Freedom Day takes place on 27 April every year. In light of this upcoming public holiday, Perdeby honours some of the women who were instrumental in securing our country’s freedom from apartheid. These women were often behind the scenes, but their actions are no less valuable and impactful than the front-runners of the various resistance movements.

Adelaide Tambo (née Tshukudu) (1929-2007)

At age ten Adelaide Tambo was exposed to a police raid in Vereeniging where her 82-year-old grandfather was heavily mistreated. In 1944 Tambo started work as a courier for the ANC, and when she turned 18 she joined the ANC Youth League where she was elected chairperson of her branch. In 1965 she married anti-apartheid freedom fighter Oliver Tambo, and in 1960 the couple was asked by the ANC to leave the country. It was here that Tambo founded both the Afro-Asian Solidarity Movement and the Pan African Women’s Organisation. Tambo served as a member of parliament from 1994 to 1999 on the portfolio committees of housing, and health and welfare. She passed away in 2007 and was given a state funeral.

Fatima Meer (1928-2010)

Fatima Meer came from a family that ran a newspaper called The Indian View, which spoke about the prejudice experienced by the Indian community. In 1946 the Indian Passive Resistance Campaign (IPRC) was formed. It encouraged a dramatic show of militant anti-government action and gave hope to many. Meer, still in high-school, formed the Student Passive Resistance Campaign and was often a speaker at many of the IPRC’s rallies. After the Cato Manor riots in 1949, where Indians and Africans clashed, Meer saw the need to unite Indians and Africans. In 1950 she formed the Durban and District Women’s League, which Bertha Mkhize (president of the ANC women’s league) chaired. Meer was a very prominent public voice during the 1970s and remained a good family friend of the Mandelas until her death in 2010.

Ruth First (1925-1982)

Ruth First was a journalist who specialised in investigative reporting. She shed light on topics such as the women’s anti-pass campaign. First helped found the Congress of Democrats in 1953 and became the editor of Fighting Talk, a journal supporting the Congress Alliance in the same year. On 9 August 1963 she was detained at the Wits University library and was kept in solitary confinement for 90 days under the 90-day clause . She was rearrested upon release and held for another 27 days. During this time she attempted suicide. Once she was released, she fled with her family to England. There she continued to fight against apartheid and wrote a novel explaining her arrest and interrogation titled 117 Days. In August 1982 she was assassinated in Mozambique when she opened a letter bomb sent to her on the orders of the South African Police.

Lilian Ngoyi (1911-1980)

Lilian Ngoyi’s political career began when she joined the Garment Workers Union, where she soon became a very prominent figure. In 1950 she joined the ANC and was soon arrested for attempting to use the white section in a post offic e. Ngoyi’s dedication to the struggle saw her rise in the ranks of the ANC, and within one year of joining she became the leader of the ANC women’s league. In 1956 she became president of the Federation of South African Women and on 9 August 1956 Ngoyi led the women’s anti-pass march to the Union Buildings, where Ngoyi herself knocked on then Prime Minister JG Strijdom’s door to hand over thousands of signed petitions. This event still stands as one of the largest demonstrations in South African history. Ngoyi passed away in March 1980 after a short period of illness.

Image: Shen Scott

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