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Pioneering women paved the way

Winnie Motlalepula Kgware, the first president of the Black People's Convention, hitchhiked to Steve Biko's burial after cops had blocked their hired bus.
Winnie Motlalepula Kgware, the first president of the Black People's Convention, hitchhiked to Steve Biko's burial after cops had blocked their hired bus.
Image: Rand Daily Mail/Tiso Black Star

With Women's Month drawing to an end, Sunday World takes a look at three iconic female political leaders of the Struggle whose stories still have to be told in our history books.

They are the first female president of a political formation, Winnie Kgware, and activists and pioneers Zondeni Veronica Sobukwe and Nokutela Dube, Mapula Nkosi reports.


Before her death in 1998, Winnie Kgware had retreated from active politics, choosing instead to spend time with her family in Thaba Nchu, her birthplace in the Free State.

While South Africans were gripped by the NDZ presidential campaign wave last year, that sought to challenge our society to choose a female president, many were not aware that the Black People's Convention (BPC) in December 1972 was ahead of its time by electing Kgware as its first president.

In the conference held in Hammanskraal, the following were also elected: Madibeng Mokoditoa (vice-president), Sipho Buthelezi (secretary-general), Mosubudi Mangena (national organiser) and Saths Cooper (public relations officer).

Kgware (née Smith), who was born in 1917, gained political credibility as she bravely helped student organisations at the then University of the North (Turfloop) to organise themselves.

Married to the university's rector, Professor WM Kgware, she helped students from the University Christian Movement hold prayer s sessions and meetings in her residence when their prayers were banned. the organisation was formed.

A trained teacher, she is credited with forming the SA Students Organisation in 1968.

In 1977 when security police stopped a bus, in which mourners including Kgware, from proceeding to Steve Biko's funeral in Ginsberg, Eastern Cape, the then 66 year old got out of the bus and hitchhiked to the funeral.

At the end of her tenure as BPC president, with many political organisations banned under the total onslaught, she left formal politics when she retired to her hometown.

Kgware was awarded the Steve Biko Award for her role in the Struggle as well as an Order of Luthuli in 2003.

- Mosibudi Mangena, Kgware's former BPC comrade, said: "During my trial in Grahamstown in 1973 she was the only defence witness, and told the court that I did not recruit members [for the underground Struggle] as the state alleged.

"The state ignored her testimony anyway and sentenced me to five years in prison. They insinuated that she was too old and I may have carried out these activities under her nose but she emphatically rejected these insinuations."

Mangena said Kgware was known for her role in supporting many cadres who either wanted to study or leave the country and supported leaders including Steve Biko, Barney Pityana and Mokolitwa among others.

He said leaders like him who worked with Kgware needed to do more to raise awareness about her legacy and to popularise her name by celebrating the huge role she played.


The widow of Struggle icon and PAC founder Robert Sobukwe who died last week Wednesday was buried in Graaff-Reinet yesterday.

Struggle icons Zondeni Veronica and Robert Sobukwe soon after his release from Robben Island.
Struggle icons Zondeni Veronica and Robert Sobukwe soon after his release from Robben Island.
Image: Ralph Ndawo

Her death highlighted the extreme neglect she suffered under the current government and the pain, suffering and sacrifice her whole family endured during apartheid.

The Mother of Azania had to raise four small children and keep alive the legacy of her husband, who apartheid viewed as the most dangerous activist and jailed separately at Robben Island.

The fierce activist never served in any formal structures but she's credited as one of the backbones of the PAC for the role she played in helping Apla cadres.

Sobukwe (née Mathe) was born on July 27 1927 in Hlobane near Vryheid in KwaZulu-Natal. She was a trained nurse. She met her husband during a nursing trainees' strike at Lovedale College in Alice, Eastern Cape.

In April, the Order of Luthuli was conferred on her. But this came after a shameful episode about her struggling to access her old age grant as she did not have an ID book.

Kenneth Mokgoatle, PAC spokesperon, described MaSobukwe as a humble leader who never sought the spotlight.

"She always wanted her private space to be respected and did not conduct a lot of media interviews unless it was absolutely necessary."

Mokgoatlhe said then social development minister Bathabile Dlamini came to Sobukwe's rescue on hearing of her struggle to acquire a wheelchair.

The Robert Sobukwe Trust says more will be known about her through a book the trust is in the process of writing.

Nokutela Dube, the wife of past ANC leader John Dube.
Nokutela Dube, the wife of past ANC leader John Dube.


While many know the founding president of the ANC, John Langalibalele Dube, very few know of the majestic exploits and feats of his wife, Nokutela.

The couple, who had been taught by missionaries, were both teachers, essayists and keen music writers. They travelled to the US in the 1800s where Langalibalele was being trained as a missionary. This is where Nokutela took on various courses including cooking, music and ministry.

Upon their return, the couple established Ohlange High School, the first black academics to run a school.

Nokutela (born Mdima) helped Dube start the newspaper Ilanga laseNatali and she is credited with popularising our national anthem that was sung during assembly at Ohlange before many schools and other establishments also adopted it.

Shed died in 1917, aged just 44, of a kidney related disease.

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