Mike Abrahams

ANC stalwart Vivian Magdalene Sarah Daniels, affectionately known as “Auntie Vivie” passed away last month, aged 81. You didn’t have to wonder where she was when there was a struggle happening. If you went to the frontline you would find her there. Let us follow her example.

“Let us now proceed with the revolution!” Auntie Vivie’s first words at her first public address to a mass meeting in November 1981. Later on, as she took to the stage at bigger meetings and beyond the local community, she would open her speeches with “Amandla” followed by, “Ek is auntie Vivie van Bellville Suid” (I’m auntie Vivie from Bellville South), and this I always found profound.

Auntie Vivie was a veteran of the movements of Bellville-South, of the Cape Areas Housing Action Committee (CAHAC), the United Democratic Front (UDF) and of the local ANC branch since the unbanning. Over the last few months we have lost many comrades from our generation. We have to tell their stories of commitment, sacrifice and selflessness, we have to honour these fallen comrades. We owe this to future generations as they continue to struggle to overcome old and new social ills.

I last saw Auntie Vivie on a wintry Sunday afternoon in 2018. She was frail and her eyesight was weak by then, but she remembered all those heady days of our struggle for freedom. She was sitting in her garden, the same house where we met almost 40 years ago, enjoying the winter sun. We spoke for a long time, mostly about the old days, we also spoke about the neighbourhood. Now in the area, there were more dogs on chains, as families and friends tried protecting the little they had against the craving drugged-up youth society had failed. A fence had collapsed here, a picket fence went up there, but after all these years it seems times have gotten worse.

Auntie Vivie was concerned about the drugs and unemployment so rampant in our community. She was a shadow of her former fiery self, but there was still a flame burning somewhere deep inside her. She was tired and could no longer mobilise and organise, but if you listened carefully, you could feel the warmth of that fire that all her life yearned for freedom and dignity.

I weep for the loss of this auntie as I now clearly recall some of my interactions with her over the years.

After the 1980 boycott, the running battles with the police, the clouds of teargas over schools, and the coughing children running into the nearest home to be offered refuge from the brutal police, and after the mass detentions of 1980, we paused and we breathed again. The tear gas was blown away by the Cape winds and as the dust settled, young high school and university students could sit down together and plan for a term beyond the excitement of the 1980s.

This was the generation of young people who descended on their communities to build organisations for liberation. It was these organisations that carried our people that last mile, to 1990 and then to the first democratic elections in 1994.

Auntie Vivie’s house was the centre of our civic activism. Here we gathered around candle light to plan meetings, workshops and campaigns. In 1981, after months of door-to-door work, weekly street meetings and committee meetings and writing and distributing pamphlets, we decided to call ourselves the Bellville South Housing Action Committee, because we were an action-orientated organisation.

At the launch of our first campaign and the organisation, Aunty Vivie was to read the resolutions to be adopted at the end of the meeting. The turn-out was not good. Actually, us Varsity kids were a bit disappointed after months of door-to-door work and house meetings that so few people turned up. But Aunty Vivie was not deterred.

And as she stumbled and almost fell going up the few steps to the stage, she just pulled herself together and announced, “Mense, laat ons nou voort gaan met die revolusie” (People, let us proceed with the revolution!). She was to say resolutions and I’m still not sure whether it was a slip, but it was appropriate for the day, for our times, for her life and for what she gave to the cause of freedom. Since then I jokingly called her Aunty Viva.

One of the very early actions we took was to put a family back into their home after an eviction. Auntie Vivie was there and she was the one that shouted, “breuk die slot af” (break the lock) that was used by the council to seal the house to prevent re-occupation. She was in the forefront giving instructions as we carried the furniture and other belongings of the family back into their house. It was Auntie Vivie who gave the workers sent by the council a lecture that shamed them to step out of the way so that we can proceed with the revolution, and so our first very small victory that first year was to return an evicted family to their homes.

By the time I left Cape Town, at the end of 1985, the civic had mostly freed themselves from dependence on varsity students, though they still assisted, they still came to visit, they still used her home for planning meetings and all sorts of other activities, and she was still a mother who could see when we young ones had things in our hearts and on our minds that bothered us, and she was still a mother that we could turn to and talk. And she was still an activist that was ready to lead every day.

And so Auntie Vivie became part of the leadership of CAHAC and the UDF. She was part of those women and mothers who were the backbone of building advice offices and support structures for those young activists who were on the radar of the apartheid security police, or who were in detention. She counselled other mothers. She knew what it took to ‘proceed with the revolution’ and she was always there and ready.

I am saddened by the loss of this brave fighter, always showing leadership, always serving the people. And so today in honour of Auntie Vivie, let us remember her voice, “Comrades, let us proceed with the revolution!”

Long live aunty Viva! Viva aunty Vivie! Your spirit of selflessness will inspire future generations.