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Lillian Ngoyi

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Lilian Masediba Ngoyi
Lilian Masediba Matabane

(1911-09-25)25 September 1911
Died13 March 1980(1980-03-13) (aged 68)
NationalitySouth African
Other namesMa Ngoyi
Known for[fighting apartheid and persistence]
Grave of Lilian Ngoyi in the Avalon Cemetery

Lilian Masediba Matabane Ngoyi, "Mma Ngoyi", OMSG (25 September 1911 – 13 March 1980) was a South African anti-apartheid activist.[1][2][3][4] She was the first woman elected to the executive committee of the African National Congress, and helped launch the Federation of South African Women.

Prior to becoming a machinist at a textile mill, where she was employed from 1945 to 1956, Ngoyi enrolled to become a nurse.[5]

Early life[edit]

Ngoyi was born in Bloed Street, Pretoria.[6] She was the only daughter of Annie and Isaac Matabane, and a sister to three brothers, Lawrence, George and Percy. Her grandfather, on her mother's side, was Johannes Mphahlele, a member of the royal Mphahlele household, who became a Methodist evangelist, working alongside Samuel Mathabathe. Ngoyi's mother worked as a washerwoman and her father was a mineworker.[7][8] Ngoyi attended Kilnerton Primary School[7] until Standard Two.

In 1928, she moved to Johannesburg to train as a nurse at City Deep Mine Hospital, and completed three years of training in general nursing.[9] During this time, she met and married a van driver, John Gerard Ngoyi, in 1934.[10] They had a daughter, Edith Ngoyi.[9] Lilian's husband died in a motor car accident in 1937, after which she became a seamstress, working both from home and in garment factories at various times.[9] From the 1950s onwards, she lived in Orlando, Soweto, with her mother and her children.[9]

Political activism[edit]

Having been drawn into politics via her work in the Garment Workers' Union of South Africa in the 1940s,[9] Ngoyi joined the ANC Women's League in 1952; she was at that stage a widow with children and an elderly mother to support, and worked as a seamstress.[9] A year later she was elected as President of the Women's League. In 1954, she helped to found the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) and was elected to the national executive of the ANC; she was the first woman to be elected to national office in the organisation.[9]

On 9 August 1956, Ngoyi led a women's march along with Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa, Sophia De Bruyn, Motlalepula Chabaku, Bertha Gxowa and Albertina Sisulu of 20,000 women to the Union Buildings of Pretoria in protest against the apartheid government requiring women to carry passbooks as part of the pass laws.

Lilian Ngoyi was also a transnational figure who recognised the potential influence that international support could have on the struggle against apartheid and the emancipation of black women. With this in mind she had, in 1955, embarked on an illegal journey to Lausanne, Switzerland, in order to participate in the World Congress of Mothers held by the Women's International Democratic Federation (WIDF). Accompanied by her fellow activist Dora Tamana, and as an official delegate of FEDSAW, she embarked on a journey that would see an attempt to stow away on a boat leaving Cape Town under "white names",[7] defy (with the help of a sympathetic pilot) segregated seating on a plane bound for London and gain entry to Britain under the pretext of completing her course in Bible studies. She would visit England, Germany, Switzerland, Romania, China and Russia, meeting women leaders often engaged in left-wing politics, before arriving back in South Africa a wanted woman.[11]

Ngoyi was known as a strong orator and a fiery inspiration to many of her colleagues in the ANC. She was among the 156 Treason Trialists arrested in December 1956,[7][9][12] and was finally acquitted of the charges against her in 1960. She was rearrested more than once in the early 1960s, and spent 71 days in solitary confinement in 1963.[12] Ngoyi spent a total of 15 years living under three five-year banning orders,[12] which included restrictions that confined her to her home in Orlando, Soweto, and prevented her from meeting any other banned persons.[12] Additional conditions of the banning orders included being forbidden to attend public gatherings, make speeches or be quoted; even at her own home, she was not permitted to be with more than one person at the same time.[9] The first two banning orders were imposed in 1962 and 1967, and when the second banning order expired in 1972, she was able to meet colleagues and friends again, and travelled to Durban and Cape Town.[9] In 1975, a banning order against her was imposed again; however, this time its conditions did allow her some communication with the outside world.[9]

Memorials and honours[edit]

The Koos Beukes Clinic at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto has been renamed Lilian Ngoyi Community Clinic in her honour.

