

From 1983 to 1985, she became an active member of  the (United Democratic Front), UDF, as well as the United Committee of Concern, UCC. Through these structures, she actively campaigned against the tricameral elections because it deliberately excluded African people from that political dispensation.  This was when African people would continue to be denied their democratic rights to vote. Shortly after the unbanning of the ANC in 1990, she became an executive member of the Wentworth branch of the ANC, an executive member of the Interim Natal ANC Youth League, an executive member of the  Interim ANC Welfare Committee.

In January 1986, she was recruited by Robert McBride to become a member of a Special Operations Unit of umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the African National Congress. Umkhonto we Sizwe or MK, translated “The Spear of the Nation”, was the military wing of the ANC. MK commenced the military struggle against apartheid with acts of sabotage aimed at the infrastructure of the state, and in the early stages, they were reluctant to target civilians. Her  role at that stage was only to provide support, example transport, money, and so on, to the Commander and operatives in the unit.  This was from January 1986 to July 1986, when  she  was arrested together with comrade Robert McBride and his father comrade Derick McBride.

Greta has experienced all the emotions of Moral injury for her part  in the fight for freedom from racism. Moral Injury refers to an injury to an individual’s moral conscience and values resulting from an act of perceived moral transgression, which produces profound emotional guilt and shame. If she could turn back the clock she would omit the part where innocent people were maimed and killed.

“The first two years after my release I tried to be normal again and the more I struggled to be normal, the more disturbed I became. I had to accept that I was damaged. A part of my soul was eaten away as if by maggots, horrible as it sounds, and it will never get back again”; she painfully remembers.

She was  also subject to torture by the special branch interrogators, including months of solitary confinement.

“Together we have fought for our land, against low wages, high rents and the dompas. We have fought against bantu education, and for the right to vote for a government of our choice. Our history is about our struggle for freedom and justice. It tells the life story of the ANC and our struggle against racism and the apartheid government and its draconian sovereignty.

Our struggle was not only for the freedom of one particular population group, but for all South Africans. Neither were we mindless hooligans who went about destroying academic institutions by means of arson. The struggle was never for avaricious leaders who seem to take pleasure  in running the economy to the ground.

A Kleptocracy  with corrupt leaders that use their power to exploit the people and natural resources of their own country in order to extend their personal wealth and political powers, by  embezzlement of funds at the expense of the entire population. South Africa was applauded for its peaceful transition to Democracy, yet it has re-entered a global world order that has entrenched existing patterns of unemployment, inequality and poverty. CRY OUR BELOVED DEMOCRACY”

It is clear that Greta Apelgren possesses courage that comes from cultivating the habit of refusing to let fear dictate her actions. Courage that could be described as ‘grace under pressure’ – grace which is renewed repeatedly in the face of harsh, unremitting pressure.

By: Lorraine Richards

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