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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Honour the Women: Excerpts From Hilda Bernstein's "For Their Triumphs, For Their Tears"


Makabongwe Amakosikazi - Honour the Women

IV. A History of Struggle

Just as it is not possible to discuss the problems and disabilities of South African women without discussing the problems and disabilities that apartheid inflicts on the whole black population, so also it is not possible to assess the women's political activities and struggles without surveying the general struggle for liberation.

A historian commented in 1980 on political struggle in South Africa:

Women in South Africa, from the turn of the century, have emerged as primary catalysts for protest and challengers of the apartheid regime. With all the disabilities and devastating effects of apartheid on the status of women . . . those most oppressed of the oppressed have never lost sight of the fact that meaningful change for women cannot be forthcoming through reform but only through the total destruction of the apartheid system. Thus the common exploitation and oppression of men and women on the basis of colour has led to a combined fight against the system instead of a battle of women against men for 'women's rights'. While women desire their personal liberation, they see that as part of the total liberation movement. Although there is no doubt that the overt leadership has been dominated by men, the seemingly unacknowledged and informal segment of society controlled by women has been the key to many of the most significant mass movements in modern South African history. It is only in the very recent past that the crucial role played by women in raising basic issues, organising and involving the masses has become more widely recognised.

Women's organisations have always operated within the framework of the political resistance movements, because of the women's clear understanding that the reforms they need are dependent upon a restructuring of the state itself. This is one of the reasons that women's participation and initiatives often disappear subsequently from written history. For while it is easy to see the role of women in the political struggle when their activities are specifically among women - as in the various phases of the struggle against the pass laws - it is not as easy to see the pivotal role that they have played in the general activities of the male - led organisations. In various campaigns referred to here, women were not bystanders, nor reluctant participants dragged along by the militancy of the men, but were an integral part of the whole development of the campaigns. Without their activities, the campaigns could not have taken place.

Cherryl Walker comments on the dearth of material on women as reflecting the subordinate position that women have occupied in society, and also the preoccupation of male historians with political and constitutional rather than social history; as well as the historians' own, often unconscious, bias against women, in itself a product of the very social attitudes that reinforce and perpetuate women's subordination within the larger society. For many historians, women are invisible.

Despite their background of a patriarchal society, African women have never occupied the position of subservience that still exists in some parts of Asia and Africa. Even before the traditional pattern had been shattered, women played a notable part in many anti - colonial struggles.

In the innumerable campaigns run by the national liberation movement, although a significant number of women played increasingly important parts, the leadership as a whole has usually been male - dominated, although certainly no more so than we find in countries where women have a longer tradition of political struggle and much greater opportunities.

Dr Fatima Meer writes that Indian and African women in particular have left indelible marks on the modern movement for liberation. 'Indian women at the beginning of the century virtually made Gandhi, and proved the efficiency of the new liberation dialectic of satyagraha that he introduced.' The Indian resistance movement had remained mainly elitist until the women from two ashrams in Natal and the Transvaal transformed it into a mass movement. In 1912 they defied the anti - Asiatic law, crossed the provincial border from both ends and provoked the miners of Newcastle to lay down their picks and strike. A thousand workers then began the epic march led by Gandhi across the Natal border into the Transvaal. According to Meer, 'The great figure of that struggle was not Gandhi, but the emaciated young Valiamma, who refused to surrender despite her fatal illness following repeated imprisonments. She died in the struggle.'

White women of South Africa, except in small numbers, have not generally associated themselves either with the national liberation struggle or with the powerful women's movements. However, it would be wrong to undervalue the work of white women through organisations like the Black Sash and in fields of academic research, while in the Federation of South African Women (FSAW), the small white membership played a notable role. In the years before the First World War, there were white women suffragettes, inspired by their British sisters, who fought for the right to vote; the right of white women, that is. In those years women, children, lunatics and criminals, together with the majority of black men, were debarred from the vote. White women were not enfranchised until 1930; giving them the vote was partly impelled by the desire to reduce proportionately a small number of black men in the Cape who were entitled to vote.

Passive Resistance and the Defiance Campaign

In 1949, following the return of the Nationalist Party in the (whites only) election, the African National Congress (ANC), benefiting from a new dynamism coming from its Youth League, adopted a Programme of Action calling for strikes, civil disobedience and non - co - operation.

Prior to this the South African Indian Congress, under a more radical leadership than in the past, had in 1946 launched a passive resistance campaign against the Asiatic Land Tenure and Representation Act, aimed at limiting land occupation by the Asian community. Over two thousand Indian resisters went to jail for occupying land that was debarred to them. The Passive Resistance Campaign was of major importance for the political advancement of Indians as a whole, and of Indian women in particular.

