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’