By: Staff Reporter
Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has paid tribute to Annie Silinga a firebrand women rights leader and fervent anti pass campaigner Annie Silinga who died in 1984 and was granted a pauper’s burial.
Silinga, who was the ANCWL president of Western Cape, was elected to the executive committee of the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) on its founding in 1954. Sisulu said Silinga was a member of the ANC who led the Defiance campaign in the Western Cape and “was probably one of the first women to be imprisoned for the countywide defiance of unjust racial laws”.
“Let’s celebrate this outstanding, brave and selfless women rights activist. Sisulu said Silinga was foremost woman fighter against apartheid pass laws who never carried one until her dying days. She added that Silinga, who would have would have been 110 years old this year was a 1956 Treason Trialist, was one of the leaders of the Women’s Anti-Pass Laws March to Pretoria and UDF patron who died in 1984, yet was buried in a pauper’s unmarked grave. “We should hang our heads in shame,” said Sisulu.
According to SA History Online, Silinga was born in 1910 at Nqqamakwe in the Butterworth district of the Transkei where she completed only a few years of primary school. In 1937 she moved to Cape Town, where her husband was employed. In 1948 she joined the Langa Vigilance Association and, during the Defiance Campaign of 1952, she joined the African National Congress (ANC). During the Defiance Campaign, she served a brief jail term for civil disobedience.
In 1955 she was arrested for refusing to comply with pass regulations and after a series of appeals was banished and sent under police escort to the Transkei. In a phrase used by Annie herself, her three children in Langa were orphans whose mother lived and Matthew was a widower though his wife was alive. Still refusing to comply, she returned illegally to live with her family in Langa and in 1957 finally appealed her case successfully on the grounds that more than 15 years’ residence in Cape Town entitled her to remain there.
On 9 August 1956, Silinga led 20 000 women organised by FEDSAW who marched to the prime minister’s office in Pretoria to protest the issuing of passes. Silinga was arrested alongside other FEDSAW leaders Lilian Ngoyi and Helen Joseph, as well as ANC leaders Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela. The apartheid government charged Silinga and other activists with treason. The initial phase of the Treason Trial lasted until December 1957, when the state dropped charges against 61 of the defendants.
Silinga was one of those released. In 1958, Silinga was elected as the president of the Cape Town ANCWL in 1958. In 1960 anti-pass law riots happened in Langa and Sharpeville. The apartheid government declared a state of emergency and Silinga was one of the people arrested. The ANC was banned as a political organisation in 1960. Upon her return from prison, she was involved in the formation of the Women’s Front, and was made a patron of the United Democratic Front in 1983. She spent the rest of her life in Langa township where she died in 1984. Although she was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave, artist Sue Williamson, at the request of Annie Silinga’s family, created a piece to place at her grave in Langa cemetery. It bears Silinga’s battle cry: “I will never carry a pass!”