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Joyce Piliso-Seroke (1933 - )

The Order of the Baobab in

Joyce Piliso-Seroke (1933 - ) Awarded for:
Her excellent contribution to the struggle against gender oppression and exploitation, her commitment to peace and reconciliation and the struggle for a non-racial, just and democratic society.

Profile of Joyce Piliso-Seroke

Joyce Piliso-Seroke was born in Crown Mines, Johannesburg, on 11 July 1933. She completed her matric at Kilnerton High School in Pretoria. She holds a BA degree and a diploma in Communication. After completing the BA degree, she also did the University Education Diploma at the University of Fort Hare.

She gave up teaching to pursue social work after a year. She was offered a scholarship by the Institute of Race Relations to do a postgraduate course in Social Policy and Administration in Swansea, South Wales, and a course designed for students from developing countries.

On her return to South Africa, she worked for the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal). The YWCA had programmes and projects for women and one of the major challenges for the organisation was that large numbers of African women were subjected to the 1891 Bantu Code, which made them perpetual minors and lifelong wards of men – their fathers, husbands and, in the absence of these the closest surviving male relatives, including sons. The YWCA petitioned the Department of Bantu Administration and chiefs for the abolition of this law but to no avail. When this failed, the YWCA’s Women Empowerment Programme encouraged women to draw up simple wills to safeguard their property.

Piliso-Seroke soon became national secretary and did a lot of travelling, addressing international YWCAconferences in Africa, Europe and the United States where she spoke about the ravages of apartheid. In 1975, she was appointed to the Executive Committee of the World YWCA in Geneva, Switzerland, a position she held until South Africa erupted in protest in 1976. She and the Executive Committee, including the president, Oshadi Phakathi, visited Soweto to assess the situation and were detained in the cells of Orlando Police Station for four days.

She was later re-detained and kept at the Fort. After her detention, she was vice president of the World YWCA from 1983 to 1995. She co-ordinated programmes and projects in eight YWCA regions in the country, networking with women’s organisations and activists on campaigns such as the Women Against Oppression Campaign.

Piliso-Seroke’s passport was confiscated by the Special Branch. Realising that she could no longer travel abroad to address YWCA groups and anti-apartheid movements, she co-produced two documentaries with her friend, Betty Wolpert, a South African residing in London. Both documentaries were shown and documented abroad.

From 1992 to 1993, she served on the Transvaal Board of the National Co-ordinating Council for Returnees, spearheading YWCA programmes for returning exiles countrywide.

In 1996, she joined the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). As a member of the Human Rights Committee, she helped people understand the effects of the harsh past in order to bring about unity and reconciliation. She was part of the TRC hearings held countrywide to investigate gross human rights violations and to establish support structures within the communities for victims of such violations.

She was appointed chairperson of the Commission on Gender Equality (CGE) by the President on 1 March 1999 and was reappointed in October 2002 for the next five years. She is also a member of the Eskom Development Foundation.

A versatile woman with an indefatigable spirit, Joyce Piliso-Seroke has contributed considerably to freedom, development, reconstruction and the struggle for gender equality in the country.