Six of the 17 people who initiated the campaign were women, four of them from the Transvaal, who crossed the provincial border into Natal without the necessary permits, and were arrested. Although the actual numbers of women who participated in the campaign were not large (an estimated 300 of the 2,000 arrested were women),5 the fact of their participation was carried forward into the campaigns run jointly by the Congress organisations in the 1950s and in their participation in the FSAW. A leading figure was Dr Goonam, one of the only five black women medical practitioners in 1946, of whom four were Indian women.

As a first step in the implementation of the Programme of Action adopted by the ANC in 1949, a one - day stoppage of work was called for May Day,1950. Police fired into crowds of people in the township, killing 18 and wounding 30, including children. The outburst of sorrow and anger that followed the shootings brought together the African National Congress, the Indian Congress and the Communist Party (then about to be declared illegal) in a committee formed to call a national stoppage of work as protest on 26 June 1950. Hundreds of thousands took part in what was primarily a protest against apartheid; schools were empty, shops in the townships and particularly Indian shops in Johannesburg and Durban, were closed. In Port Elizabeth the stoppage was spectacular - all shipping was halted, businesses closed and hotels and garages left without staff. From that time on, 26 June became Freedom Day for South Africa.

The 1950s were turbulent years of political activity. During this whole decade, up to 1960, the emphasis of all the campaign was on peaceful protest, on non - violent methods of struggle. The campaign launched, that of Defiance against Unjust Laws, was a peak in mass action, marked by discipline, humour and determination on the part of the participants. Eight and a half thousand people deliberately courted arrest by defying apartheid regulations and laws, and among those who went to jail was a fair proportion of women. People from all the groups into which apartheid divides the population participated in the campaign.

The liberation movement, now broad - based, having enhanced unity between the different groups, proved itself capable of sophisticated campaigns. It had acquired symbols: a flag, a national anthem, a salute. The women wore a uniform - the black and green blouses that symbolised support for the ANC. The freedom songs composed for each new activity were sung throughout the country.

But each new protest was met by counter - action by the government in the form of new laws that effectively prevented similar protests in the future. Prohibitions and banning orders began to cripple the organisations.

The Congress of the People, Kliptown in June 1955 drew up a Freedom Charter for all South Africans. But it was followed by the arrest of 156 people (16 of them women) on charges of treason (all acquitted after a four - year trial). In 1957 and 1958 there were widespread revolts in many country areas (including those involving the women's anti - pass campaigns described in more detail below). They were met with excessive cruelty, assaults on people and burning of their homes and possessions. On 26 June 1957 there started a campaign of boycott - this, too, became illegal soon afterwards - and the tightening network of new laws and police activity brought ever - increasing repression and brutality.

One of the most horrifying examples of this occurred on 21 March 1960. The Pan - Africanist Congress (PAC), formed in 1959 after a split from the ANC, called a demonstration against the pass laws. At Sharpeville, faced with a large peaceful crowd of protest, the police opened fire. In a bloody scene 69 men and women were killed and more than 180 wounded.

This atrocity was followed by the declaration of a State of Emergency lasting five months. Raids were on a mass scale and hundreds were detained.

The ANC and the PAC were banned. The last legal action taken was the calling of a National Convention by black leaders for May 1961.

The general strike called for 29 May 1961 brought army mobilisation, helicopters and tanks in the townships, and the largest display of naked force brought into play to crush this last, theoretically legal, demonstration against apartheid laws. It was a climax and turning point in political struggle in South Africa. Seven months later the first acts of sabotage took place, with the emergence of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the now illegal ANC.

Indefinite detention without trial, solitary confinement and torture brought in an era of political trials.

IV.2 Women's Resistance

Throughout the long years of resistance women played an important part together with men. In addition they initiated and sustained their own protests against apartheid, demonstrating a strength that overcame their greater insecurity and oppression, and the responsibilities of children and homes that often they had to carry single-handedly.

Because of their comparatively small numbers in industry in the past, black women in general were excluded from the experience in worksolidarity relationships that have often provided a training ground for male political leaders. Domestic servants cannot join together easily to ask for better wages or work conditions; each has to deal individually with a single employer.

Despite the male monopoly of politics, African women burst on the scene in 1913 in a campaign against carrying passes, a struggle that remained a prime objective and proved effective in drawing in mass support.

Although at that time women did not fall within the provisions of the pass laws, local authorities had the power to make by-laws compelling women to obtain permits that in effect were the same as carrying passes - permits that cost them a shilling a month at a time when five pounds a month was an excellent wage.

