Durban Street Names: Dorothy Nyembe

Who are the women that Durban’s streets are named after?
What did they do?

Today I am profiling Dorothy Nyembe, formerly Gardiner Street.
This woman was a force to be reckoned with!


dorothy nyembeDorothy Nomzansi Nyembe, known as “Mam D, was born on 31 December 1931, near Dundee in northern KwaZulu-Natal, and she died in Umlazi on 17 December 1998.

Dorothy attended mission schools until grade 11, and at the age of fifteen gave birth to her only child.

Growing up in rural Apartheid, she was deeply motivated to bring change to the situation of all black South Africans.

She joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1952,  and immediately took an active role in the Defiance Campaign. Dorothy was one of the organisers of the Women’s in March on 9 August 1956, and she led the Natal contingent to Pretoria where 20 000 women marched to oppose pass laws for women. 

In December of that same year, she was one of the 156 people arrested and charged with high treason for participating in the Defiance Campaign, but the charges against her were dropped.

When the pass laws continued to apply, anger among women in the Cato Manor township outside Durban took the form of campaigns against the municipal beer halls. Dorothy had already been a community leader in the protests against forced removals in Cato Manor, and now took on a key role in the beer hall protests.

Brewing traditional beer in the townships was one of the only viable sources of income for women, which led the government to make home brewing illegal as well as set up their own municipal beer halls in the city. Not only were men spending the family income in these infamous beer halls, but the revenue they generated supported the apartheid machinery. The women were outraged. 

In 1959, brutal police raids aimed at smashing up home brewing led to tremendous anger, riots and killings by the police at Cato Manor. Dorothy called for a total boycott of the beer halls. In huge demonstrations, women armed with sticks marched into the beer-halls, attacking men who were drinking, and wrecking the facilities, despite the presence of police. The drinkers fled.

One vivid account recalls that the women were very powerful. Some came half dressed (in traditional dress) with their breasts exposed, and when they got near this place the police tried to block the women. When they saw this, the women turned and pulled up their skirts. The police closed their eyes and the women passed by and went in.

dorothyIn 1961, she was recruited in Umkhonto weSizwe, the military wing of the ANC. She was arrested and banned for five years, yet even in her isolation she continued to defy the government, fighting for racial and gender equality.
After her release, she was again arrested in 1968 and sentenced in 15 years in jail accused of assisting and harbouring members of Umkhonto weSizwe.
Omar-Badsha-Dorothy-Nyembe-celebrating-after-been-release-from-a-15-year-prison-sentance-1984-copyThese longs years were spent in prisons for women, far from Dorothy’s family. Her work involved washing the clothes of the male convicts.
Dorothy fought for better conditions for prisoners, and went on a hunger strike to protest the abysmal treatment of women in prison.


When she was released in 1984, she went on to work on developing women’s leadership and education, and advocated for women’s social issues. In 1992, she was awarded the Chief Albert Luthuli Prize for her commitment to the struggle, and in 1994 she became a Member of Parliament.


At her funeral at Umlazi, outside Durban, shortly after Christmas, one respectful man ruefully reflected that he still carried the scar where Nyembe had hit him during the beer-hall protests. 


dorothy nyembe statue

Her statue was unveiled in November 2016 in Umlazi E Section, near the Glebelands Hostel.aption


Durban Street Names: Lilian Ngoyi

Who are the people that Durban’s streets are named after?
What did they do?

I didn’t have a clue about most of them, until I started researching, particularly the women whose stories I was never told.

In honour of Mother’s Day coming up this Sunday, I want to share the story of a powerful mother, a fearless leader and a global adventurer who was a force to be reckoned with – Lilian Ngoyi.

Lilian Ngoyi Road was formerly Windermere Road.

Lillian_NgoyiLilian Ngoyi

  • Mother.
  • Widow.
  • First female elected to office in the main body of the ANC.
  • President of the ANC Women’s League.
  • Stood trial under the Treason Act.
  • Spent 71 days in solitary confinement.
  • Was banned and under house arrest for eleven years after leaving prison.

Lilian Masediba Ngoyi was born in Pretoria in 1911 to a poor family of six children. She 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.

As a widow with two children at the time, also supporting her elderly mother, she was working as a seamstress when she joined the Garment Workers Union (GWU) and she soon became one of its leaders. 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.



Lilian took to the stage of the inaugural conference of the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) and stated to the gathered group of multiracial delegates:
“Let us be brave: we have heard of men shaking in their trousers, but who ever heard of a woman shaking in her skirt?”
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As the cheers, applause and laughter subsided, she concluded her speech in typical fashion: with the declaration that all South African women, regardless of their race or background, should be willing to die for the future of their children.

In her words and actions Lilian Ngoyi combined her identities as an African, woman, mother and worker to mobilize South African women in the fight against apartheid. For Ngoyi, the restrictions and limitations that apartheid laws placed on black women were at the heart of the system of white supremacy. Therefore, it was only natural that black women be in the vanguard of anti-apartheid resistance.

She highlighted how the pass laws, Bantu Education, forced removals and other state sanctions, hit African women the hardest and were deliberately designed to erode the African family and deny a future for African children.

Ngoyi dedicated her life to struggling against these oppressive measures and to securing a better future for her children and the children of South Africa. She mobilized a brand of militant motherhood that laid bare the oppressive nature of apartheid and allowed her to simultaneously address the specific plight of women in South Africa and the broader racial struggles against apartheid.


downloadIn 1955, Lilian embarked on an audacious (and highly illegal) journey to Lausanne, Switzerland to participate in the World Congress of Mothers held by the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF). Accompanied by her fellow activist Dora Tamana 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.

