Many African women have made history by their fearless and resilient resolve in the face of adversity. A lot of South African women were involved in fighting the Apartheid regime. On 9 August 1956, 20 000 women marched against the abusive system of ‘pass laws’. South Africa commemorates this day as “Women Day” in honor on these courageous women.

Pass laws were a form of an internal passport system designed to segregate the population between Blacks from Whites in South Africa, and thereby, severely limit the movements of the black African populace, manage urbanization, and allot migrant labor (Sources :

To celebrate Women’s month below are 5 powerful women who made an impact in South Africa:

1. Lilian Ngoyi

Born in Pretoria in 1911, Lilian Masediba Ngoyi was an anti apartheid activist and freedom fighter. Throughout her time, her influence was felt amongst the black women in South Africa. Her distinct talent in public speaking made waves as her speeches resonated with thousands. She became one of the vice presidents of the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) formed in 1954.

in 1955 she traveled to Europe, before to her election as FEDSAW president the next year. On August 9 1956, Lilian along with other freedom fighters, led the march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

2. Charlotte Maxeke

Charlotte Manye Maxeke is an early activist and advocate for women rights. She is considered as the “Mother of black freedom”. She was recorded to be born either in Fort Beauford in the Eastern Cape or at Botlokwa Ga-Ramokgopa in Limpopo. But that much hasn’t been clearly clarified as yet. Her achievements are quite impressive for a Black South African woman of her times.

Among her many ground breaking accomplishments, her recruitment into an African choir that was touring across Europe and the USA. Charlotte is also the first Black South African women to receive a university degree. When on tour in the US, the choir was left stranded . This was an opportunity to complete her studies. She obtained a Bachelor of Sciences degree from the Wilberforce University, the AME Church University in Xenia, Ohio.

It is worth mentioning that, she was taught under the eminent American pan Africanist W.E.B Dubois.

Later, when she returned in South Africa, she was heavily involved in multiracial civic movements. She is an early opponent to the pass laws for women. Charlotte has helped organized an anti pass protest of 700 women in Bloemfontein in 1913. Maxeke was also a columnist, writing about women related issues, in Xhosa.. She passed away on the 16th of October in 1939 and buried in Kliptown, Johannesburg

3. Winnie Mandela

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is remembered for the struggles she encountered, as the wife of Nelson Mandela, during his incarceration. Starting her career as a social worker, Winnie made many sacrifices and dedicated her life to fight injustices. She notably rose to prominence as she acted as the public face of her imprisoned husband.

During the apartheid years , Winnie was arrested and detained on several occasions. She was tortured, put in solitary confinement and banned to rural areas.

Affectionately called “The Mother of the Nation”, Winnie is both a revered and controversial figure. But she will always be remembered, as one of the most courageous women in South African ‘s history, to have stood up to the inequality and injustices that Black people faced during a time of massive repression.

She was involved in politics until her death in 2018.

4. Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba, also known as Zenzile Miriam Makeba, was born in March 4th, 1932  in Johannesburg. She was a singer as well as a human rights campaigner. She was the first artist to put South African music on the international scene. Her mother, a domestic worker, was imprisoned for six months for illegally brewing beer to help make ends meet, and Miriam went to prison with her as she was just 18 days old. Miriam work shines through the name she has created for herself as an artist and acitivist.

Her history goes far beyond what is presented here, as she has been a part of various organisations and foundations such as the Zenzile Miriam Makeba foundation as well as the Miriam Makeba Rehabilitation centre which aided abused girls. Miriam’s work and achievements are not bound from her origin, as she is widely recognized globally, even as far as June 16 being declared Miriam Makeba day in the city of Berkeley and even receiving the highest decoration from Tunisia.

5. Helen Suzeman

Helen Suzman was born in the South African mining town of Germiston, on 7 November 1917. Her parents were both immigrants from Eastern Europe, who had come to South Africa to escape the restrictions imposed on Jews by Russia.

She was brought up in a family which had financial stability, and was educated at a convent and thereafter at the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS). Helen was an active member in the anti-apartheid resistance and did not share the ideals and the laws that were imposed on the black people of South Africa under the Apartheid regime.

Her work received recognition by the United Nations in 1978 and also won the Medallion of Heroism in 1980. In November 7th, 2007, After years and years of selfless work and efforts to put a stand to a chaotic and divided South Africa, Helen passed away at the age of 91 peacefully in her sleep.

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