Flowers of the Revolution

Genres: Documentary Series



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About the Show

Flowers of the Revolution is a three-part South African documentary series celebrating August as Women's Month.

Each hour long documentary looks at the life, love and work of South African women who were involved in the revolutionary struggle for freedom from Apartheid.

Flowers of the Revolution aired on SABC1 from 2-16 August, 2006, on Wednesdays at 21h00. Each episode is an hour long.


Each documentary is as follows:

Episode 1: Vesta Smith

Vesta Smith, affectionately known as Ma Vee to friends and comrades, was born in Eloff Street Extension in 1922.

Her father, a man of Zulu descent, worked as a clerk at Robinson Deep Mine where Vesta spent her early years with her four sisters. Her mother, a woman of Griqua descent, worked as a seamstress. At age five her father died and the family was forced to leave the mine housing and move to Vrededorp.

The family’s stay in Vrededorp did not last long as the government policy of forced removals soon compelled them to resettle in Noordgesig – a designated Coloured area geographically contiguous with Soweto. She was eighteen years old.

In Noordgesig Vesta became politically conscious and tentatively started her involvement in the struggle against apartheid. She attended the Congress of the People in 1955 and joined the Women’s March in August 1956 – two events which would make a lasting impression on her political life.

Noordgesig, however, was a conservative Afrikaans-speaking Coloured community which frowned on anti-apartheid activism considered as drawing unnecessary and negative state attention to the residents of the township.

In June 1976 Vesta joined the Soweto students’ protests against Bantu education and started providing shelter and hiding to the leaders of this uprising. Her activism brought her to the attention of the security police which proceeded to act against her and her family.

Episode 2: Deborah Nikiwe Matshoba

Debs Matshoba was born in Munsieville, Krugersdorp, in December 1950. She was the second of four daughters and one brother. Her father was nephew to Samuel Matshoba who was right hand man to Gijima, chief priest of the Israelites - a Christian Sect that was slaughtered at the Bullhoek Massacre in 1923.

In Krugersdorp he worked as a clerk for a firm of attorneys. Her mother was the eldest daughter of Chief Mathlabane of the Barolong in the then Western Transvaal. In spite of being first in line to the chieftainship upon her father’s death, Debs’ mother was prevented from assuming this role because of her gender.

During the forced removals of the 1950s the Matshobas were compelled to relocate to Kagiso Township in spite of a long and partially successful resistance by the residents of Munsieville. Debs’ political consciousness started developing immediately she set foot in a classroom.

The Bantu Education Act had just been passed and black children became the subject of an apartheid experiment in miseducation. When the Republic was formed in May 1961 Debs’ parents despaired for the future of their children and their people under Verwoerd and his Nationalist Party government. They sent Debs and her siblings to surviving missionary schools where Debs became active in the school debating club, honing her skills as a public speaker.

After high school she joined the Young Women’s Christian Association, following in the footsteps of her mother. The YWCA sent her to its world congress in Ghana in 1971. On her return she was a transformed woman, ready to shed her blood for liberation.

She went on to university where she met Steve Biko, Barney Pityana and the militant new leaders of the South African Students’ Organization. Her activism led to several arrests during the late 1970s and a torturous eighteen month spell in solitary confinement.

Episode 3: Florence Ribeiro

Florence Ribeiro nee Mathe was born in Natal in November 1933 and grew up in White City Jabavu, a suburb of Soweto.

She was the youngest of four sisters and a brother who died after accidentally being dropped on his head. Her father died when she was seven years old forcing her mother, a domestic worker, to raise her four daughters single-handedly.

Her mother saved and scraped to educate her daughters, instilling in them a love and respect for education. Three of her sisters joined the nursing profession and Florence trained to become a domestic science teacher.

She met her future husband, Fabian, when she was in standard eight. He was, at the time, a Catholic seminarian intent on joining the priesthood. The relationship with Florence changed the course of their lives as he went on to study medicine, abandoning the priesthood.

During his fourth year of studies the couple married and moved to Lady Selbourne, where Fabian served his internship. The family was forced to leave Lady Selbourne under the Group Areas Act removals and settled in Mamelodi where Fabian opened up a practice and Florence started a butchery.

The couple’s political activism began in the 1960s through their support of Florence’s sister, Veronica, who was married to Robert Sobukwe, a leader of the Pan Africanist Congress. Sobukwe had been imprisoned on Robben Island for leading the resistance against the notorious pass laws (a permit which determined the movement of Africans).

By the late 1970s Florence and Fabian were actively documenting and publicising the brutality of the security police towards child activists by videotaping their injuries. They also provided shelter to young activists as well as money and transport for those wishing to leave the country.

The security police found their actions intolerable and started acting against them. Failing to find a legal basis to curb their activities, the security police plotted to kill them.


Narrator - Herself

Latest Discussions

Flowers of the revolution Maria Suriano
07 Apr 2020 18h33


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