Frene Ginwala

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Frene Noshir Ginwala
Speaker of the National Assembly of South Africa
In office
Preceded by Gene Louw
Succeeded by Baleka Mbete
Personal details
Born (1932-04-25) 25 April 1932 (age 83)

Frene Noshir Ginwala (born 25 April 1932)[1] is a South African journalist and politician who was the Speaker of the National Assembly of South Africa from 1994 to 2004.[2] Ginwala is an Indian South African from the Parsi-Indian community of western India. She studied for a DPhil at Linacre College, Oxford.

Ginwala was appointed as the first chancellor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in April 2005. She is one of only four female University Chancellors in South Africa.[3]


Frene Ginwala (born 25 April 1932) has written a number of books dealing with various aspects of the struggle against injustice. For her efforts, she has been honoured by international and local institutions and governments.

Using her anonymity, she played a tremendous role in establishing underground escape routes for ANC leaders and cadres in the period following the Sharpeville massacre and the declaration of the State of Emergency (SOE) in 1960. These included Deputy-President of the ANC Oliver Tambo and Yusuf Dadoo, two leaders of the liberation movement. She also organised safe houses for those who had to remain in the country. Frene also chauffeured NIC (Natal Indian Congress) leaders Monty Naicker and J. N. Singh, who were operating from the underground after managing to dodge the police swoop. Their instructions were to travel around the province and raise money from secret donors in order to support the families left destitute through the arrest of their breadwinners under the SOE which hung over the country for five months.

Eventually she had to leave South Africa in the latter part of 1960 and together with Tambo, and Dadoo, they established an exile ANC office in Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika which was still under British Colonial Administration until 9 December 1961. The overthrow of the regime in Zanzibar in 1963 paved the way for the formation of the United Republic of Tanzania in 1964. Apart from the ANC, she threw herself in a very broad field of activities. She gave lectures to trainees diplomats at Oxford University, she studied, she wrote for a number of the established media in the UK and elsewhere including the BBC. Frene Ginwala was very instrumental in establishing a communications system in the newly born Republic of Tanzania and Zanzibar. At the request of President Julius Nyerere, she became the managing editor of the English-speaking daily newspaper Standard, and Sunday News. During the entire period of her exile (she returned to South Africa in 1991) she traversed the world preaching the horrors of apartheid and the fight against it.

Ginwala holds academic titles from several universities in Africa and abroad. She is a barrister at law; historian; a political scientist, and holds a doctorate in philosophy from Oxford University.

In the first democratic national elections of 1994 in South Africa, Frene Ginwala was elected to Parliament. 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. Although “retired”, the activities of this woman who is celebrating her 80th birthday, is mind-boggling. She is serving in a number of international organisations including UN subsidiaries; Trustee of the Nelson Mandela Foundation; Chancellor of the University of KwaZulu Natal. The list is long.

President Thabo Mbeki appointed Ginwala on 30 September 2007 to conduct the enquiry into National Director of Public Prosecutions Vusi Pikoli's fitness to hold office.[4] She decided generally in favour of Pikoli, but criticised poor communication between departments. She also criticised the Director General of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Advocate Menzi Simelane, whose testimony was contradictory, and without basis in fact or Law.[5]

She also had harsh words for Jacob Zuma on his subsequent appointment of Simelane to National Director of Public Prosecutions.[6]