Florence Mkhize Building
Formerly Martin West Building
From humble beginnings, Florence Mkhize emerged as one of the giants of the liberation struggle. In recognition of her enormous contribution, her name graces the Florence Mkhize Building, the city centre municipal offices formerly called the Martin West building. Mama Flo, as she was affectionately known, was born in 1934 in Umzinto, a rural area on the South Coast. She became politically aware at 16 while attending a Roman Catholic school on the South Coast. On leaving school she threw herself into politics. She moved to Durban and married Amos Mswane in the 1950s and the couple had four children. Two boys, Mandla and Thulani have since died.
But the eZasegagasini Metro interviewed one of the daughters, Khosi, in Mama Flo’s modest Lamontville home. Khosi, who works in Johannesburg, remembers that their house was a hive of activity. Comrades fleeing the apartheid security forces were often put up there. According to Khosi, KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Transport, Safety and Community Liaison, Bheki Cele, was one of the hundreds of comrades who sought refuge at Mama Flo’s house time and again. She said her father, although not politically inclined, never interfered with his wife’s activities. He allowed her to travel the length and breadth of the country and even overseas.
Mama Flo was one of the organisers of the 1950 Defiance Campaign in the then Natal and the legendary women’s anti-pass march on the Union Building in Pretoria, on 9 August 1956. She organised legal representation for hundreds of young people arrested by the police for political activities.
In the 1980s Mama Flo and other comrades flew to Amsterdam to raise funds to establish a school for children who were refused admission to township schools because their parents were politically active. Phambili High School was founded after this trip.
In a long and illustrious political career, she rubbed shoulders with some of the, country’s liberation greats, including the Mxenges, Shushas, Dorothy Nyembe, Msizi Dube, Cyril Zulu and Albertina Sisulu. She became a councillor for ward 75 after the 1994 elections, a position she held until her death on 7 July 1999. She fought to have an HIV/Aids facility built in Lamontville, a dream that was realised, but only after she had died.