When petitions and deputations had failed, the women 'threw off their shawls and took the law into their own hands'. In Bloemfontein 600 women marched to the municipal offices and demanded to see the Mayor. When they were told he was out, they deposited a bag containing their passes at the feet of the Deputy Mayor and told him they would buy no more.

Similar demonstrations spread to other towns and many women were arrested and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. If they were given the option of a fine, they all refused to pay, and officials at small country jails were confronted with the problem of a mass of women prisoners for whom they were not equipped.

Singing hymns, 800 women marched from the location to the Town Hall in the Orange Free State town of Winburg, and told the authorities they were tired of making appeals that bore no fruit, and thus they had resolved to carry no more passes. In a tiny Free State country town this mass demonstration of women was a stupendous event and made a striking impression. But the authorities were adamant and continued to arrest women, who had to be carted from one small town to another to find sufficient jail accommodation

The struggle continued for years, and eventually these dauntless women were successful. Passes for women were withdrawn.

The same total capacity for defiance and solidarity was to surface among a new generation of women fighting the pass laws in the 1950s.

The earliest political organisation among African women was the Bantu Women's League, formed in 1913 a year after the founding of the ANC. A pioneering woman, Charlotte Maxeke, founded this League, forerunner of the ANC Women's League that would be established 35 years later. Women in the ANC were auxiliary members only, without voting rights until 1943, when they were admitted as full members. At the same conference, the need for a women's league was acknowledged, but it was 1948 before it was officially inaugurated.

The Women's League took some years to build itself into an effective organisation, and in its earlier years the work was largely the supportive type that has always been the women's role: catering for conferences; providing accommodation; fund - raising.

There were many difficulties in stepping outside these limits, comments Cherryl Walker in her book on the history of women's struggles in South Africa.8 Any form of political organisation against apartheid was difficult. The women's difficulties were compounded by the fact that economically they were more vulnerable, and politically less secure than the men. Patriarchal ideology was deeply entrenched in all strata of society, and both men and women in Congress were conditioned to accept the limitations of the supportive role of the women.

The widening of the scope and the activities of the Women's League came in the 1950s and was a reflection of both the increasing activities and importance of the ANC itself, and also the threat to women of the pass laws.

The organisation that was to play the key role in activating the women against the pass laws was the FSAW (or just 'Womens Fed.') established at a national conference in Johannesburg in 1954. There had been previous attempts to draw women of different groups into one organisation; the Transvaal All - Women's Union was a forerunner of FSAW.

From the beginning, FSAW clearly indicated its double objective of fighting for freedom and liberation for all through the overthrow of apartheid, and of fighting against women's special disabilities. The conference adopted a Charter of Women's Aims, the opening words of which declare: 'our aim of striving for the removal of all laws, regulations, conventions and customs that discriminate against us as women', and went on to declare

We women do not form a society separate from men. There is only one society, and it is made up of both women and men. As women we share the problems and anxieties of our men, and join hands with them to remove social evils and obstacles to progress.

Thirty years on, women who were not born when the Charter was adopted are reprinting it, finding its aims of emancipating women from the special disabilities suffered by them and of removing all social differences which had the effect of keeping women in a position of inferiority and subordination, as apt and relevant as when the Charter was framed. The FSAW embodied both the idea that women have common interests, and also a strong political attitude.

The FSAW not only linked women's demands firmly with the struggle against apartheid laws, but also fought consistently for trade union rights, and against racial divisions in the trade unions. 'We are women, we are workers, and we stand together.' A number of the leading Federation women were trade union activists.

The first President of the FSAW was a leading member of the Women's League of the ANC - Ida Ntwana; and the secretary was Ray Simons. Later Ida Ntwana resigned and Ray Simons was banned. Lilian Ngoyi was elected president, and Helen Joseph secretary.

The Federation provided for women's organised action on a continuing basis; previously, as in bus boycotts and food committees, it was sporadic.

The Federation was central to the tremendous mass movement among women against passes in the subsequent years; and also thrust to the forefront of the political scene women of exceptional gifts and strong personalities, who not only proved themselves in the women's organisations as able speakers and organisers, but at the same time raised the status of all women within the national liberation movement. The history of the Federation is told in Cherryl Walker's book.

In 1955 the then Minister of Native Affairs stated 'African women will be issued with passes as from January 1956'. In fact the law had already been amended in 1950 to enable the regime to introduce passes for women.

