Lilian Ngoyi

By: Zach Wheeler

Lilian's Life & Accomplishments

Lilian Masediba Ngoyi, politician and anti-apartheid activist was born in 1911 in Pretoria, South Africa. Ngoyi grew up in a family of six children, attending primary school in Kilnerton. After her primary education, Lilian found work in a clothing factory where she worked from 1945 to 1956. From there, she joined the Garment Workers Union (GWU) where she quickly advanced into one of the leaders of the Union. Rebellious from the start, Ngoyi soon discovered and joined the ANC during the Defiance Campaign in 1950. Lilian had a knack for public speaking, a talent that catapulted her to President of the ANC Women's League within a year of her joining. In 1955, Lilian traveled to Europe as a delegate for the Women's International Democratic Federation. This trip allowed Ngoyi to gain overseas recognition as a "radical" opponent of apartheid and become the first woman ever to be elected to the ANC national executive committee in 1956. In addition, she was also elected President of the FEDSAW (Federation of South African Women) in 1956. After obtaining leadership roles in all of these organizations and movements, she directed protest of her own. On August 9th, 1956, she led the women's anti-pass march in Pretoria, South Africa (one of the largest demonstrations in South African history). Soon after, she was arrested on accounts of High Treason and later tried in 1961 during the "Treason Trials." Ngoyi passed in 1980 away at the age of 69 due to heart failure.

Lilian's Importance

As a result of her works during the apartheid era, Lilian Ngoyi is commonly referred to as "The Great Heroine." This nickname speaks for who she was and what she meant throughout this time. Ngoyi focused on the liberation of women in the South African apartheid time. Fighting for such a cause during this time was a courageous and hard task to take on. In the face of such adversity, however, Ngoyi was able to thrive and create a name for herself as she quickly climbed the ladder of success to become known as one of the most profound women leaders in South African history. Ngoyi, having become a leader in so many organizations such as the ANCWL, pioneered the movement of equal treatment. Ngoyi also changed the way apartheid was looked upon. She did so by travelling the world (illegally) in order to gain global support against the apartheid government. Between her efforts and the efforts of those around her in support of her cause, many new freedoms are present within South Africa today. Such freedoms/privileges include: blacks and whites sitting on the same buses, attending the same schools, women represented in half of the government structures, and many others. Lilian was not here to see these new freedoms and privileges, yet her work contributed largely to these reforms.
Gauteng Authorities awarded Freedom of the City to women who marched against pass laws.


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