Women’s Role In The Transformation Of South Africa

Women are usually referred to as the bedrock of the family first and then society at large. This saying has proved to be true in South Africa as various women have played huge roles that have contributed immensely to the transformation of the country from the Apartheid era till date. Women are still contributing immensely to the development of the country even today. 

Women’s role in the transformation of South Africa can be majorly traced back to their efforts in ensuring the freedom of South Africa which is often marked by the March to the Union Building in August 1956. The role of women in the transformation of South Africa in the Apartheid era paved a way for the democratic government which is presently in power in South Africa. 

Role of Women in the Transformation of South Africa

South African women strongly opposed the pass laws that limited the movement of Africans in the Apartheid era. They believed that these pass laws would rip African families apart by categorizing where and with whom Africans can work and live. They were successful in preventing the proposed bill that would necessitate them to carry passbooks in the early 1900s. 

In the 1950s South African women again played a huge role in boosting the bigger democratic movement to include the challenges that women face and the promotion of the leadership of women in South Africa. As a result, the Federation of South African Women at the time started bringing together women of all races to fight for equality in the country. Women were prominent in the protests against the Apartheid government at this time. 

In 1983, the Natal Organization of Women of Women was established to unite women and handle the challenges women face. They fought for the upliftment of women and drafted a constitution that would protect women’s rights. The organization trained and encouraged women to occupy leadership positions that would enable them to contribute to the progress towards democracy. 

After the Democratic government came into power in 1994, a commission for Gender equality was set up and in 2005, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka became the first female deputy president in South Africa. She had been an educator, politician and campaigner for women’s rights before becoming the deputy President. Since 2005, more women have become more involved in the government at all of its three levels by occupying official posts. Presently, women make up about 33% of the cabinet constantly contributing to the development and transformation of South Africa. 

Women who have contributed to the Transformation of South Africa

  • Lindiwe Mazibuko 

Lindiwe Mazibuko is one of the youngest and most resolute female politicians in South Africa who became a Parliamentary Leader for the Democratic Alliance and the Opposition leader in the National Assembly at 33 years old. She was named the Most Influential Woman in South Africa in 2012 and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2013. As of July 2021, she holds the post of the Executive Director of Apolitical Academy. 

  • Miriam Makeba 

Zenzile Miriam Makeba was a Grammy Award-winning South African Singer, and Human Rights Campaigner who was in exile for about 31 years. She campaigned against the Apartheid system of government in the Apartheid Era and as a result, the government withdrew her passport, her citizenship and her right of return.

She was the first African recording artist to win a Grammy and she was also a South African United Nations Goodwill Ambassador. She has also championed different causes through her foundation, however, she died on the 9th of November, 2008. 

  • Lilian Ngoyi 

Fondly known as the Mother of Black Resistance, Lilian Ngoyi was a powerful anti-apartheid activist and public speaker who concentrated so much on the freedom of black women in South Africa. She was the president of the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) which she helped to establish in 1956. She was also the president of the ANC Women League in the Apartheid era. Lilian Ngoyi believed that women had the power to transform South Africa and she led about 20,000 women in the popular protest against the pass laws. 

  • Major Mandisa Nomcebo Mfeka

Major Mandisa is the first black woman to be a Combat Fighter Pilot in South Africa. She protects the South African borders in direct partnership with the United Nations. If and when an impending threat arises, she is one of the first people called on to investigate and sometimes has a conversation with the enemy when needed. 

  • Helen Suzman

Helen Suzman is a Nobel Prize nominee who was a Parliamentarian and Human Rights Activist. She was elected into Parliament under the United Party and then the Progressive Party which was anti-apartheid. She was the only representative of the Parliament that was against the Apartheid Regime. She continued to campaign for Human Rights until she retired in 1989, however, she continued her political activism even after retirement. She also served on different institutes and commissions in South Africa. 

  • Dr Pregaluxmi Govender

She is a feminist Human rights activist who became the second South African Human rights Commissioner. She was a member of the Parliament and a Chair of the Parliament Women Committee. She was influential in advancing the rights of South African women and introduced the Women’s Budget which has impacted Budgets all over the world. She believes that Women’s rights should be affirmed as Human rights. 

  • Nicky Newton-King

She is the first woman to run the biggest Stock Exchange in Africa which is known as the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) since its establishment about 125 years ago. She has been influential in drafting regulatory legislation such as the Insider Trading Act and she has also been an opinionated advocate for the advancement of the roles of women in society and within business circles as well. She believes that there was no barrier for women and that they can do anything only if they study and work hard to earn a place at the table. 

  • Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng 

She is the vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town and she has been named the Most Influential Woman in academics. She was the first black woman in South Africa to obtain a PhD in Mathematical Education. She is also the founder of Adopt-a-Learner which is a non-profit organization that assists students that need financial support. Professor Mamokgethi is passionate about the opportunities that women are given and how much difference they can make in society. She believes that women in leadership need to be aware that they are in leadership not just for themselves but for the women in the coming generations and for that reason lead boldly. 

  • Professor Thulisile Madonsela 

Professor Thulisile was a Public Protector and is presently the head of Social Justice Research at Stellenbosch University. She has advocated for good governance, social justice and the rule of law as an activist. She was one of the writers of the South African Constitution and one of the formulators of democracy promotion and protection laws. She is an icon of courage and justice that has been defined to have power that was used only for right and good things. She believes that every girl child should decide on who she is and her contribution to humanity as early as possible in life. 

  • Dr Elmi Muller 

She is an activist as well as a Surgeon that specializes in organ transplants in South Africa. She is making a difference in organ transplant practices globally and is campaigning for change other than merely managing health situations. She once put her career on the line to perform the first HIV to HIV-transplant in 2008. She is also an advocate for the promotion of organ transplants in Africa and developing countries. She is known as a person that changes the rules and guidelines to make history. Dr Elmi believes that anyone can have success but not happiness without significance. 



In South Africa, women have always been at the forefront of causing a shift in the way things are done and proving that they are not meant to bear children and take care of the home alone. The role of women in the transformation of South Africa cannot be overlooked as they have contributed to South Africa that we have today. 

To date, several women have and are still contributing to the development of South Africa by achieving various feats and making their marks indelible in their various careers and industry. We have outlined the achievements and contributions of some of them to the development of South Africa in the piece above. 

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