Women had reason to fear the carrying of passes, having been forced to witness all their lives the effect of the pass laws on African men: the night raids, being stopped in streets by police vans, searches, jobs lost through arrests, disappearance of men shanghaied to farms, and the prosecutions. It was not even known at the time the degree to which the pass laws would be used to separate family groups and break up homes. But women did know the devastating effect the laws could have on some aspects of their lives. For men, arrest for pass offences could mean loss of job; but for women? They might or might not have a job to lose, but most of them had helpless dependants, often very young babies, who could not be left totally unattended when the mother was whisked off the streets and into jail.

The first big protest against the pass laws organised by the FSAW took place in October 1955 with 2,000 women, mostly African, but including other women, converging in Pretoria, seat of the administration of the Government. The demonstration followed one organised some months before by the Black Sash, white women protesting against pass laws. The black women said, 'The white women did not invite us to their demonstration, but we will invite all women, no matter what race or colour.'

The women's anti - pass movement began to grow. In Durban and Cape Town women marched in their thousands through the streets. The men were amazed at their independence and militancy, but Lilian Ngoyi, one of the leading women, explained:

Men are born into the system and it is as if it has become a life tradition that they carry passes. We as women have seen the treatment our men have - when they leave home in the morning you are not sure if they will come back. If the husband is to be arrested, and the mother, what about the child?

The regime began the issue of passes by selecting sections of the women least likely or able to protest: farmers brought lorry - loads of women workers from their farms to get their passes and the women knew what would happen if they refused. Even these country women would sometimes subsequently burn their passes as protests grew all over the country, culminating in a mass demonstration in Pretoria, one year after the first one, on 9 August 1956 - the day that has since been designated 'Women's Day' by the liberation movement in South Africa.

A year before it had been 2,000 women. Now 20,000 women assembled, overcoming tremendous difficulties imposed both by their personal positions and by the authorities, to join the assembly. Despite the most ingenious forms of intimidation the women saved and worked together to raise money to hire trains, buses, cars, to bring them thousands of miles to the capital. All processions in Pretoria were banned that day, so the women walked to Union Buildings to see the Prime Minister in groups of never more than three. All Pretoria was filled with women. This was four years before the national liberation organisations were banned, and thousands of women wore the green and black Congress blouses; Indian women dressed in brilliant saris; Xhosa women in their ochre robes with elaborate headscarves.


Pan-African News Wire said...


by Hilda Bernstein

In the turbulent years of the 1950s two different forces combined to thrust Lilian Masediba Ngoyi, a hard-working widow, into the very heart of the liberation struggle in South Africa.

The Two Forces

Those two forces were the thrust of historical circumstance, and the power of Ma-Ngoyi's personality. It was a potent combination, . and it made Lilian Ngoyi the first woman to be elected to the National Executive of the African National Congress; and this year, two years after her death, the first woman to receive the highest award of the liberation movement: Isitwalandwe. To us the award is recognition not only of a courageous woman, but also of the outstanding contribution made by women, particularly during the past three decades, to the liberation struggle at all levels.

Lilian's life was a long battle with hardship and poverty. She was one of six children, and she related how her grandfather who was a Church minister in Pretoria used to tell them to pray to God, for only prayer MaNgoyi could save them. 'And so I prayed,' said Lilian, 'and as time passed things became worse. We used to eat mealie meal porridge every day except one Sunday in a month when we got a piece of meat.' She was sent to a primary school as a boarder, but the fees of £12.10 year were a heavy burden, and after one year in high school she had to go to work to help support her parents and her brother.

Lilian married, but her husband died when her small daughter was three years old, and after the death of her father, she went on working to keep her family that now consisted of her own child, an adopted child, and her mother.

All her life she had observed, listened, puzzled over the things she saw around her. She remembered delivering washing for her mother to a white family who. refused to tether and her baby brother enter their house; later she saw the woman take her dog into the house. This haunted her. 'Why should an African child not get into this woman's house and there is a dog in her house?' During her family's frequent prayers she asked herself:
'Why cannot God answer my parents. Something is wrong. The more . we pray, the more poor we are.'

She pondered over bible stories, about Esther who saved a nation and Lot's wife who fumed into a pillar of salt because she looked back to see her children. 'I said to myself that we are definitely a nation... But something must be done, not prayers alone.'

In 1952 she was an active member of the Garment Workers Union (later elected to the Executive) and she also read in the press about the Campaign for the Defiance of Unjust Laws that the ANC launched. A neighbour took her to a meeting in Orlando, and there she saw young men and women volunteering to join Congress and defy the unjust laws. 'l said to myself, Ah, this is the real stuff, I've been wanting to draw the attention of the ruling people to our deeds... I also thought this Apartheid was most stupid. We peel the European's potatoes, we bring up their children... but when it come to wages, to employment, we are called kaffirs.'

