Struggle veteran dies in Soweto

Life-long champion of women’s rights Nnoseng Ellen Kate Kuzwayo died at the age of 92 in Soweto in the early hours of Wednesday after a long illness.

Her son Bobo said Kuzwayo, who was until June 1999 South Africa’s longest-serving parliamentarian, died in the Lesedi private clinic at 2.30am.

She was admitted three weeks ago suffering complications of chronic diabetes that had afflicted her for many years.

She was born on a farm in the Thaba Nchu district in the Free State on June 29 1914 and is best known for her book Call Me Woman, which was published in 1986 and won the CNA book prize.

Kuzwayo’s involvement in politics and the empowerment of women stemmed from her childhood.

Her maternal grandfather, Jeremiah Makgothi, was a prosperous farmer and Methodist lay preacher who worked with missionary Dr Robert Moffat on a Setswana translation of the Bible.
He was also secretary of the South African Native National Congress, forerunner of the African National Congress, in the Orange Free State.

Her father, Philip Merafe, a businessman in Soweto, was an active ANC member. Kuzwayo recalled that as a young girl she sometimes carried his bag at annual party conferences.

“From the age of about 22 I attended ANC annual conferences, held in Bloemfontein,” she told the South African Press Association in an earlier interview.

“I was present when the late Ms Mina Soga requested the conference to move out with women, and launched an organisation called the National Council of African Women, still operating ... to this day.

“From my childhood days, I have a long contact and history with the ANC.”

Kuzwayo trained and practised as a teacher from 1938 to 1952, but switched to social work after joining the Young Women’s Christian Association.

She trained as a social worker from 1953 to 1955. Once her training was complete, Kuzwayo—shunning government aid agencies—opted to work for private organisations.

“Here I earned a very low salary, but had the freedom of working with youth and women of my community for their growth and development ... I was fulfilled in spite of my low earnings.”

She became president of the ANC Youth League in the 1960s, and in 1976, shortly after the bloody events of June 16, was detained for five months for her work with the Soweto Committee of Ten.

On her release, she helped launch the Zamani Soweto Sister Council, a women’s self-help organisation, and was instrumental in the opening of the Zamani Soweto Skills Training Centre in March 1987.

The organisation’s aim was to lower the unemployment rate among black women through a variety of self-help schemes.

Kuzwayo received a higher diploma in social work from the University of the Witwatersrand in 1983. A year later, the university conferred on her an honorary doctorate—the first black woman in South Africa to be honoured in this way.

She was elected to Parliament as an ANC MP in 1994. In a newspaper interview, Kuzwayo expressed her surprise at actually making it into the National Assembly, and her regret at only getting there in the later years of her life.

“Sitting there, with different parties, listening to speeches that you wanted to contradict, that was an experience I did not expect because of my years,” she said.

Of her prize-winning publication, Kuzwayo said: “My motivation for writing [it] was born out of the negative image about black African women in South Africa ... promoted by ... in particular the women in the white community who employ [them] as domestic workers.”

From 1994 to 1999, Kuzwayo served on Parliament’s welfare, safety and security, and reconstruction and development programme portfolio committees.

She is also the author of Sit Up and Listen, and collaborated in the production of the documentary Tshiamelo: Place of Goodness.

She did not stand in the June 1999 election.

Kuzwayo is survived by her sons Bobo and Justice Moloto, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Her eldest son, Everington, died 10 years ago. Her second husband, Godfrey Kuzwayo, was a well-known Johannesburg journalist.

Although funeral arrangements have not yet been finalised, she will probably be buried on April 28 at the Anglican church in Soweto, her son said.—Sapa

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