Arts, Culture & Heritage

Lilian Ngoyi

Last Updated: July 30, 2023
Artist

Stephan Maqashela

A Brief History

Ngoyi was a fiery, brilliant orator, a well-known figure at public and political meetings who earned a reputation as an inspiring speaker who could stir up the crowds. But there were not many opportunities for Ngoyi to address audiences. Ngoyi was first banned in 1962 and confined to an area of her home in Soweto, which prevented her from attending meetings and speaking in public. She spent only three years unbanned, from 1972 to 1975. She died two months before her last banning order was due to expire and was buried at Avalon Cemetery.

Ngoyi was the first woman member of the ANC’s national executive. She was also co-founder and President of the Federation of South African Women and Vice-President of the ANC Women's League, Transvaal.

She was one of four women – together with Sophie Williams, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa - who led the march of 20 000 women to the Union Buildings on August 9 1956 to protest the extension of apartheid’s pass laws to African women.

There were severe penalties for not being able to produce the hated passes or ‘dompas’ on demand – immediate arrest and imprisonment.

Ngoyi and other leaders argued that homes would be broken up and children left uncared for when, as their petition to then prime-minister JG Strijdom read, “mothers will be torn from their babies for failure to produce a pass”. But the new law took effect and mothers were separated from their children by the thousands.

Ngoyi was first arrested in December 1956 and taken to the Fort Prison. She was charged with treason, along with 156 other leaders including Nelson Mandela. The trial dragged on for more than four years. In 1960, during the State of Emergency, she was arrested again at her home in the middle of the night and taken to Pretoria Central where she spent five months.

No sooner had she been released and acquitted in 1961 than she was served with her first five-year banning order.

She spent a weekend in jail after breaking her banning order by holding a party in her house, attended by, among others, Walter Sisulu and Alfred Nzo.

As soon as her first banning order expired in 1967, she was banned again. This became the pattern.

Her home was well known. Ngoyi rented out a room to fellow trialist Dr Alfred Letele from Kimberley and his patients would wait in the front of the house where Ngoyi would sit sewing at her machine – often the black, green and gold blouses worn by the women in the organisations she belonged to.

In a period between banning orders, Ngoyi told an interviewer: “You can tell my friends all over the world that this girl is still her old self, if not more mature after all the experiences.”

Desmond Tutu, then General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches, said at her funeral, attended by more than 2000 people, that when the true history of South Africa was written Ngoyi’s name would be in “letters of gold”.

 

Description

The sculpture is one metre high and 65cm wide, in the form of a sewing machine made of metal, mounted on a steel box which is mounted on the wall of the Ngoyi family home.

Artist, Stephen Maqashela, was fascinated by the idea of Ngoyi “earning money through sewing until her death”, He said. He decided creating a sewing machine was the best way to commemorate her.

First he went to Ngoyi’s house in Mzimhlophe, Soweto, where a member of her family still lives. He noticed the fence had been painted in ANC colours, which were now fading, and was told it had been like that since before she had died. So he decided to create his artwork by updating the fence.

Maqashela used car parts to represent Ngoyi’s industry: a bakkie's differential was used to represent a sewing machine (which he painted bronze) and a car's oil sump was painted in ANC colours to represent the blouses which Ngoyi had sewed at her home for ANC Women's League members.

 

Artwork Signage

Ngoyi was a fiery, brilliant orator, a well-known figure at public and political meetings who earned a reputation as an inspiring speaker who could stir up the crowds. But there were not many opportunities for Ngoyi to address audiences. Ngoyi was first banned in 1962 and confined to an area of her home in Soweto, which prevented her from attending meetings and speaking in public. She spent only three years unbanned, from 1972 to 1975. She died two months before her last banning order was due to expire and was buried at Avalon Cemetery.

Ngoyi was the first woman member of the ANC’s national executive. She was also co-founder and President of the Federation of South African Women and Vice-President of the ANC Women's League, Transvaal.

She was one of four women – together with Sophie Williams, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa - who led the march of 20 000 women to the Union Buildings on August 9 1956 to protest the extension of apartheid’s pass laws to African women.

There were severe penalties for not being able to produce the hated passes or ‘dompas’ on demand – immediate arrest and imprisonment.

Ngoyi and other leaders argued that homes would be broken up and children left uncared for when, as their petition to then prime-minister JG Strijdom read, “mothers will be torn from their babies for failure to produce a pass”. But the new law took effect and mothers were separated from their children by the thousands.

Ngoyi was first arrested in December 1956 and taken to the Fort Prison. She was charged with treason, along with 156 other leaders including Nelson Mandela. The trial dragged on for more than four years. In 1960, during the State of Emergency, she was arrested again at her home in the middle of the night and taken to Pretoria Central where she spent five months.

No sooner had she been released and acquitted in 1961 than she was served with her first five-year banning order.

She spent a weekend in jail after breaking her banning order by holding a party in her house, attended by, among others, Walter Sisulu and Alfred Nzo.

As soon as her first banning order expired in 1967, she was banned again. This became the pattern.

Her home was well known. Ngoyi rented out a room to fellow trialist Dr Alfred Letele from Kimberley and his patients would wait in the front of the house where Ngoyi would sit sewing at her machine – often the black, green and gold blouses worn by the women in the organisations she belonged to.

In a period between banning orders, Ngoyi told an interviewer: “You can tell my friends all over the world that this girl is still her old self, if not more mature after all the experiences.”

Desmond Tutu, then General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches, said at her funeral, attended by more than 2000 people, that when the true history of South Africa was written Ngoyi’s name would be in “letters of gold”.

 

Location & Address

65 Nkungu Street, Mzimhlop, Soweto. Artwork is mounted on the front wall of the Ngoyi family home.