Elizabeth “Rocky” Mafikeng was born on the 18th September 1918 in Tarkastad, a small town near Queenstown in the Eastern Cape. She was from a working class family. Her father, Andries Mokoena, a labourer, did shortly after her birth, and her mother Kathrine was a housewife. With the death of her husband, Kathrine was pushed to wage employment as a cook in a hotel to keep the fires burning in the home.
Her family, like all other African families, struggled to make a living in the inhumane apartheid system. At the age of 14, Elizabeth had to help the family by making fat- cakes, which she sold at factories nearby her home at the expense of her schooling.
She came to live in Paarl in 1927. By 1933 she had attained a standard 7 education. To help support her family, she started working at this early age at H. Jones canning factory where she cleaned basins of apricots, peas, figs and peaches for 75 cents a week. Comrade Elizabeth married a factory worker in 1941, the same year in which the Daljosaphat and Huguenot branches (in Paarl) were formed. The couple had eleven children of whom eight were daughters and three sons.
Comrade Elizabeth’s active political life started towards the end of 1941, when she joined the Food and Canning Workers’ union. She became a shop steward committee member. Between 1954 and 1959 she served as president of the African Food and Canning Workers’ Union (AFCWU) and branch secretary in Paarl.
In January 1954, the union led a strike in Wolseley for higher wages and better working conditions. There were constant strikes in the fishing hamlets and Namaqualand, namely Lambert’s Bay Worcester, Montague, Daljosaphat, Paarl and Wellington. She is one of the people who defied the Native Labour Settlement of Disputes Act of 1953. Her courage and successful battles caused her to fought on behalf of the trade unions and all the oppressed people of South Africa.
In 1955, Rocky was chosen by the Food and Canning Workers’ Union to represent them in a Congress of the Food and Canning Workers organization by the Tobacco Hotel Industries in Sofia.
To connect the workers’ struggle for liberation and their struggle for better working conditions, she joined the Paarl branch of the ANC and in 1957 she became the vice-president of the ANC Women’s League. She also served on the regional committee of the National Executive of the South African Congress of Trade unions (SACTU). She is also one of the founder members of the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW). During and after this congress, she visited Warsaw, Berlin, Peking, Poland, the Soviet Union and London. In these visits, she addressed meetings on the situation in South Africa and had discussions with delegates from other countries.
Elizabeth was one of our women with great energy and determination to crush the apartheid system. She was one of the trade union organizers who would not rest until their demands were met. In 1951, the union organized workers to strike in opposition to the Coloured Representative Bill.
On the 11th of November 1959, the apartheid regime served comrade Elizabeth with a deportation (banning) order shortly after she had led a huge demonstration in Paarl against an attempt to issue passes to African women. According to the government, Rocky’s presence would disturb the peace and order among people in Paarl and that’s why she was banished.
Initially the apartheid regime wanted to deport her to Vryburg but the banning order angered SACTU and the union. Together with the ANC, the Congress of Democrats, the Coloured People’s Congress, SACTU and the Women’s Federation, they organized a demonstration in protest against the banishment by guarding her house day and night. They organized transport for Rocky to Lesotho and she escaped on the 19th of November to Maseru, with her one-month old baby, Uhuru. There she had to live in a remote area in a neighbouring country, without her mother, husband and children. She only learnt about the demonstration when she was already in Basutoland (now Lesotho) where she lived as a refugee.
During her time in exile, cde Rocky’s mother and husband died. Rocky wanted to attend the funerals but the risk of her getting caught by the security force was too great and it was decided that she should rather stay in Lesotho. A committee made up of comrades from FCWU was elected to look after Rocky’s children and they at least got to visit her during the holidays.
After the unbanning of political parties like the ANC, Rocky returned to Cape Town in 1991 and the union built a house for her in the Mbekweni township in Paarl. Cde Rocky remains an ANC and FAWU stalwart and she still resides in Paarl to this day, but is no longer actively involved in political activities as she is suffering from ill-health.
FAWU celebrated cde Rocky’s 90th birthday in September 2008 and presented her with several gifts to thank her for contribution towards building the union and the liberation struggle.