Lilian Masediba Ngoyi

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Lilian Masediba Ngoyi

Also Known As: "Ma Ngoyi"
Birthplace: Pretoria, Gauteng (then Transvaal), South Africa
Death: March 13, 1980 (68-69)
Orlando Township, Gauteng (then Transvaal), South Africa
Managed by: Sharon Doubell
Last Updated:

About Lilian Masediba Ngoyi

Lilian Masediba Ngoyi

Born: 1911, Pretoria, Gauteng (then Transvaal), South Africa

Died: 13 March 1980, Orlando Township, Gauteng (then Transvaal), South Africa

In summary: Politician and anti-apartheid activist, Treason Trialist and President of the African National Congress (ANC) Women's League

Lilian Masediba Ngoyi was born in Pretoria in 1911 to a family of six children, and obtained her primary schooling in Kilnerton. She later enrolled for a nurses' training course, but she 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.

In 1955, she travelled to Europe as a delegate to a conference called by the Women's International Democratic Federation, and was invited by socialist delegates to tour Russia, China and other eastern bloc countries. She became a member of the Transvaal ANC executive from 1955, and in December 1956 she became the first woman ever elected to the ANC national executive committee.

Ngoyi also gained wide recognition overseas as a radical opponent of apartheid. Together with Dora Tamana, she was arrested while trying to board a ship on her way to a conference in Switzerland without a passport. She addressed protest meetings against apartheid in a number of world centres, including London's Trafalgar Square.

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 was first issued her banning orders in October 1962, which confined her to Orlando Township in Johannesburg and she was forbidden to attend any gatherings.

In the mid-1960s, she was jailed under the 90-day detention act and spent 71 days in solitary confinement.

Her banning orders lapsed in 1972, but were renewed for a new five-year period in 1975. During the time of her banning, Ngoyi’s great energies were totally suppressed and she struggled to earn a decent living.

Affectionately known as ‘Ma Ngoyi’, she suffered heart trouble and died on the 13th of March 1980 at the age of 69.


  • Isitwalandwe for Ma-Ngoyi [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 July 2009]
  • Morris, M. (2004) Every Step of the Way: The Journey to Freedom in South Africa. HSRC Press: Cape Town. pp.172


Lillian Masediba Ngoyi "Ma Ngoyi", (25 September 1911 – 13 March 1980)

was a South African anti-apartheid activist.[1][2][3][4] She was the first woman elected to the executive committee of the African National Congress, and helped launch the Federation of South African Women. Ngoyi joined the ANC Women's League in 1952; she was at that stage a widow with two children and an elderly mother to support, and worked as a seamstress. A year later she was elected as President of the Women's League. On 9 August 1956, Ngoyi led a march along with Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa, Sophia Williams-De Bruyn, Bertha Gxowa and Albertina Sisulu of 20,000 women to the Union Buildings of Pretoria in protest against the apartheid government requiring women to carry passbooks as part of the pass laws.

Lilian Ngoyi was also a transnational figure who recognised the potential influence that international support could have on the struggle against apartheid and the emancipation of black women. With this in mind she embarked on an audacious (and highly illegal) journey to Lausanne, Switzerland in 1955 to participate in the World Congress of Mothers held by the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF). Accompanied by her fellow activist Dora Tamana, and as an official delegate of FEDSAW, she embarked on a journey that would see an attempt to stow away on a boat leaving Cape Town under "white names", defy (with the help of a sympathetic pilot) segregated seating on a plane bound for London and gain entry to Britain under the pretext of completing her course in bible studies. With Tamana, she would visit England, Germany, Switzerland, Romania, China and Russia, meeting women leaders often engaged in left wing politics, before arriving back in South Africa a wanted woman.[5]
Ngoyi was not an intellectual, rather she was known as a strong orator and a fiery inspiration to many of her colleagues in the ANC. She was arrested in 1956, spent 71 days in solitary confinement, and was for a period of 11 years placed under severe bans and restrictions that often confined to her home in Orlando, Soweto. A community health centre in Soweto is named in her honour.

On 16 November 2004, the South African Ministry of the Environment launched the first vessel in a class of environmental patrol vessel named the Lillian Ngoyi in her honor.[2][3]

On 9 August 2006, the 50th anniversary of the march on Pretoria, Strijdom Square from which the women marched, was renamed Lilian Ngoyi Square.[6] 9 August is commemorated in South Africa as Women's Day.


^ Chris Van Wyk (2006). Lillian Ngoyi. Awareness Publishing. p. 7. ISBN 978-1-77008-160-4. Retrieved 4 December 2011. ^ a b Richard Davies (16 November 2004). "SA christens first new environmental vessel". Independent Online. Retrieved 4 December 2011. "A sprinkling of holy water and a spray of champagne marked the naming of the first of South Africa's four new environmental protection vessels, the Lilian Ngoyi, in Cape Town harbour on Tuesday." mirror ^ a b "SA's marine protection vessels". SAinfo. 20 May 2005. Retrieved 4 December 2011. "Lilian Ngoyi rose to prominence during the defiance campaigns of the 1950s and 1960s. She was one of the leaders of the 20 000-women march to the Union Buildings in 1956 in protest against the pass laws." mirror ^ Cathy LaVerne Freeman (10 August 2009). "Relays in Rebellion: The Power in Lilian Ngoyi and Fannie Lou Hame". Georgia State University. Retrieved 4 December 2011. ^ "Black History Month: Lilian Masediba Ngoyi (1911-1980)". Women's History Network. 17 October 2010. Retrieved 5 December 2011. mirror ^ Kyle G. Brown (28 May 2010). "South Africa's street signs, place names lead to more struggle". Toronto Star. Retrieved 5 December 2011. "The square now bears the name of Lilian Ngoyi, the anti-apartheid activist who, in the 1950s, led marches against laws requiring blacks to carry identification, particularly to enter white areas." mirror

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Lilian Masediba Ngoyi's Timeline

Pretoria, Gauteng (then Transvaal), South Africa
March 13, 1980
Age 69
Orlando Township, Gauteng (then Transvaal), South Africa