Lillian Ngoyi (born 1911) was known as “the mother of the black resistance” in South Africa. She served as president of the women’s league of the African National Congress. The South African government declared her a “banned person” in the mid-1960s. This meant that her movements and contacts were restricted and she could not be quoted in the press. Ngoyi lived under the banning order for 16 years.
Lillian Masediba Ngoyi was born on September 24, 1911 in the city of Pretoria to Isaac Mmankhatteng and Annie Modipadi Matabane. A Bapedi from Sekhukhuneland, her father worked in a platinum mine. Educated at the Kilnerton Institution in the mid-1920s, Nogyi’s dreams of becoming a teacher were dashed when she was forced to leave school in order to help support her family. She worked as a nurse in the City Mine Hospital from 1928 to 1930. In 1934, she married John Ngoyi, a van driver. The couple had three children, Edith Mosime, Memory Chauke, and Eggart, but later separated.
Ngoyi worked as a domestic servant for three months in 1935, a job which she despised. She became a nurse soon after. Later, during the mid-1940s to mid-1950s, she worked in a clothing factory as a machinist. There, she held a position as an official in the Garment Workers’ Union (Native Branch), an experience which led her to dedicate her life to humanitarian works.
Worked for Liberation
Ngoyi joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1952. This organization was dedicated to ending the unequal status of black and white South Africans, known as apartheid. Ngoyi, along with political pioneers Helen Suzman, Helen Joseph, Ida Mtwana and Charlotte Mxeke founded the Women’s League of the ANC. She eventually attained leadership positions, among them national president and Transvaal provincial president of the Women’s League. In 1953, Ngoyi was imprisoned for playing a role in a Congress campaign against race laws. A year later, she became the only woman elected to the National Executive of the African National Congress. In 1955, Ngoyi served as an elected delegate to the World Mothers’ Conference in Lausanne, Switzerland. She had left South Africa without a passport in order to attend the event.
|A year later, she was named the national president of the newly formed, Federation of South African Women.Ngoyi led 20,000 women in August 1956 to protest the inclusion of women in the pass laws controlling the movements of blacks.|
The group held their protest at the Union Building offices of the prime minister, J.G. Strijdom. Ngoyi was arrested and tried for treason, but was later acquitted.
Arrests and Banning
The African National Congress was banned by the South African government in 1960, but continued to operate as an underground organization. Ngoyi was arrested again in 1960 during a state of emergency, this time without trial. By the end of the ordeal, she had spent five months in solitary confinement at Pretoria Prison.
ANC leaders were arrested in 1963. Ngoyi was one of the first to be held under a 90-day detention law. She spent 71 days imprisoned in Johannesburg with no formal charges and no trial. From the time of her release in 1963 until her death in 1980 Ngoyi was restricted in her movements and contacts by the South African government. Her remarks could not be quoted by newspapers.
The student revolt of 1976 was an important moment in the struggle against apartheid. The ANC bolstered its ranks with the energy of this younger generation. The original leaders were not forgotten, however. After Ngoyi died at her home in the suburban black township of Soweto on March 12, 1980, one ANC settlement in Dakawa, Tanzania memorialized the activist by naming a residence in her honor.
African Affairs Bell and Howell Information and Learning Co., 1998.
The Annual Obituary 1980, edited by Roland Turner, St. Martin’s, 1981.
The Facts On File Encyclopedia of the 20th Century, edited by John Drexel, 1991.
Financial Mail, January 14, 2000.
Gannett News Service, January 15, 1993.
M2 Presswire, February 28, 1996; March 11, 1996.
New York Times, March 14, 1980.
Panafrican News Agency (PANA) Daily Newswire, July 29, 1999.
The Toronto Star, January 8, 1993.