interviewed poet Gladys Thomas, one of the most interesting people i have ever met

published in Cape Argus, April 25, 2013

Anti-apartheid poet, playwright and author Gladys Thomas held a two-hour lone protest outside the Land Claims Commission offices in Long Street on Wednesday, saying she had heard nothing about her claim in seven years.

Thomas, 78, held a placard which read “Waiting for my land claim… no correspondence… no apologies… Is this what I fought for” until she was invited upstairs to speak to senior officials from the commission.

The Cape Argus visited Thomas at her Ocean View home on Wednesday afternoon where she explained that the officials told her there were 300 other people who had also made claims and that the process took time.

She said the department had not responded to any of her queries about her claim over the years.

After her protest on Wednesday, officials told her she needed to wait another four months for them to get the history of progress on her claim.

“They said they were busy with claims from 300 other people. But I think it is very unfair to make people wait like that.”

The land Thomas is claiming is located in Main Road in Lakeside where it is being used as a parking lot.

Thomas said her family had lived there until they were forcibly removed by the apartheid government.

“My brother was an architect and he had built this beautiful house for my mother and father.

“Then came the Group Areas Act where they broke down at least a million houses that belonged to people.”

She said their Lakeside home was bulldozed and she married and moved to Simon’s Town with her husband where they were again moved to Ocean View, where she has lived for the past 40 years.

“I don’t want the land back. I want to be compensated because I don’t want to give up this house (in Ocean View). I am used to this house and my neighbours.”

Thomas said she decided on the lone protest because she was angry, an emotion that drove her to pen her first anthology called Cry Rage in 1967 with fellow anti-apartheid poet James Matthews. It was the first book of poetry to be banned in South Africa.

She has written several children’s books, plays and short stories and has travelled to places such as Germany, Switzerland and the United States.

Thomas was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga in 2007 by former president Thabo Mbeki for her “outstanding contribution to poetry and short stories through which she exposed the political injustices and human suffering of the apartheid regime and for raising international consciousness about the ravages of apartheid”.

She said she stopped writing a few years ago. “I don’t have to impress anyone any more,” she laughed. 

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