After a year of joining the ANC Lilian was elected to the National Executive, and also to the position of President of the Women's League. With the formation of the Federation of South African Women (which she helped to launch) she was first elected vice-President, then later became President. She stepped into these positions of leadership with the same simple, straight-forward approach with which she had faced her life. Her political understanding was based on harsh experience and acute observation. To this she brought her own gifts, a vital and dynamic personality with a flair for passionate expression, able to move an audience to tears or laughter.

Lilian Goes Abroad

In 1954, together with Dora Tamane, she slipped out of South Africa without a passport (a law was subsequently passed making this an offence) to attend a World Congress of Women in Switzerland. She was invited to visit several socialist countries and saw the sites of the Nazi extermination camps in Germany. Everything she witnessed left indelible impressions. When she returned to South Africa she said 'I will fight for freedom to the bitter end. I am determined. It does not matter what. I am determined to fight for a multi-racial South Africa where we can live in peace.'

Together with the Secretary of the Women's Federation, Helen Joseph, Lilian Ngoyi led the 20,000 women who went to Pretoria to protest-against the pass laws in August, 1956. Holding thousands of petitions in one arm, she was the one who knocked on the Prime Minister's door (it remained closed.) At the end of 1956, she was one of the 156 leading people arrested on a charge of treason, and endured the four-year-long trial. While the trial was still on (at that time, the accused were out on bail) she was arrested again in the emergency of 1960, and spent some time in solitary confinement, which she found very hard, particularly as the conditions in which she was held were harsh.

Banning Orders did not Silence Her

Then she received the first banning orders, prohibiting her from attending meetings, confining her to the area where she lived, and silencing the voice that had so stirred her audiences.

For 18 years this brilliant and beautiful woman spent most of her time in a tiny house, silenced, struggling to earn money by doing sewing, and with her great energies totally suppressed. In a brief period between the expiry of one banning order and the arrival of another she was interviewed and gave a vivid account of her hardships, then rose to her feet and declared:' But my spirits have not been dampened. You can tell my friends all over the world that this girl is still her old self, if not more mature after all the experiences. I am looking forward to the day when my children will share in the wealth of our lovely South Africa.' It was this fearless and defiant attitude that brought her new bans.

She suffered heart trouble, and died at the age of 68. More than two thousand people attended her funeral and a black newspaper wrote of her:

'As a black woman in South Africa Lilian Ngoyi found herself—as do millions of black women across the land—the victim of both race and sex discrimination. As a person she demonstrated that it was possible not only to transcend the limits imposed on her this way, but that the struggle in South Africa could not be successfully waged unless women and women's issues constituted a central part of liberation strategy. She dedicated her life to that demonstrating that neither the State, with all its might nor mortality could really silence this phenomenal woman.'

'For her,' wrote another, 'the freedom struggle was like a call.'

Lilian Masediba Ngoyi remains always part of the blacks women's struggle for human rights, part of the struggle of women everywhere, and part of the total struggle for a better life for all humanity. She was a unique woman whose life had great significance, and the recognition of this in the Isitwalandwe award gives us added pride in our movement—and in ourselves.

Source: Sechaba, August 1982

Lilian Masediba Ngoyi

Extracts from obituary by the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress.

The National Executive Committee and all the members of the African National Congress of South Africa have learnt with deep sorrow of the sad passing away of one of the beloved and internationally known leaders of the struggling people of South Africa, Comrade Lilian Masediba Ngoyi. She died on the 13th of March, 1980 at the age of 68 after a short illness.

Ma-Ngoyi, as she was affectionately known by all her comrades in struggle and millions of the followers of the African National Congress, has always been in the front ranks of our revolutionary struggle, occupying leading positions as the first President of the African National Congress Women's League, and as second President of the Federation of South African Women. She was also a leading member of the National Executive Committee of our organisation.

Throughout the decade of the 50's, which was a particularly turbulent period in the political life of the entire country, Lilian was a participant in all the major policy decisions of the African National Congress, guiding the entire oppressed population into battle against the draconian policies of the fascist Nationalist Party government. She was the prominent leader of the militant women's campaigns, both in the urban areas and in the rural backyards of our country, fighting against the extension of the hated pass laws to our womenfolk.

In her dual capacity as President of the Federation of South African Women and also President of the African National Congress Women's League, she led a historic march in which more than 20,000 women of all races participated on the 9th of August, 1956 to protest against the pass laws for women.

During the middle fifties she, together with two other women leaders visited the headquarters of the Women's International Democratic Federation, based in the German Democratic Republic. From there she visited several socialist countries, including the Soviet Union.

