RSAs former speaker was SADCs women’s rights pioneer

In 2013, Frene  Ginwala, the first Speaker of South African democratic parlaiment became very emotional when speaking about the violence, inequality and corruption plaguing South Africa. “What happened to the values that the ANC stood for?” she asked, imploring the movement to acknowledge and correct its mistakes.
Ten years later, as South Africa sinks into crisis, with no electricity for up to 10 hours a day, this question is haunting its people more than ever.
She died on 12th January and her Memorial service was held on Tuesday.

After Ginwala’s death  at the age of 90, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa mourned the passing of “another great” leader in South Africa’s fight for freedom. 

Frene Ginwala was born in 1932 in Johannesburg to a wealthy Indian family who settled in South Africa at the end of the 19th century. She faced injustice starting at a very young age.

In the 1950s, she graduated from University of London with a  law degree. Ginwala decided to return to South Africa, where she barely had a few more rights than Africans, according to the racial hierarchy set up by the Afrikaner nationalists. 

She joined the African National Congress, which was just starting to allow women members but generally in more subordinate roles. But Ginwala would quickly become an important figure. 

She fled the country in 1960s after the Sharpeville Massacre and settled on Tanzania where  she created a monthly newspaper and became manager of the Tanzanian newspaper Standard, at the request of President Julius Nyerere. At the same time, she contributed to various British newspapers. In the 1970s and 1980s, she was one of the ANC’s leading voices abroad, particularly in the United Kingdom, where she became the movement’s spokesperson.

After the ANC ban was lifted in 1990, Ginwala returned to South Africa and helped negotiate South Africa’s transition to democracy without asking to hold a leading position. But after the first free elections in 1994, Nelson Mandela insisted that she become speaker of the National Assembly of South Africa, a position she held for a decade. Her mission was to invent a role for herself to continue the peaceful transition.

Ginwala was also influential in the writing of the Republic of South Africa’s Constitution, considered one of the most progressive in the world, notably by defending women’s rights in the law.

Additional reporting from Le Monde article on Ginwala

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