Picture of Lilian Ngoyi Source: Instagram @stannotsmith

Lilian Masediba Ngoyi was a former president of the Women’s League of the ANC, and became the second president of the Federation of South African Women.

She was a most charismatic woman, who inspired many others by her words and deeds. She was also banned and silenced for 18 years, but refused to give in, to her dying day.

Ngoyi often reffered to as the Mother of Black Resistance was born in Pretoria in 1911 and in her adulthood had initially enrolled for a nurses’ training course, but eventually took up work as a machinist in a clothing factory where she worked from 1945 to 1956.

She joined the Garment Workers Union (GWU) under Solly Sachs, and soon became one of its leading figures. Impressed by the spirit of African National Congress (ANC) volunteers, she joined the ANC during the 1950 Defiance Campaign and was arrested for using facilities in a post office that were reserved for white people.

Her energy and her gift as a public speaker won her rapid recognition, and within a year of joining the ANC she was elected as president of the ANC Women’s League. When the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) was formed in 1954, she became one of its national vice-presidents, and in 1956 she was elected president.

62 years ago on August  9, 1956,  she led the women’s anti-pass march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, one of the largest demonstrations staged in South African history. Holding thousands of petitions in one hand, Ngoyi was the one who knocked on Prime Minister Strijdom’s door to hand over the petitions.

Leading to the formation of the historic song which goes, ‘Strijdom, you have tampered with the women, You have struck a rock.’

In December 1956, Ngoyi was arrested for high treason along with 156 other leading figures, and stood trial until 1961 as one of the accused in the four–year-long Treason Trial. While the trial was still on and the accused out on bail, Ngoyi was imprisoned for five months under the 1960 state of emergency. She spent much of this time in solitary confinement.

Ngoyi died in 1980, and is buried at the Avalon Cemetery in Soweto, Helen Joseph, who died in 1992, is buried alongside her. They are side by side; which happens to be the title of Helen Joseph’s autobiography – Side by Side.