Her Christian name is Sally. Her African name is Bampeletseng . It means "Why do they hate me so."
Sally Motlana has come a long way. At least for a black South African.
She is 51 now, or so she believes. She was born of illiterate parents and doesn't know her exact birth date. What she does know is that when her mother came to Johannesburg from the North Eastern Transvaal, Sally was on her back and that was 1931.
Her gentle manner is deceptive. Behind the sweet smile and sparkling eyes is a fierceness that is almost frightening, particularly when she talks about the "system" in South Africa.
She has left her little Soweto grocery store which she owns and returned to her house for the interview.
She lives in one of the nicest houses in Soweto, a ranch-style glass and stone house with a beautiful garden courtyard, designed for a South African and his black American wife 30 years ago.
Though most of the houses in the black city of 1.6 million people are tiny three-room shacks, often housing three families, Sally Motlana lives in her house with her husband and family only.
And even though the house is nice, the yard is small and there are other houses crammed in next to it; across the street is a mud field; down the road, more little shanties.
Sally Motlana is the head of the Black Housewives League, a women's organization in Soweto which she took over in 1972. Her husband, Nthato Motlana, is the unofficial mayor of Soweto, a member of the 10-man council, and a very successful doctor.
The Motlanas are rich. Were they not black, they could probably live somewhere else rather than in the black ghetto as the government requires. Or at least they would be able to buy land and have a yard. Blacks in South Africa are not allowed to own land.
"I would love to live with my people," says Sally Motlana. "But I don't want to be told to live here. I want to be able to choose to live here. I want to be able to choose where I live. In fact," she says, smiling mischieviously, "Lower Houghton [an exclusive white area in Johannesburg] would be nice. They have nice big yards ther.
"When the whites see you in town driving a beautiful car, to them you must have stolen it, of stolen the money to buy the car. They even come up to you and ask you where you got the money to buy it. They don't understand, because they pay blacks so little, how anyone can afford it."
Sally Motlana ushers a guest into her spacious living room and sits on a large comfortable sofa, looking out on a perfectly kept garden. A black servant quietly brings in tea and cookies in pretty flowered porcelain with embroidered lace napkins.
She apologizes for the way she is dressed, in a plain cotton dress, because she has just come from the store. Her hair is simply cornrowed. She looks much younger than whatever age she thinks she is. She could be any upper-middle class black American housewife. She laughs and chats and makes polite conversation at first, putting her guest at ease. Except that just below the surface of that concerned hostess, Sally Motlana is seething.
"I am in so much rage all the time." she says, "that I feel I will soon develop hypertension. The laws of this country make me so mad...." But she sees herself getting too upset again, puts her hand on her chest which has begun heaving and smiles a bit apologetically.
But ask her which laws make her the maddest -- is it the separation laws? The immorality laws? The laws against blacks owning property? Against blacks voting? She'll tell you, of course they matter. But the one thing that makes her the most angry is "they pass laws which have influx control."
Blacks in South Africa cannot move freely about. They must have passes stating that they are legally employed and if not, they are sent back to the "homelands," usually separating families.
The homelands are areas arbitrarily designated by the white Afrikaners for the blacks to live based on the tribal origin of the individual. Their plan is to make all blacks go back to the homelands of their ancestors, make each homeland a separate country. This plan would thereby rid South Africa of all its black citizens, creating a lily-white state.
Of course most of the blacks in the cities have been born and raised in the cities, in some cases generations away from the bush. And the homelands are poor areas in the bush where there are no jobs, no opportunities, and general economic devastation. The women there often have to walk for miles to fetch wood for fires to cook on and water to drink, clean and cook with. The catch also it that the whites need the black men and some of their women for labor. So they would give them work passes to stay in urban centers, sending the women and children back to the homelands, thereby causing the disintergration of family life. This is already being done.
"This law," Sally Motlana says simply, "drives me around the bend."
Defiance and Despair
For the last 25 years, ever since Sally Motlana and her husband have been married, they have been trying to do something about the laws.
Sally Motlana has been in jail three times, her husband once He has been "banned" three times, for five years each time (that means you are not allowed to be in the presence of more than one person at a time. Ever. Or to leave your magisterial district. Or to publish. Or to give interviews.) Sally Motlana figures she is probably due to be banned herself at some point.
After she graduated from college, where she studied under the Anglicans, and began teaching history, after she and Motlana were married, the two of them became activists in a traditionally docile community. They organized the Defiance campaign in 1952. "We used to go out at night and try to get people to defy the laws of South Africa." They did things like sit-ins -- in those days things were much freer. Today with the laws so much more repressive even these mild tactics are not possible.
"If you went into a restaurant today," she says, (blacks are not allowed in white restaurants in South Africa) "they would call the police.They would arrest you.
"They would charge you with trespassing under the group areas act. In 1952 we organized sit-ins but we don't do it now. All organizations which have any meaning at all have been banned. We're not allowed to have church meetings. They've made it so difficult the only thing we can do is go underground. They think they have all the strength, all the weapons. But the meetings I attend will not be known to them. Only the results will."
Still, compared to the American black civil rights militants in the late '50s and early '60s, the Motlanas would be considered moderates. At least up until now.
Now the bitterness fairly spews out of her mouth when she speaks of the white Afrikaner, of the rules and laws which deny blacks any rights.
She talks about the idea of blacks having to return to their homelands. "I am from the Sotho tribe," she says, "my husband is Iswana So where do my children belong? they are bastards because of this emphasis of the government on ethnic groupings.
"If they sent us back to our 'homelands,'" she says, the word dripping with scorn, "I would have to go to Northern Sotho group, my husband would have to go south. I don't know where the children would go. They only speak English."
Threat of Unity
Sally Motlana speaks seven languages, including five tribal languages and Afrikaans. "But only when I'm stranded do I speak that language," she says."Otherwise NEVER in my life."
One of her main goals, she says, as head of the Black Housewives League, aside fom helping the poor, the old, the crippled and the orphaned in Soweto, is "to teach the women not to adhere to ethnic grouping. And that is one thing the security police don't like me for, too," she says beaming with pride. "We are many tribes in South Africa, but we are supposed to be divided by ethnic groupings. That is their plan, to divide and rule. The unity of the black man in this country is a threat to the white man. We must try to teach our brothers not to fight, not to go after each other, or we will end up in chaos."
There is almost a schizophrenic quality about her, she seems so torn. Torn between her intellectual political concerns and her visceral, outrage. Part of the time Sally Motlana will sit coolly talking about what must be done in a perfectly rational way, sipping her tea, munching her cookies, giving quiet instructions to her maid, answering the constantly ringing telephone.
Then she will became violently angry, her eyes will catch fire, she will lean forward pounding her fist on her knee.
"I feel sorry for them." she says of the whites. "They don't understand what they are doing. If I didn't want a white person around me then I wouldn't want them at all, from birth to death. But they want me, the black person, they want me when it suits them. I nurse their babies, I suckle them, hold them to my black breast, feed them, change them.
"I perpare their food with my black hands which they don't want to touch, I take their children to the parks, and to the school. I teach them, I sing to them, I love them. And then, then when the children are 10 years old they are taught that they must never touch me, touch me because I am a stinking black, or they will turn partially black. That," she says, trying to catch her breath, "that is why I feel sorry for them. They are anot being honest with themselves. Even now you go to all these hotels and in the kitchen there is a black man preparing the food, the waiters are all black. They're not being honest with themselves."
Sally Motlana saves her richest scorn for the hypocrisy she sees in the immorality law, which makes it illegal for two people of different colors to have sexual relations of any kind.
"Ha!" she says. "You go to a Holiday Inn, in Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana just over the border and you see how many blacks and whites are sleeping together. You would be shocked.
