Iconic South African Women Who Fearlessly Fought for Your Freedom

‘Strike the woman, and you strike the rock’

Freedom Day is here – time to kick back, relax and grab a copy of our May issue! While you may be keeping your head low, living your best life with the squad, and trying to avoid a flood of political rants online, we thought we should celebrate the bold, fearless females who paved the way for us to write and define our own narratives!

27 April is ingrained in our cultural fabric as a celebration of South Africa’s first-ever democratic elections. The new South Africa was born 24 years ago and we haven’t looked back since… Except for today – because we’re taking a trip down memory lane to remember the women who shaped the path to democracy through their fierce activism. Make no mistake –without these revolutionaries’ contributions to the emancipation of South Africa, there would be no liberation.

We’re celebrating Freedom Day by remembering the icons, from Mam’ Winnie to Albertina Sisulu, who carried the nation on their backs.

1 Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

26 September 1936 – 2 April 2018

‘I’m not sorry. I will never be sorry. I would do everything I did again if I had to. Everything.’

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, affectionately known as uMam’ Winnie, was the radical rebel lioness who refused to stay silent. Exiled to a home with no roof, no lights, water or electricity, Mam’ Winnie was fetching buckets of water in platform boots while snatching the wigs of white supremacy.

2 Lilian Ngoyi

lilian ngoyi


25 September 1911 – 13 March 1980

‘We are women, we are workers, we stand together’

Lilian Ngoyi aka The Mother of The Black Resistance was the first woman to be elected to the executive committee of the African National Congress (ANC) and helped form the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW).

An anti-apartheid activist and vocal advocate for women’s rights and emancipation of black women, Ma Ngoyi was one of the extraordinary women to lead the historic 20 000-strong Women’s March to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against the apartheid regime’s pass laws.

Make no mistake, Ngoyi was a BADASS – travelling the world (totally illegally, BTW, and pretending to be a student in Bible studies) to spread the word of women’s liberation and racial equality in South Africa.

Ngoyi was known as one hell of a public speaker and her fire speeches put the zeal in any crowd she addressed.

3 Albertina Sisulu

albertina sisulu


21 October 1918 – 2 June 2011

‘Women are the people who are going to relieve us from all this oppression and depression.’

We’re celebrating the centenary of the wise and the wonderful (Nelson Mandela’s own words, BTW). Albertina Sisulu was one of the most important leaders of the resistance and, along with Mam’ Winnie, she was often called The Mother of The Nation and it’s easy to see why.

uMam’ Sisulu was a leader in the ANC as well as FEDSAW. She was the first woman to be arrested under the General Laws Amendment Act, which gave police the authority to hold suspects in detention for up to 90 days without charging them. She was a warrior against the apartheid regime until the very end.

4 Victoria Mxenge

victoria mxenge


1 January 1942 – 1 August 1985

Victoria Mxenge was the activist and civil-rights lawyer who led the resistance through her dedication to justice.

After the murder of her husband, anti-apartheid activist Griffiths Mxenge, Victoria was part of the defence team in a treason trial against political parties resisting the government.

5 Sophia Williams-De Bruyn

sophia williams de-bruyn


1938 – and still living her best fearless life!

‘I felt a lump in my throat when I looked at this large army of women; dignified women, courageous women. I felt so humbled to be part of such bravery.’

Sophia has been a cornerstone in South African politics since she led the Women’s March in 1956. She’s cut her teeth as a union leader and is a prominent voice for workers’ rights in South Africa, becoming the founding member of the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU).

She was also at the forefront of pushing rights for the coloured community, appointed as leader of the Coloured People’s Congress.

This fierce pioneer is still an activist today and the only surviving member of the leaders of the Women’s March.

6 Ruth First

ruth first


4 May 1925 – 17 August 1982

‘Poverty and the rule of race that is called apartheid drive the Transkeian migrant from security on the land to work in the cities, and then back again.’

Ruth First was a feminist writer and journalist who unearthed stories of brutality silence by the government. A multicultural radical who led the anti-apartheid movements, Ruth unapologetically investigated social injustices.

It’s said that she had razor-sharp wit and ate idiots for breakfast. Our kind of woman.

7 Helen Suzman

helen suzman


7 November 1917 – 1 January 2009

‘I stand for simple justice, equal opportunity and human rights. The indispensable elements in a democratic society – and well worth fighting for.’

If there’s one woman who was unrelenting in her pursuit of human rights, whose sole voice in parliament helped amplify the voices of the oppressed, it’s Helen Suzman.

She fought for the rights of political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, and rallied against gender inequality. She was awarded honorary doctorates from many universities – including Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard – for her influence on human rights.

8 Rahima Moosa


14 October 1922 – 29 May 1993

Rahima spearheaded the Women’s March and was an active unionist who was part of the ANC and the Transvaal Indian Congress.

Fun fact: she had an identical twin sister and the dynamic duo started their political activism when they were still at school.

9 Fatima Meer

fatima meer


12 August 1928 – 12 March 2010

Fatima was a prominent journalist, writer and activist who was involved with multiple defiance campaigns and movements against the apartheid government.

She was known for championing the rights of black women and was one of the founding members of FEDSAW – the organisation that mobilised women to take part in the anti-pass march to the Union Buildings, which uMa’ Albertina Sisulu was the leader of.

10 Helen Joseph


8 April 1905 – 25 December 1992

‘I don’t doubt for a moment that the revolution will result in a nonracial society.’

Helen played a pivotal role together with Ma Ngoyi to form FEDSAW, spearheading the Women’s March. She was vocal and tirelessly spoke out against the apartheid government.

She was the first person to be placed under house arrest and dodged literal bullets in the apartheid government’s campaign to silence her.

Read more Real Talk 

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