Ellen Kuzwayo

Campaigner for African women


Nnoseng Ellen Kate Merafe, teacher, social worker and political activist: born Thaba Nchu, South Africa 29 June 1914; married 1941 Ernest Moloto (one son, and one son deceased; marriage dissolved), 1950 Godfrey Kuzwayo (died 1965; one son); died Soweto, South Africa 19 April 2006.

A worthy link between the old South Africa and the new, Ellen Kuzwayo did not use politics or war to help bring about democracy in South Africa. Her contribution was in the upliftment of African women, who had to conduct their own campaign for freedom and progress within their own community as well as under white supremacy.

Her political links were many. Her grandfather Jeremiah Makgothi was founding Secretary, in 1909, of the Native Convention, forerunner of the African National Congress (1912), she attended the historic All-African Convention in 1936, was, rather nominally perhaps, a rare woman member of the ANC Youth League in the late 1940s, a supporter of the Black Consciousness movement, and the only woman member of the innocuous, investigative Committee of Ten, set up after the Soweto rising of 1976, the cause of her seven months' imprisonment in the Johannesburg Fort.

Kuzwayo's account of her political role is eclipsed, in her prize-winning memoir Call Me Woman (1986), by her membership in 1938 of the National Council of African Women, founded by two "unsung heroines" of those days, Charlotte Maxeke and Minah Soga; her social work training and diploma at the Jan Hofmeyr School of Social Work and organising of the Southern African Association of Youth Clubs in the 1950s; and her work for the World Affiliated YWCA in the 1960s.

She had taught in Transvaal primary schools until 1952 but social work was her life and she did much to prepare the ground for the Urban Foundation, a white-run and business- funded attempt to make good some of the evils that had led to the Soweto rising. She courted unpopularity by serving on the Transvaal and then, from 1982, the national board, judging the organisation by its achievements, which were many.

In time organisations were to form round Ellen Kuzwayo, most notably Elizabeth Wolpert's Maggie Magaga Trust for which Kuzwayo and her black women co-trustees were made solely responsible, and its offshoot, the Zamani Soweto Sisters Council. She and Betty Wolpert also made two documentary films, Awake from Mourning (1982) and Tsiamelo: a place of goodness (1983), which won much support abroad for black South African women's work.

In the first democratic election in 1994 she was elected to Parliament for the ANC but did not stand again in 1999. She was the first African woman to receive an honorary degree from the Witwatersrand University.

Ellen Kuzwayo's was a life of real achievement for African women but, privately, in many ways a sad one. Her girlhood in the Orange Free State was disrupted when her stepmother sent her away and this was followed by a violent first marriage that parted her from her two elder sons for many years, though they were close later. Her health was poor and increasingly marred by diabetes, and the death of her eldest son in his thirties was a heavy blow.

But her spirit never failed, least of all when confronted by white supremacist tyranny. She never forgot the words of Edgar Brookes, a great South African, then Principal of Adams College in Natal where she had studied:

You are going into a harsh world, students, you will meet many obstacles. My counsel to you on that long hard road is: "Make your difficulties a stepping stone to success."

President Thabo Mbeki , whose mother had been Kuzwayo's friend at Adams College in the early 1930s, saluted her at her death as one of South Africa's "finest daughters".

Randolph Vigne

News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport