Inspirational Women of South Africa

August signifies an important month of recognition and celebration of the contribution women make to history, culture, and society. We believe it’s important to reflect on the often underlooked stories of successful and inspirational women of South Africa during this time.

SimsGas would like to specially highlight five willful and courageous ladies that exemplify their chosen careers or passions. We take a look at how they made a difference and how they have pioneered these avenues for other women to excel in.

Lilian Ngoyi

“We have heard of men shaking in their trousers, but whoever heard of a woman shaking in her skirt?”

Hailed as one of the iconic anti-apartheid activists, Lilian Ngoyi’s legacy and struggle to fight for the emancipation of black women in South Africa continues on and beyond the election of 1994.

Referred to as “the mother of the black resistance” Lilian joined the ANC women’s league in 1952 as a widow and mother of two. With tenacity and willingness to see change, she quickly rose ranks becoming the first woman to join the ANC executive committee in 1956, heading the League she joined four years prior.

In August that same year, she led a march alongside Albertina Sisulu and Helen Joseph, accompanied by some 20,000 women, to steps of the Pretoria Government building in protest against passes women had to carry as part of the draconian pass laws. Lillian was quickly arrested after the march and spent 71 days in solitary confinement and a further 15 years being confined to her home in Orlando, Soweto.

Ngoyi was an excellent speaker and was known for her fiery zeal to many of her ANC colleagues. This crucial historical event is the reason we choose the month of August to celebrate women in South Africa.


Helen Suzman

“It’s not my questions that embarrass South Africa, Mr Speaker, it is our answers…”

Known for having one of the most courageous political careers in History, Helen Suzman was a political anti-apartheid activist and career politician. Joining the white only National Assembly in 1953 as the Houghton house representative, Helen was the focal point of a succession of liberal to left-leaning opposition parties to the controlling National Party. 

In 1959, and at the height of the apartheid era, she founded the Progressive Party which eventually amalgamated with other white anti-apartheid parties and is where the modern Democratic Alliance party finds its roots.

For 13 years of her career as a house representative, Helen remained the only unashamed and consistent voice in parliament to wholeheartedly oppose any apartheid legislation. During this time, she posed 2262 questions to the house and made 885 impassioned speeches. Her struggle was the very real yet silent one from within.

She was accused by many of her fellow house members of embarrassing South Africa overseas and suffered both misogynistic and anti-semitic abuse as a result of her steadfastness. Suzman was also accused of planning Prime Minister Verwoerd’s assassination by the then defence minister to which she later received a full apology.


Devi Sankaree Govender

“Whistle-blowers trust us with their lives, and through them, we are able to shine a light in all those dark corners.”

Most notably defined by her role on Mnet’s flagship magazine and actuality program, Carte Blanche. Devi Sankaree Govender is an award-winning internationally renowned investigative journalist known for her direct questions and unwavering willingness to get to the bottom of a story.

Born in Umzinto on the South Coast of KZN, Devi, began her career in journalism as a freelancer for SABC Radio. Destined for greater things, she quickly moved up from presenting music shows and reading the news to becoming the talk show host of the Lotus FM where she remained for seven years. It was here that Devi’s notable straightforward approach to sensitive and controversial issues began to truly shine.

Devi’s first break out from radio to television began in 1996 as a freelance community presenter for then SABC 1’s Eastern Mosaic and in 1998 started her successful 16-year running column in the Sunday Times. Eventually, Devi would make her career-defining move to join the team at Carte Blanche in 2002.

It was here she attained some of her most notable memories from hard-hitting stories such as deep-rooted corruption in government institutions, the health crisis in the Eastern Cape, and the Oscar Pistorius trial. Devi has also had more casual and interesting interviews with the likes of Nobel Prize laureates to superstars such as Lionel Richie and Quincy Jones.


Dr Pregaluxmi (Pregs) Govender

“It is time to use all the power we have, wherever we are, to assert women’s rights as human rights.”

Dr Pregaluxmi Govender, also known as Pregs Govender, is a human rights and feminist activist most well recognised for her efforts in instituting the Women’s Budget which had felt impacts of global nature. 

Pregs served as a Member of Parliament between 1996 and 2002 and chaired the women’s committee. During her tenure, she cosigned several bills which established important frameworks to gender equality such as the National Gender Machinery and Empowerment policies.

She was also instrumental in the framing of important legislative priorities such as the Domestic Violence Act, the Customary Marriages Act, and Child Maintenance Act as well as labour laws for the advancement of women’s rights in the workplace.

Despite her commitment to her party’s legacy, Govender had reservations about the direction in which the economy was ultimately heading. At the likely cost of her political career, but to keep her principles intact, she declined an invitation to chair the committee which was primed to undermine her stances.

After her tenure in parliament, her pro-choice stance on abortion and her impassioned speeches have elevated women’s rights to adequate healthcare.


Professor Thulisile (Thuli) Madonsela

“It’s vital that every girl determines, as early as possible, who she is and what her contribution to humanity will be.”

Best known for her staunch role as South Africa’s Public Protector, Prof. Thuli Madonsela is a South African Professor of Law, Advocate, and co-architect of the South African Constitution. She now holds a key role as chair of social justice at Stellenbosch University

Born in 1962 and growing up as the daughter of two informal traders, Thuli had to meet a lifetime’s worth of adversity before finally achieving her LLB in law in 1990. This was after much of the 80s working of trade unions trying to fight for workers safety and equality rights. After the 1994 election, Thuli refused multiple offers to serve as an MP for their party. Further invitations were promptly ignored.

Spending most of her life fighting for her principles and the right of law, she has championed a variety of principles such as good governance, rule of law, ethics, and social justice. Thuli has been described as a South African symbol of both justice and courage and hailed as a heroine who uses her remarkable powers to do only what is good.


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