Her Story
In Conversation
Creating a Portrait
A Speaker:
Frene
Ginwala
 
"Today I feel that at last I can be a South African, and be recognised as such. I couldn't always, and a lot of people would say that."
The Speaker
Profile of an Icon
Frene Ginwala
 
In 1961, a 28-year old South African woman opened the front door of her home in Dar es Salaam. Following the instructions of Oliver Tambo, she was to await the arrival of a political refugee from South Africa and hide him.
Profile of an Icon
Frene Ginwala

In 1961, a 28-year old South African woman opened the front door of her home in Dar es Salaam. Following the instructions of Oliver Tambo, she was to await the arrival of a political refugee from South Africa and hide him. When he eventually showed up, he was wearing a conical Sotho hat, a khaki-safari suit, and mosquito boots: this man, who she was required to hide at all costs, was almost impossible to conceal. “He has always joked because when I did see him, they rang the bell, and I opened the door, and my first reaction was: ‘And I’m supposed to hide you?’” She laughs.

The young woman was Frene Ginwala, the longest serving and first female Speaker of the National Assembly of the new South Africa, and the man was Nelson Mandela. Even now, at 82 years old, that quick wit and sharp tongue is still with her. Hers is a familiar face to most South Africans born before 1994. The shock of white hair, the uniform of traditional saris, the considered but commanding voice. Ginwala has earned her place among the portraits of past struggle heroes whose faces line the walls of South Africa’s Parliament.

Born in 1932 in Johannesburg, Ginwala’s political consciousness was awakened early. As a child of colour born into a segregated South Africa, her awareness would be roused as soon as she stepped out of her front door. The signs reading ‘Slegs Blankes’

Play video
In Conversation
Frene Ginwala
 
Frene Ginwala, former Speaker at the National Assembly, talks to filmmaker Adrian Steirn about how she helped struggle leaders into exile during Apartheid, her role as the first speaker in South Africa's democratic parliament, and her multifaceted career.
 
 
 
 
Creating
A Portrait
 
A series of behind the scenes images reflecting the 21 icons team at work.
Photographed under an elaborate signpost, the portrait reflects the varied and decisive directions Ginwala has chosen and the command she has wielded in each path taken.