We owe our unshakable positions within the ranks of the international democratic movement to leaders such as Lilian Ngoyi, who were able to convincingly explain the progressive policies of the African National Congress. Our international relations have always been guided by the loyalty of our movement to the ideals pursued by the progressive anti-imperialist movement of the peoples of the whole world.

Consistent with the regime's aggressive policies towards the national liberation movement of our people, Lilian has had her fair share of persecution at the hands of the fascist regime. She was arrested and charged of High Treason together with 155 other leaders of our revolutionary movement at the end of 1956. She had also been subjected to various types of bannings, which restricted her to the confines of her Mzimhlophe home in Soweto.

This continuous form of persecution broke her health, but not her spirit, which had always been fired by the supreme confidence in the inevitable victory of her people over the forces of fascism and reaction. Her death is yet another unpardonable crime committed by the fascist regime against our entire people and the rest of democratic mankind.

Lilian Ngoyi has parted from the ranks of our revolutionary movement at a very crucial turning point in the destinies of the peoples of Southern Africa and Africa as a whole. From the momentous days of the collapse of Portuguese colonialism, the resolute march of the people in the rest of Southern Africa is irresistible. Lilian Ngoyi, shortly before she died, witnessed the collapse of the colonial system in Zimbabwe. This historic victory of the patriotic forces of this sister African country has further consolidated the balance of forces in favour of the revolutionary movements for change in South Africa and Namibia, the African National Congress and SWAPO.

In her own country she had the supreme satisfaction of witnessing the irresistible growth of our revolutionary movement with the emphasis on armed struggle as the principal form confrontation against the murderous regime of terror. The revolutionary working class, to which she belonged as a garment worker during her younger days, has engaged in continuos battles against exploitation, while the youth and other sections of the oppressed population continue storming the bastille's of oppression.

Our movement, in lasting memory of her contribution, respectfully dips its revolutionary banners and pledges to continue her life-long work until final victory .


Below we report on the funeral of Comrade Lilian Ngoyi which was held in Soweto and became an expression not only of the love and respect felt by our people for her as a person but their support for the cause she dedicated her life to.

On Satuday 22nd March, more than 2,000 mourners of all races came to Soweto from all over South Africa to pay their last respects to one of South Africa's best women fighters - Mrs. Lilian Masediba Ngoyi.

In a moving funeral service lasting for four hours, hundreds of mourners-many dressed in ANC colours - packed the Methodist Church in Orlando East, while hundreds listened outside as speaker after speaker paid tribute to the heroine of the people. They also heard messages from our imprisoned leader Nelson Mandela, from the Soviet Women's Committee in Moscow, the Hungarian Solidarity Committee, the British Anti-Apartheid Movement and other progressive and democratic forces all over the world. Messages also came from Zimbabwe and Lusaka and individuals abroad.

Funeral Service

Among the speakers was Mrs Helen Joseph - a long time friend and comrade-who worked with her as secretary of the Federation of South African Women, was charged with her in many trials and like her, was jailed in the 60's and is currently still under a banning order. She was however given permission to attend the funeral and address the service.

The various speakers at the service called upon black South African women to take part in the liberation struggle. Bishop Tutu, Secretary of the South African Council of Churches urged the black women to lead the struggle when he said:"Our liberation waits for you mothers. Men will catch the disease of determination from you. Sisters, mothers, women, our liberation is in your hands. Men and the nation are waiting for you to say that you have had enough." He also told the gathering that no one in South Africa would be free if everybody was not free. "For the past 300 years blacks had been oppressed but God heard their cries and sent them leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu and Mrs Ngoyi."

Another speaker, Fanyana Mazibuko, secretary of the Soweto Teachers Action Committee, called on "all daughters of Africa to take up her spear and carry on fighting. Don't let it rot, it's the only consolation for Africa...the burden would be less if there were more people and more women who were prepared to carry the yoke and pick up the spear".

A spokesman for the Writers' Association of South Africa (WASA) called Comrade Lillian a mother, a leader and an inspiring woman. He also said: The challenge is not so much on the men but on women to start where MaNgoyi left off." A representative for the Azanian People's Organisation, Mr. T. Nkoana, highlighted the
"significant contribution and the marked sacrifices this beloved daughter of Africa made towards getting the three essentials for freedom: peace, justice and reconciliation". He also called on women to play a major role in the struggle: The concrete conditions of the black man's situation demands that no energy must be wasted in the kitchen. All human resources must be mobilised. Let our black women move out of the vast network of domestic traditions and occupy honourable places in the community". Dr Motlana, chairman of the Committee of Ten, said the liberation struggle was entering its third phase. The first phase was an armed one-when "thieves from Europe" took the land from black people. The second phase was the "politics of protest" which had ended with the students uprising of 1976. It was time for black people to make a move. Liberation would not be presented to them-black people have to go out and get it."