"Every weekend the black women go up in buses to these Holiday Inns to meet their Afrikaner boyfriends and to cradle the white men in their arms... You see," she says, warming to her subject, "I am a black woman during the day, not to be able to be looked at by a white man. But after sunset I become his mistress. I am the mistress he wouldn't touch with a long poker in the daylight. Now, at night he wants to cuddle me. And the white women know about it. Now how could they touch their men when they come back after sleeping with me?" She crows with delight over her rhetorical question. "They stick to their husbands even if they are caught. And the Afrikaners get arrested all the time for this. But the woman must condone it. If she truly didn't then she would divorce him. And she doesn't."
She says there are flats in the Hillsborough district of Johannesburg where black women leave Soweto "and go there where they sleep with white men for money."
She laughs. "The white men consider rugby their favorite sport," she says. "The other is sex across the border line," and she cackles with glee.
All this would amuse Sally Motlana if it weren't for the tragic consequences -- colored children born as a result of these illegal liaisons.
Not only does this produce a sociological problem, she says, but a legal one as well because by law "coloreds" in South Africa are different from blacks and therefore not allowed to live in black areas. Colored have their own areas, as do whites and Indians. This does produce a Catch 22 situation, since according to law blacks and whites don't sleep together. It also makes it difficult for the government to explain away and accommodate the growing number of coloreds.
People are designated colored by the South African government because their parents are classified colored or because their skin is darker than white. Traditionally the colored have tried to identify with the whites, by speaking Afrikaans, imitating Western customs in order to disassociate themselves from the despised blacks and to improve their own lot. The whites do not discriminate against the coloreds as they do against blacks.
The coloreds -- there are about 2 1/2 million of them -- are either descendants of the original Hottentots, the people who inhabited the land when the Dutch first arrived in 1650, or descendants of Javanese slaves, or products of black-white sexual liaisons.
"These colored children are born every day," says Sally Motlana. "And they are classified officially as colored. If they are born of a white man and a black woman, the law will be on the man's side. There is no such thing as a paternity suit. The man doesn't have to support the child. She will never get redress if she goes to court. Of course some white men do give the women money for the child. But never in the open."
She repeats the well-known story of a white Afrikaner and a black woman who recently fell in love in Johannesburg. Despite the gossip, the scandal and the social ostracism, they stayed together for three years, even quietly maintaining a flat together. Finally the pressure against them became so great that they committed suicide together.
According to Sally Motlana these women are not protected from scandal in the black community either. "The community feels very bad about her and an even worse stigma falls on her child. The other children call him 'lekgowa ' which means 'whitey.'"
It is, from Sally Motlana's point of view, the human suffering, the personal day-to-day problems, which will cause the black people of South Africa to rise up against their white oppressors. And she can see it begin to happen gradually in little ways.
"The bitterness," she says, shaking her head sadly. "The relationship between the whites and the blacks has deteriorated a great deal. Even noe, if I hear somebody speaking Afrikaans I feel like stuffing something in his mouth."
Her children, she says, are much more radical than she and her husband. "For sure they are. And it doesn't frighten me because I believe they are now beginning to understand the situation in this country."
She sees another sign of deteriorating relations in the black attitude toward the white liberals, the English-speaking whites who have traditionally been champions of the blacks.
"I think the liberals now must wait until we tell them what we want," she says. "They've delayed the progress of the black man for a long time by trying to steer the middle course. It's time they left us to our own decisions, our own way of doing things."
And that way, Sally Motlana fears, may eventually have to be violent.
"I am praying as a Christian there should be no violence," she says. "But the government of this country believes in putting things straight by using violence and violence will be retaliated for with violence. We've tried every method to avoid it. But we are heading for a failure and the only door open is violence. I don't want to see it. I don't want to support it. I pray it won't happen. But what is left?"
When the interview is over, Sally Motlana leads the way to the door and walks down the path to the street. There, parked directly in front of her house, is a police car. A policeman is sitting in the car idly reading a newspaper and quickly comes to attention when he sees her appear with a reporter .
Don't you have anything better to do?" she taunts in a loud voice. She seems not at all surprised or particularly disturbed .
How, she is asked, do they know she has been giving an interview ?
Now she looks surprised. "They top your telephones and bug your house," she says matter-of-factly. "They know everything ."