She visited England, Germany, Switzerland, Romania, China and Russia, meeting women leaders often engaged in left wing politics, before arriving back in South Africa as a “wanted woman”.

At Lausanne, Lilian presided over the 2nd session of the conference, giving its opening address. Standing in front of assembled women and mothers from almost every continent, she detailed the hardships faced by South African women to a global audience and appealed for support in bringing freedom and democracy to the nation in the name of the women’s international peace movement.

The travels of Lilian and Dora were made all the more remarkable when, back in South Africa, efforts were continually being made to monitor and strictly control African movement and mobility. As a result, the trip effectively asserted Ngoyi’s right, as a black woman, to travel and move freely. By escaping the hold of the pass laws and making illegal border crossings these two black women struck at the heart of the doctrine of apartheid.

As she traversed Europe, passing from London, through the iron curtain to the eastern bloc, Ngoyi observed that the women she met were not black, white or coloured, but mothers, stating: “I was a woman and a mother, my colour was not my problem.” 



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, Lilian was the one who knocked on Prime Minister Strijdom’s door to hand over the petitions. women_march11

Lilian was known as a strong orator and a fiery inspiration to many of her colleagues in the ANC. 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, Lilian was imprisoned for five months under the 1960 state of emergency. She spent 71 days in solitary confinement. 

As a result of her defiance and anti-apartheid organising Lilian was issued with her first banning order in October 1962. It lasted for 10 years and was renewed again in 1975 for a further 5 year period. In this time she was not allowed to leave Orlando, she was forbidden to attend any gatherings and she couldn’t meet more than one person at a time (including family members).

ZZZlILIANShe was constantly monitored by the police and no news of her was allowed to appear in the press. Lilian’s physical isolation took an inevitable toll on her political activities and she struggled to earn a living using her skills as seamstress. Despite this, she remained outspoken both on African and women’s rights until her death in 1980.

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

Reflecting on her life in 1972 she chose to look to her own mother to articulate the growing militancy of black women in South Africa that she herself represented:

“My mother firmly believed our tears shall be wiped away in the next world. I believed we should start enjoying life here.”

Durban Street Names: Adelaide Tambo

Who are the people that Durban’s streets are named after?
What did they do?

I didn’t have a clue about most of them, until I started researching, particularly the women whose stories I was never told.

To start the series off , I’ll do the street in my own neighbourhood of Durban North that I drive every single day – Adelaide Tambo Street, formerly Kensington Drive.

mama tambo
Adelaide Frances Tambo was born on 18 July 1929 at the Top Location, Vereeniging, in the Vaal Triangle. Ma Thambo, as she was affectionately known, died on 31 January 2007 at her Hyde Park home in Johannesburg at the age of 77.

Her introduction to politics was brutal; at the age of 10, she witnessed her 82-year-old grandfather being publicly whipped until he collapsed in the town square. As she was to recount later in life:

“His brutal and humiliating treatment at the hands of the police was the trigger, the deciding factor.”

While a 15-year-old at Orlando high school in Johannesburg, she started working for the ANC. She joined the youth league (ANCYL) at the age of 18, soon becoming chair of her local branch, and helped to start up others, including one at Pretoria general hospital, where she was a student nurse. It was through the ANCYL that she met Oliver. He proposed to her in 1954, but it took two years before she accepted him.

On August 9 1956 Adelaide took part with 20,000 others in the Women’s March on the Union Buildings in Pretoria – then the seat of white government – in protest against the pass laws.

That December, three weeks before their wedding was scheduled, 155 leading members of the ANC, including Oliver, were arrested and charged with treason. Fortunately, they were granted bail, and the wedding went ahead.
Adelaide Tambo Drive
After the Sharpeville massacre of March 21 1960, when 69 people were killed after police opened fire on a pass law protest, the ANC asked Oliver to lead it from exile. Adelaide followed a few months later. In London she worked as a nurse to support the family, while her husband travelled extensively.
While exiled in London, Adelaide Tambo was a very active member of the ANC and the anti-apartheid movement.
She had a strong physical presence – reinforced by a variety of African headdresses and garments – a booming voice and laughed a lot.

adelaide tamboWith her commanding personality, sometimes almost intimidating, she had an ability to get results; she knew just about every African and Asian ambassador and was highly regarded by the diplomatic corps. She gave lavish parties in her home in Muswell Hill, north London, where actors, writers, journalists and political figures often visited. But she also held down a job at the nearby Whittington hospital, and did agency work as a district nurse, sometimes putting in up to 20 hours a day.

The couple returned to South Africa in 1990, after the release of Mandela and the unbanning of the ANC. Mandela insisted that the returning Oliver Tambo remain ANC president.

In 1994 she was elected to represent the ANC in Parliament. Besides serving as national Treasurer of the ANC Women’s League, Adelaide occupied herself with community work, She launched the Adelaide Tambo Trust for the Elderly and was honorary life patron of the Cape Town City Ballet.220px-Adelaide_Tambo

Her contribution to the liberation struggle and commitment to community projects earned her several awards, namely, the Noel Foundation Life Award for initiating the anti-apartheid movement in Britain; the first Oliver Tambo/Johnny Makatini freedom award in February 1995; the Order of Simon of Cyrene in July 1997, the highest order given by the Anglican Church for distinguished service by lay people and, in 2002, the Order of the Baobab in Gold.