This Thursday, the 9th of August, is not only a public holiday, but also a very important day in our country’s history.
Thursday is Women’s Day.
August is also Women’s Month, and Sunday, the 26th of August, is Women’s Equality Day.

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OurHood honours all the courageous women who have fought, and continue to fight, for women’s rights and equality every day!

Every Tuesday this month, we will be discussing one woman in history whose brave actions paved the way for women today.

Today, we honour:

Journalist, editor, lecturer, lawyer, radio programme producer, member of the ANC, politician, former speaker of the National Assembly of South Africa, chancellor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Picture credit: South African History Online

In the 1950s, being a woman presented a more significant obstacle to prominence in the ANC. The role of women at the conception of the group was either secretarial or supporting.

Women demonstrated in the Free State Anti Pass Campaign and were arrested alongside men. Although women were in general less educated than men, some women rose in the ranks of the ANC. Dr Frene Ginwala (born in 1932) became one of those women.

In the late 1950s and into 1960, strikes and civil disobedience escalated and caught the attention of the international community. The March 21, 1960 Pass Law Protest in Sharpeville marked a turning point in both the ANC’s tactics and Dr Ginwala’s life.

ANC leadership had most likely suspected that there would be consequences to the escalation of protests over the 1950s and were somewhat aware that the organisation would be banned, or at least targeted.

Picture credit: Goodman Gallery

That night Dr Ginwala was contacted by Sisulu and advised to go visit her parents, who lived in Lourenco Marques, Mozambique. The next day she boarded a plane and did not re-enter her home country until thirty-one years later.

In the period following the Sharpeville Massacre, Dr Ginwala was a strategic choice by the ANC to facilitate the escape of members of the ANC into exile. She had connections in East Africa and was not a publicly noticeable figure at that time.

After the apartheid government declared a state of emergency, the ANC was banned and the High Command of MK was arrested in 1963.

Picture credit: The Subry Govender Column

Dr Ginwala helped many prominent members of the ANC, who would later become leaders in the post-apartheid government, escape from South Africa after the ANC was banned.

Oliver Tambo was one of the first she brought across the border into Southern Rhodesia. Together with Tambo, Ronald Segal, Yusuf Dadoo, an exile ANC office in Dar es Salaam was established, which was still under British Colonial Administration at the time. 

She also organised safe houses for those who had to remain in the country. 

Over the next few years, she would assist many others including future President Nelson Mandela.

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In the late 1960s, the government of Tanzania declared her a prohibited immigrant and she was deported. She took her second exile as an opportunity to go to the United Kingdom.

She gave speeches and wrote articles on the need to bring down the apartheid regime. She gave lectures to trainee diplomats at Oxford University, wrote for a number of the established media in the UK and elsewhere, including the BBC.

She also began her study for a Philosophy PhD. Although her studies were going well, she returned to Tanzania when then President Julian Nyerere of Tanzania lifted her ban.

Dr Ginwala became the managing editor of the English-speaking daily newspaper Standard, and Sunday News, at the request of President Nyerere.

Picture credit: eNCA

She left Tanzania once again to complete her Doctorate in Philosophy at Oxford, and continued to publish and raise awareness about the situation in South Africa while abroad.

In 1974 she returned to Mozambique and assisted in developing the ANC’s Department of Information and Publicity.

Two years later, more than six hundred South Africans were killed in the Soweto Township Uprising. Dr Ginwala helped bring attention to this and other abuses by the South African Government: the forced resettlement of millions of black South Africans in Bantustans, the suspension of due process, and the disappearance of thousands without a trace.

Picture credit: African Independent

She became well-known within international organisations for her persistent advocacy of international action. The United Nations and UNESCO, in particular, asked for her input and expert advice on panels.

In 1990 the ANC was unbanned and Nelson Mandela was released from prison, thanks to the popular movement, international pressure, and the tireless efforts of individuals such as Dr Ginwala.

In April 1994, Frene Ginwala was elected to the National Assembly of South Africa as an ANC candidate in the first truly democratic elections of South Africa’s history. She was nominated by the ANC caucus and elected by parliament as the first woman to the position of Speaker of the House – a position she held from 1994 until 2004, and began a successful decade as a prominent political figure.

Picture credit: Facebook

She continued to write and advocate for equality and democracy in South Africa, Africa and the world.

After retirement as speaker, she continued serving in a number of international organisations including UN subsidiaries, as Trustee of the Nelson Mandela Foundation and in 2005, Dr Ginwala became the first Chancellor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

In 2003 she was awarded the North-South Prize.