NOTABLE AFRICANS: Lilian Ngoyi
Born in South Africa’s capital city of Pretoria in 1911, Lilian Masediba Ngoyi, who trained as a nurse, would go on to become a politician and anti-apartheid activist, but most notably she would be known for her contributions to the fight for women’s rights in South Africa during apartheid as president of the ANC Women’s League
Originally, when the ANC was formed in 1912, the organization problematically did not accept women as members, highlighting a deep-rooted negligence of women’s rights and intersectionality during the anti-apartheid struggle. It wasn’t until 1918 that the Bantu Women’s League (BWL) was formed as a branch of the ANC under the leadership of Charlotte Maxeke. But even with the BWL in existence, women in this branch were not considered as ANC members until 1948 when the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) was formed with Ida Mntwana as its first official president.
Ngoyi joined the ANCWL in 1950 after being active in the Garment Workers Union (GWU) whilst working at a clothing factor between the year 1945-1956. In 1954, when the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) was formed, Ngoyi became one of its national vice-presidents and was elected president of the federation in 1956.
During the 1950s, Lilian Ngoyi became incredibly politically active and traveled outside of the country on various occasions, going to Europe and receiving invites from socialist delegates in Russia and China to travel to those respective countries. She spoke at anti-apartheid protest rallies in London, and whilst on her way to Switzerland she was arrested for traveling without a passport.
In 1956, Lilian Ngoyi would once again be arrested but this time in South Africa and by the apartheid police. On August 9th, 1956, Ngoyi led the women’s anti-pass march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, protesting against the restrictive pass laws for women that had just been passed. One of the largest demonstrations in South African history, the women walked through the streets of Pretoria and Ngoyi made her way to the door of Prime Minister Strijdom to hand over signed petitions against the Pass Laws.
In December of the same year, Ngoyi, along with 156 other anti-apartheid activists, would be arrested on treason charges during what would be known as the four year-long Treason Trial. During this time, Ngoyi was imprisoned for five months spending most of that period in solitary confinement.
Although the trial ended in 1962 and saw all of the accused being acquitted, Ngoyi was issued banning orders that prohibited her from taking part in any kind of political activities and restricted her movement to the boundaries of the Orlando township in Johannesburg. These banning orders expired in 1972 but were renewed by the apartheid government in 1975 for a five-year period. These times proved incredibly tough for the always radical and highly active political leader who struggled to earn a decent living.
She eventually passed away in March 1980 at the age of 69 after suffering a heart condition.
Affectionately known as ‘Ma Ngoyi’, Lilian Ngoyi is forever remembered as one of the most prominent and influential women leaders during the anti-apartheid struggle, a system which she would unfortunately not live to see destroyed and dissolved.
AUGUST: Celebrating African Women