/ 22 July 2016

Unsung rights activist and mother of Pallo Jordan, Phyllis Ntantala-Jordan, dies

South African activist Phyllis Ntantala passed away on July 17th.
South African activist Phyllis Ntantala passed away on July 17th.

One of South Africa’s great — and largely unheralded — fighters against apartheid and for women’s rights died on Sunday in a hospice in Michigan, United States. Phyllis Priscilla Ntantala-Jordan was 96.

An activist, polemicist, author and academic, she tended for much of her life to be described as “Mrs AC Jordan” because of her long marriage to the renowned Xhosa scholar, who features in her 1992 autobiography, A Life’s Mosaic. She was also the mother of former ANC Cabinet minister Pallo Jordan.

A revolutionary socialist who initially pinned her colours to the mast of the Non-European (later New) Unity Movement, Ntantala battled apartheid, capitalism and the oppression of women.

In an article published by the ANC journal, Sechaba, in 1984, she noted: “It is one of the ironies of history that the most pervasive and total oppression, the oppression of women, has been to a large extent neglected by scholars within the ranks of the [lib- eration] movement …”

When she returned, with some cynicism, to South Africa in 2006, she hoped to settle, perhaps in her home district in the former Transkei. But she fell ill and her subsequent treatment in local hospitals left an indelible impression.

She wrote in the Mail & Guardian: “The state of the public hospitals in the Eastern Cape is horrific … I asked to be discharged, feeling I was safer at home than in the hospital.”

At 86 and in fragile health, she decided it was wisest to relocate to Michigan. And it was there that she was finally laid to rest. — Terry Bell