Lilian Ngoyi

By Irene Galatas

Life and Accomplishments

Lilian Ngoyi was also known as the "mother of the black resistance". She became the president of the ANC's Women's league and later the president of the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW). On the 9th of August 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. 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. She highlighted how the pass laws, Bantu Education, forced removals and other state sanctions, aimed at the separation of the races through the restriction of black movement, hit African women the hardest and were deliberately designed to erode the African family and deny a future for African children. She was the only woman elected to the National Executive of the African National Congress.

How Lilian Ngoyi Impacted the Anti-Apartheid Movement

Lilian Ngoyi was very important in the anti apartheid movement because she influenced many people, especially women to join and fight against the apartheid government. Ngoyi orchestrated one of the largest demonstrations that inspired many. Lilian Ngoyi was a transnational figure who recognised the potential influence that international support could have on the struggle against apartheid and the emancipation of black women. She had inspired women to be more, and to revolt. She was one of many who had been accused of high treason, in the Treason Trials, and was one of the last 30 defendants accused. This put her in many people's eyes, not only because she was a woman who was resisting government, but she was also a mother. By holding various positions of power she was able to reconstruct the perception of African women in a brighter light.

Diary Entry - June 5, 1972

"African students protesting" - June 5, 1972

I am hoping with confidence that before I die, I will [see] change in this country, as it is now the students [who] are busy protesting against apartheid.My Dearest Belinda,

How wonderful once more to read one from you. Thanks very much.

Yes our friend Peter has written me a very nice letter June & enclosed my parcel as well. I'm very happy you got the two long letters. I thought you would say this is no good, but it is factual my Dear. If I was telling you verbally of my experiences you would laugh & cry. Life has been tough, but I think I was lucky to go abroad, & see for myself the struggles in other countries which were bloody, but still men & women looked forward for their victory. I'm also hoping with confidence that before I die I will change in this country. As it is now the students are putting protests against Apartheid African students against Bantu Education, Bus Drivers against lower Salaries, there is no peace & some 400 Bus drivers in jail, white students also some bitten by Police & are in Jail. Every thing seems to be very wrong. Months are becoming shorter to bring Nov nearer me. I ask myself this question. Will my banning order be lifted or will it be forgotten?" since 1961. I have lived it with it. Maybe it will be renewed. If so God give me the Courage not to weaken. How do you find married life? I hope you will not be a nagging wife, but discuss your problems at the right place, right time. My warmest greetings to your Husband. I only hope you will not give up writing to me. Your letters are of great comfort & gives me courage to face day to day problems. This year, I think my soul is bit tired it's a very small garden, & has never rested, as when it is in bloom gives me very much and keeps me busy with the weeding. Greetings to Professor & our other friends. One day I'll come there to see you, & speak verbally to you all. Thanks once more for all.

Yours sincerely
Lilian