On 16 November 2004, the South African Ministry of the Environment launched the lead ship in a class of environmental patrol vessels named Lillian Ngoyi in her honour.[2][3]

On 9 August 2006, the 50th anniversary of the march on Pretoria, Strijdom Square from which the women marched was renamed Lilian Ngoyi Square.[13] 9 August is commemorated in South Africa as Women's Day.

In 2009, a residence hall at Rhodes University was renamed in her honour.[14]

In 2012, Van der Walt Street in Pretoria was renamed Lilian Ngoyi Street. Other roads in Cape Town, Thembisa, Berea, Durban, and Hartbeesfontein have been named in her honour.

The City of Johannesburg decided to honor Mme Lilian Masediba Ngoyi by renaming the Bree Street in Johannesburg after her in 2014 – the street named Lilian Ngoyi Street.


  1. ^ Chris Van Wyk (2006). Lilian Ngoyi. Awareness Publishing. p. 7. ISBN 978-1-77008-160-4. Retrieved 4 December 2011.
  2. ^ a b Richard Davies (16 November 2004). "SA christens first new environmental vessel". Independent Online. Archived from the original on 10 May 2013. Retrieved 4 December 2011. A sprinkling of holy water and a spray of champagne marked the naming of the first of South Africa's four new environmental protection vessels, the Lilian Ngoyi, in Cape Town harbour on Tuesday.
  3. ^ a b "SA's marine protection vessels". SAinfo. 20 May 2005. Archived from the original on 30 November 2010. Retrieved 4 December 2011. Lilian Ngoyi rose to prominence during the defiance campaigns of the 1950s and 1960s. She was one of the leaders of the 20 0000-women march to the Union Buildings in 1956 in protest against the pass laws.
  4. ^ Cathy LaVerne Freeman (10 August 2009). "Relays in Rebellion: The Power in Lilian Ngoyi and Fannie Lou Hame". Georgia State University. ISBN 9781770081604. Retrieved 4 December 2011.
  5. ^ "Lilian Masediba Ngoyi". South African History Online. 1 August 2013. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  6. ^ Bickford-Smith, Vivian; Nasson, Bill (1 September 2018). Illuminating Lives: Biographies of Fascinating People from South African History. Penguin Random House South Africa. ISBN 978-1-77609-265-9.
  7. ^ a b c d Stewart, Dianne (1996). Lilian Ngoyi. Cape Town: Maskew Miller Longman. ISBN 0-636-02256-0. OCLC 37464653.
  8. ^ Evans, Martha (8 August 2022). "Lilian Ngoyi: a heroic South African woman whose story hasn't been fully told". The Conversation. Retrieved 12 October 2022.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Everyday matters : selected letters of Dora Taylor, Bessie Head & Lilian Ngoyi. M. J. Daymond, Dora Taylor. Auckland Park, South Africa. 2015. ISBN 978-1-4314-0948-8. OCLC 910085786.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) CS1 maint: others (link)
  10. ^ Bickford-Smith, Vivian; Nasson, Bill (1 September 2018). Illuminating Lives: Biographies of Fascinating People from South African History. Penguin Random House South Africa. ISBN 978-1-77609-265-9.
  11. ^ "Black History Month: Lilian Masediba Ngoyi (1911–1980)". Women's History Network. 17 October 2010. Archived from the original on 2 September 2011. Retrieved 5 December 2011.
  12. ^ a b c d Evans, Martha (8 August 2022). "Lilian Ngoyi: an heroic South African woman whose story hasn't been fully told". The Conversation. Retrieved 11 August 2022.
  13. ^ Kyle G. Brown (28 May 2010). "South Africa's street signs, place names lead to more struggle". Toronto Star. Archived from the original on 22 April 2016. Retrieved 5 December 2011. The square now bears the name of Lilian Ngoyi, the anti-apartheid activist who, in the 1950s, led marches against laws requiring blacks to carry identification, particularly to enter white areas.
  14. ^ "Lilian Ngoyi Hall, End of Year Report 2015" (PDF). Rhodes University. Archived from the original on 18 August 2016. Retrieved 17 August 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)

External links[edit]