red location museum

seeking to remember the past in many ways

frances baard



Frances Baard, a trade unionist who had spent her working life in the Eastern Cape was banished to Mabopane in the Transvaal. Here she was linguistically foreign, without shelter, far from her home and family. She describes her experience in moving terms:

"They got this place in Pretoria for me...a little dirty place: it was a two-roomed house. Not a house, a shack, and I was put in there. I had nothing with me from jail - only the clothes I was wearing...There was no blanket, nothing. It was very cold...I didn't even know a person in that place, I couldn't even speak the language of the people there. Since I was brought there by the S.B.(Security Branch) the people were afraid of me, to talk to me..."


Persecuted for refusing to take a pass, flung into a hostile environment, Frances Baard, just released from prison, was penniless and jobless. At home in Port Elizabeth, her house was appropriated, her furniture removed. Her children were thrown into the street, one also arrested and jailed for being without a pass. Political activity became personally dangerous, and activists risked extended periods of detention and harassment.

 

Raymond Mhlaba's Personal Memoirs:

"The story of Frances Baard deserves telling. She worked as a domestic worker in town. She used the train to travel to and from work. One morning on her way to work, she passed the single men's quarters next to Red Location and White Location in New Brighton. It was a cold winter's day and it had rained the previous day. Ma Baard, as we called her, saw men sleeping between puddles of water. One man came from inside the hostel to fetch water. Ma Baard asked this man why the other men were sleeping in that way. The man responded that it was full inside the hostel. These were migrants who came from the Transkei and Ciskei. They arrived in the middle of the night and could not find accommodation. The particular scene disturbed Ma Baard for the whole of that day.

 

We had been using one of her bedrooms as our New Brighton ANC office. When she came back from work she found Dr Njongwe, Gladstone Tshume, Robert Matji, and myself busy with our political work in her home at Aggrey Road. Ma Baard was living alone in a four roomed house. I noticed that she did not look happy that day and asked her what was bothering her. She related the pathetic scene of the morning to us. We then invited her to our regular ANC meetings at Emlotheni the following Sunday.

 

At that meeting I recounted her story. I asked her to join other women and after the meeting we introduced her to Florence Matomela, Talita Chaba, and others who were leaders of the Women's League. These women went from door to door organising other women in New Brighton. Ma Baard's concern for the migrants in the hostels became the main problem around which these women organised and mobilised. They went to see the superintendant to find out why people had top sleep in the streets.

 

This was the beginning of Ma Baard's political career in PE. Later on Ma Baard met Ray Alexander who came to organise factory workers. Ray came from Cape Town and was a regular visitor to PE. At that stage Ma Baard was working in the Food and Canning Factory. Ray introduced her and other workers to trade unionism. Ray also introduced Ma Baard to the Party. We attended Party meetings together and I remember her saying that the three formations: the ANC, the trade unions and the Party, were strong when they worked together. People could never tell which was which. Indeed, Ma Baard was arrested whilst organising workers, she was arrested under the Suppression of Communism Act."


The History of South African Trade Unions:
  • "Year after year SACTU joined with all other progressive forces to condemn the pass laws, and particularly their extension to African women. At its first Annual National Conference in March 1956, held in Cape Town, Frances Baard led a lengthy discussion on the effect on women of the pass laws.'Once women accept the passes,' she said,'they will be jailed every day.' Resolutions condemning the pass laws were approved at every conference and May Day pledges always included a call to continue the fight against them. Local committees in each area were called upon to unite with the women in their struggle and take action relevant to the local situation."
  • "Hier is n 'groot agitator' (Here is a great agitator), an Afrikaner policeman once described Frances Baard as he shoved her into a police van during the Anti-Pass Campaign in Port Elizabeth. One of the Eastern Cape's many dynamic leaders, Frances played a leading role in the women's movement, the trade union movement and the political struggle. She was a former domestic servant, then a teacher and later became Secretary of the FCWU, Port Elizabeth branch. Until she became Secretary, she was constantly victimized by the canning employers and dismissed from work for her fearless stand in demanding just treatment for the workers. Frances joined the ANC in 1948, and by 1950 was Secretary of the ANC Women's League in PE. She participated in the Defiance Campaign and played a major role in the Boycott of Bantu Education in 1955. After her arrest in the Treason Trial, Frances sent a message from the dock: 'No matter where you work, unite against low wages. . . unite into an unbreakable solidarity and organization which is the only protection we can possess against low wages, injustice and oppression. 32 It was in this militant spirit that Frances Baard carried out her trade union work throughout the 1950s and 1960s. She represented food and canning workers on the PE-SACTU Local Committee and regularly attended SACTU Annual Conferences as their delegate. As well, she was one of the few women members of the SACTU National Executive. Frances is perhaps best remembered as a women's leader in the Port Elizabeth area. In 1954, she was an inspiring speaker at the founding conference of the FSAW and played a major role in the organization in the ensuing years. In August 1956, she went to Pretoria with other PE women. But it was in the Eastern Cape itself that the Anti-Pass Campaign took on great importance under her guidance and leadership. Hundreds of African women in the canning industry and woolwasheries were affected by the introduction of passes for women. With the assistance of other women trade unionists such as Sophie Williams of the TWIU, the women of Port Elizabeth launched a massive Anti-Pass Campaign. They organized pickets next to a Reference Books Unit set up by the authorities, dissuading other women who came to get their passes. They staged a demonstration and marched to the Mayor's garden with placards and leaflets. Whatever they could do to resist the imposition of passes, these women attempted it. Because of her militant stand on behalf of African women and in particular women workers, Frances was persecuted by the Apartheid state, ably assisted by the bosses. In 1962, she was prohibited by the management of Langeberg Kooperasie Besperk from entering their premises, in her view 'an attempt by the bosses to sabotage the activities of the Union'. Detained in 1962 and banned in January of the following year, this was just the beginning of the state's attack on her. On being arrested in 1963, she was kept in solitary confinement for one year before her trial. She then served a five-year prison sentence for contravening the Suppression of Communism Act and was released in 1969. Banishment orders were served soon after, forcing her to leave her family and friends to go and live in an old two-roomed corrugated iron shack in Mabopane in the northern Transvaal, a thousand miles away from her home. Though her banishment order has been lifted, she is over sixty now and finds it difficult to move around. Hence, she remains in Mabopane, unable to pick up the threads of her life in Port Elizabeth again."

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