During the service, members of the security police stood at the church yard gate and took photographs of mourners entering and leaving the yard. When the cortege left for the cemetery most of the police cars drove in front of the procession while others parked at strategic points along the route to the cemetery. Keeping a distance away was Soweto's CID Chief, Colonel Steve Lenn.

The Procession

After the service, the coffin-draped in the black, green and gold colours of the ANC-was carried out of the church and placed on a horse-drawn cart over which fluttered a large flag in ANC colours. The slow procession-many people were on foot-took two hours to wend its way through Soweto to the cemetery. During the procession the mourners sang the freedom songs of the ANC. Some former members of the ANC donned the black, green and gold colours of the ANC and some of the mourners carried small flags with the ANC colours.

When the procession neared the Moroka Police Station some of the mourners stopped and made remarks about police.


At the Avalon cemetery, the singing became louder and the ANC salutes (clenched fists) were given. The Green and Black flag of the Federation of South African Women was hoisted high as the heroine of the people was finally laid to rest.

Other Services

In Durban, Mrs. Albertina Lutuli, wife of the late president of the ANC, Chief Albert Lutuli led a prayer service for Mrs Ngoyi at the Betty Street Congregational Church. The service was characterised by singing of freedom songs, poetry and speeches by former ANC members and women such as Mrs. T. Gwala, who participated in the anti-pass law demonstrations with Mrs Ngoyi. More than 300 people attended. Memorial services were also held in all ANC missions abroad and in the camps.

Regime's Fears Exposed

More than 40 students of the University of Witwatersrand were refused permission by the West Rand Administration Board to attend Mrs Ngoyi's funeral. Also some of Mrs Ngoyi's banned colleagues, including Mrs Albertina Sisulu, were also refused permission to attend the funeral.

This funeral has re-affirmed that our 30 movement is rooted in the masses.

A young student who met Lilian Ngoyi in 1975 gives his impressions
of her contribution to our struggle and her influence on the young generation of fighters.

Immediately on hearing of Mama Lil Ngoyi' death my mind quickly flashed back t 1975, when the address I had received from a close friend of hers took me to he home in Mzimhlope. That was to be the beginning of my acquaintance with he for the following three years.

On learning who I was she immediately felt at home, without any waste of time she started analysing the situation in relation to our struggle for liberation. Since she talked authoritatively, with confidence combined with her experiences, one could learn a lot within a short space of time She could give one details about the history of the ANC in the liberation struggle facts which could leave one clear about factors which made the African National Congress to be the powerful liberatory force it is today.

Her experiences in the struggle sum up her dedication, determination and selflessness. She once left her critically ill mother in bed to participate in campaigns She would look back at those historic years, like in 1956, when she led 20,000 women in a demonstration against the pass laws; when the Union Castle ship suddenly had to return back to the Cape Town port on SB orders when they discovered she was on board - without a correct passport and on an ANC mission for that matter, when she passed through a thick roadblock on guard for her by pretending to be an ordinary expectant mother, her faked big tummy was full of pamphlets to be distributed.

Her missions and experiences include travelling around Europe sent by the ANC. The one which left an indelible memory on her was the visit to the Soviet Union where she was honoured for being a fighter for freedom for her people.

When her first banning order came in 1961, she had already played her part in setting our revolutionary struggle aflame.She remained the same determined and dedicated fighter she used to be. The South African government tried to break her moral, to corrupt her, but Mama Lili frustrated them.

Shortly after her banning order had expired, she addressed the 1974 Sharpeville Commemoration, organised jointly by SASO and BPC. Every word she uttered during her speech was making up for the rest of the years when she was silenced. She was as powerful, revolutionary and determined as she used to be in the 50's.

With all those banning orders on her and police surveillance, she continued to be an integral part of the revolutionary struggle for the freedom of the people of South Africa. She was a symbol of resistance inside the country, an inspiration to young revolutionaries coming after her. She was a mother, friend, colleague and a comrade. She fitted everywhere.

She summed up her unwavering confidence in the outcome of the struggle by saying "if I die, I'll die a happy person because I have already seen the rays of our new South Africa rising".

Her death is not only a loss to her family, relatives, the ANC and the people of South Africa but also to all people throughout the world striving for peace, love and justice for all mankind. She is one of the people who instead of being banned, could have been listened to, instead of being tried in the Treason Trial could have been consulted for advice, this could have saved our country from the present explosive situation. Now she is gone.

