Sophia Wil­liams-De Bruyn

Mail & Guardian - - Abafazi Iconic Women -

Sophia Wil­liams-De Bruyn, “Aunty So­phie” to some, is a liv­ing leg­end of the strug­gle against apartheid. She was born in Vil­lage­board, a racially mixed area of Port El­iz­a­beth, in 1938. Her father was a com­mu­nity leader, serv­ing as a com­mis­sioner of oaths, and many would come to him for aid with their grants and pen­sions.

The young So­phie was touched by their plight: many could not read and write, and her mother opened their home and ta­ble to them while her father wrote their let­ters. Her po­lit­i­cal aware­ness be­gan at home, by see­ing the pow­er­less­ness of peo­ple un­der the apartheid regime.

As a young girl, she started work­ing at a tex­tile fac­tory to earn some money. She joined a union, and was pop­u­lar with her fel­low work­ers due to her elo­quent lan­guage and ne­go­ti­at­ing skills. She was a nat­u­ral leader and rep­re­sen­ta­tive to deal with man­age­ment, and be­came a shop stew­ard. She left school and con­tin­ued work­ing at the fac­tory.

Wil­liams-De Bruyn rose to the ex­ec­u­tive of the Tex­tile Work­ers’ Union in Port El­iz­a­beth, which brought her along­side lead­ers such as Ray­mond Mh­laba, Vuy­isile Mini and Go­van Mbeki. An ad­vo­cate for eco­nomic as well as po­lit­i­cal jus­tice for all South Africans, she was later a found­ing mem­ber of the South African Congress of Trade Unions.

The grow­ing ANC sought an al­liance with the like-minded In­dian and Coloured Peo­ple’s Congress in ma­jor ur­ban cen­tres. Dur­ing the al­liance strat­egy meet­ings Wil­liams-De Bruyn’s tal­ent as a speaker and or­gan­iser shone through, and in 1955 the ANC ap­pointed her as a full-time or­gan­iser of the Coloured Peo­ple’s Congress in Johannesburg.

One year later Wil­liams-De Bruyn, just 18 years old, joined Lil­ian Ngoyi, He­len Joseph and Rahima Moosa in lead­ing 20 000 women in protest against the pass laws. The lead­ers of the march rep­re­sented each of the four main racial groups clas­si­fied by the apartheid gov­ern­ment, stand­ing united in their op­po­si­tion to the state forc­ing black women to carry passes.

She de­scribes the strat­egy of the march as well thought out, and the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) took the de­ci­sion to be fully in­volved. The suc­cess of the march was un­prece­dented in its mass mo­bil­i­sa­tion and seam­less ex­e­cu­tion.

Wil­liams mar­ried Henry Benny de Bruyn in 1959, who was part of the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe. He was forced into ex­ile in Lusaka in 1963, and they were sep­a­rated for six years be­fore she joined him there. She re­mained tire­less in ex­ile, work­ing as an ad­min­is­tra­tor for the ANC, sec­re­tary for the ANCWL, and com­plet­ing her stud­ies. By 1977, she had her teacher’s di­ploma, and was de­ployed to a key po­si­tion in the ANC Ed­u­ca­tion Coun­cil, work­ing in Tan­za­nia and Namibia.

They both re­turned to South Africa af­ter the ANC was un­banned, and her hus­band served as South Africa’s am­bas­sador to Jor­dan un­til he passed away in 1999.

Wil­liams-De Bruyn con­tin­ued to work for the bet­ter­ment of com­mu­ni­ties af­ter lib­er­a­tion. She served on the ANC na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee and as deputy speaker of the Gaut­eng leg­is­la­ture from 2005 to 2009. She then moved to na­tional par­lia­ment, and was also a com­mis­sioner for the Com­mis­sion for Gen­der Equal­ity.

On Au­gust 9 2016, speak­ing to a large crowd at the 60th an­niver­sary com­mem­o­ra­tion of the Women’s March in Pre­to­ria, Wil­liams-De Bruyn (78) said the fol­low­ing:

“It is for the youth to take the ba­ton that we have al­ready handed over to them, and to fight the ills and the in­jus­tices in our coun­try right now: the in­crease of the abuse of women and chil­dren, and the in­equal­ity, poverty and in­creas­ing gap be­tween the rich and the poor.” — Romi Rei­necke

Is­land May­ibuye Ar­chives Photo: Eli Wein­berg/Robben

A life­time of ser­vice: Sophia Wil­liams-de Bruyn, an iconic fig­ure in the 1956 march, and later, a pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­tor.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.