The African National Congress (ANC) in the Eastern Cape has learnt with grief the passing away of our leader, struggle icon, FEDSAW founder and 1956 Women’s March leader, Mama Lillian Diedericks. Mama Lillian Diedericks passed away at the age 96 years this morning.
Mama Lilian Diedericks was born in Red Location, New Brighton, on 17 December 1925. Under apartheid her family was classified ‘Coloured’ and forcibly removed from the area, which was rezoned ‘African’.
In the 1940s and 1950s, unlike in other major cities in South Africa where political leadership was drawn largely from professionals and the middle classes, the leaders of political and labour movements that emerged in Port Elizabeth were mainly working class, a result of the strong grassroots political work by communists, Trotskyists and liberals, historian Janet Cherry writes. In this period too, highly politically conscious women who were largely absent in the leadership of political organisations, rose through the ranks of the trade union movement.
In the 1950s, Diedericks became politically active through her involvement in the powerful labour movement, particularly with the Food and Canning Workers’ Union. Diedericks was also secretary of the Medical Association, a job she was given on the recommendation of trade union leader and communist, Ray Alexander.
Diederick’s ability to speak Xhosa, English and Afrikaans fluently helped her to organise and address people across the colour lines that apartheid had created. This was a precursor to the trademark non-racial organisation of Nelson Mandela Bay.
Diederick’s activities within the Women’s League of the African National Congress also took her all over the province.
In 1954 Lillian Diedericks was among the PE delegates who attended the national Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) conference. Here the PE delegates addressed the conference on the boycott of oranges, a consumer protest and the conditions on farm workers and rent problems in the Port Elizabeth townships.
She was elected to represent the Eastern Province as the head of the march on the Union Buildings to present petitions demanding freedom to the then Prime Minister, GJ Strydom. The delegates, which filled two train carriages, had to pay their own way. Raymond Mhlaba and Govan Mbeki were at the station to lend support to the delegation of women, which included Lilian Ngoyi, who was the spokesperson for the people.
The Eastern Cape women, preferring to stay together, slept over in the Selbourn Hall, while other delegates slept over in the homes of the local supporters. As the march was banned, they split themselves up into threes and fours, as there could be no more than six or ten in a group. They were met at the doors of the Union Building, not by Strydom, but by a barrage of guns.
The Anti-Pass march was led by Helen Joseph together with Lilian Ngoyi, Sophie de Bruyn, Rahima Moosa and Lillian Diedericks. Lilian Ngoyi, spokesperson for the delegates, turned around from the door saying that Strydom was not there. Then she raised her fist singing (in English) Strydom you have struck a rock because women are like rocks. They left singing Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.
In 1956, Diedericks was arrested and charged with treason with other women for protests against the Port Elizabeth mayor. They were taken to Johannesburg and incarcerated at Fort Prison. Diedericks was banned by the apartheid government from 1967 to 1968.
Diedericks was known for her trade union and political activism, but she also played a role in supporting the families of fellow political activists where needed. She took care of the son of her close comrade and friend, Raymond Mhlaba when he was imprisoned on Robben Island for treason.
Lillian Diedericks’ activism was recognised with an award in 1996, presented to her by President Nelson Mandela at the same Union Buildings where she and her fellow protesters were turned away forty years previously.
In 2011, the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality renamed Brister House the Lillian (Lily) Diedericks Building in honour of the ANC stalwart and trade unionist, who was elected to represent the Eastern Cape in the 1956 women’s march demanding freedom to the then Prime Minister, GJ Strydom.
In April 2018, President Cyril Ramaphosa honoured Diedericks with National Orders, specifically the Order of Luthuli, the highest honour that can be bestowed on an individual, for her contribution to the liberation struggle of South Africa. Premier Lubabalo Oscar Mabuyane officially named the Bhisho State House after ANC veteran and stalwart Mrs Lilian ‘Lily’ Diedericks in September 2021. On the day of the renaming, Premier Mabuyane unveiled the plaque and Lillian’s mural painting, which was part of rebranding the State House.
Our country owes its being to selfless and dedicated matriarchs like Mama Lillian Diedericks. Mama Lillian Diedericks was an overall activist and understood the relationship between racial oppression, class oppression and gender oppression, especially the most unrealised aspects of the gender struggle. She was a phenomenal being and remarkable woman in unendurable times.
Let us preserve her legacy by ensuring that South Africa remains a non-racial, non-sexist society where everyone has an equal opportunity to thrive and prosper. We dip our revolutionary banner in honour of this heroine of our liberation struggle.
We send our sincere and profound condolences to her family, friends, relatives and the broader community of Nelson Mandela Bay. May the peace which comes from the memories of love shared, comfort the Diedericks family in the days ahead, and the comfort of God help the family during this difficult time.
ISSUED BY THE PROVINCIAL SECRETARY OF THE AFRICAN NATIONAL CONGRESS, CDE LULAMA NGCUKAYITOBI
Cde Loyiso Magqashela
ANC PEC Provincial Spokesperson
Mobile No :0823059611
Cde Gift Ngqondi
Provincial Head of Communications
Mobile No : 0849519924/0848439706