My only regret about Mama Lili's death is that she died when the "sun-rays of New South Africa" were already burning the white racist regime out of its seats, she should have been there to see them eventually being completely burned out.

Though she is dead, her selflessness, contribution, dedication and determination lives with us, to guide us in our struggle for the total liberation of South Africa. What she fought for will definitely be accomplished by the remaining struggling comrades under our vanguard movement the African National Congress of South Africa

Source: Sechaba 1980 Vol.14


Lilian Ngoyi - The most talked-of woman in politics

Article from Drum: March 1956

'She's ambitious!' 'She's a remarkable orator!' 'She knows too little about political theory!'
'She has a brilliant intellect!'
'What kind of woman is this?' 'She almost rocks men out of their pants when she speaks!' So say people about Mrs. Lilian Ngoyi, now President of the ANC Women's League for the second term - the most talked-of woman in politics.

Who is Lilian Ngoyi? The woman factory worker who is tough granite on the outside, but soft and compassionate deep down in her. The woman who three years ago was hardly known in non-European politics. The woman whose rise to fame has been phenomenal.

Born in 1911 in Pretoria of Bapedi parents, Mrs. Ngoyi grew up in conditions of abject poverty. Her father, now dead, changed employment and the Matabane family moved to a mine in the Eastern Transvaal. Her mother, still alive today, did washing for whites. Little Lilian was noted to be the biggest crier in the neighbourhood. She would cry until she fainted.

She was sent to Kilnerton Training Institution while she was still in Standard Two. She reached the first year of the teachers' course but her father couldn't afford the fees any longer, and so she had to quit school. Lilian then went to City Deep mine hospital to train as a nurse. She later got married, but after a few years her husband, Mr Ngoyi, died.

Except for a short interlude of ballroom dancing in the competition ranks, her life slid into a quiet slow tempo. But a hectic political career began in 1952, when the ANC launched its Defiance Campaign. Mrs Ngoyi left a critically sick daughter in hospital to join a batch that went to 'defy' apartheid regulations at the General Post Office. She told inquiring officials and the police that she was writing a telegram to some cabinet ministers. The defiers were acquitted and Mrs Ngoyi then began to organise Orlando women for Congress.

As Vice-President of the South African Federation of Women, Mrs Ngoyi was the chosen delegate to the Lausanne conference of women in Switzerland last year. Together with another African woman, she visited several European countries on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

Mrs Ngoyi is the first African woman to be on the Transvaal Provincial Executive of the ANC and on the National Executive.

In 1954 she became Treasurer of the South African Non-European Council of Trade Unions. She is a member of the Women's Garment Workers' Union for the Reef, and
'My womb is shaken when they speak of Bantu Education!' is also currently Acting President of the SA Federation of Women.

Once in politics, Mrs Ngoyi knew that the nameless compulsion that had been working in her since childhood had become a reality. Those days she loved to read about pioneers who led their people to freedom. Not least, she was thrilled by the activities of Hebrew leaders in the Bible. Another thing that made a lasting impact on her was the migrant labour system as she saw men come and go between the reserves and the mines.

Her father was bitterly anti-white. Strong passion expresses itself through her too, but in the more mean~ ingful form of anti-oppression - whether practised by whites or non-whites.

Mrs Ngoyi's weakness lies in being highly emotional. Her strength lies in the fact that she admits it and is always prepared to be disciplined and to submit to cold logic. She also admits her weak educational background. She is therefore not much of a political thinker, but she gets down to a job in a manner that shames many a political theorist. For this woman has bundles and bundles of energy. Granite reinforced with wire. She will often begin her family washing at ten in the night - home cleanliness and sewing are a religious passion with her.

Mrs. Ngoyi is a brilliant orator. She can toss an audience on her little finger, get men grunting with shame and a feeling of smallness, and infuse everyone with renewed courage. Her speech always teems with vivid figures of speech. Mrs. Ngoyi will say: 'We don't want men who wear skirts under their trousers. If they don't want to act, let us women exchange garments with them.' Or she will say: 'We women are like hens that lay eggs for somebody to take away. That's the effect of Bantu Education.'

At a recent anti-pass meeting one masculine firebrand advocated violence as a political solution. Mrs. Ngoyi replied: 'Shed your own blood first and let's see what stuff it's made of.' She denounced violence as stupid and impractical. The firebrand spluttered, flickered and sat down to smoulder, feeling embarrassed.

Cuts and granite are required to lead and inspire the thousands of women who are everywhere resisting the extension of the pass system to women. The heat and pressure of the times have provided a Lilian Ngoyi to perform that function.

Ezekiel Mphahlele

1:15 AM

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