Vesta Smith (1922 - )
The Order of Luthuli in
Profile of Vesta Smith
Vesta Smith was born into cosmopolitan Sophiatown, Johannesburg, on 20 July 1922. She was a member of the African National Congress (ANC) and worked closely with Albertina and Walter Sisulu. She participated in anti-pass campaigns, attended the Congress of the People in Kliptown and was an ANC volunteer. She remained active in the ANC until it was banned but continued to work with its support structures.
Ma Vesta or Ma V – as she is affectionately known in Soweto – served on the Executive Committee of the Black People’s Convention. She was denied a passport by the South African Government from 1972 until the unbanning of the ANC in 1990. She was detained together with Winnie Mandela and Fatima Meer, and her daughter Cecelia Palmer. They were held at the Old Fort from August to December 1976 in terms of the Internal Security Act.
In 1980, Ma V was arrested in terms of the Prohibition of Illegal Gatherings Act, held for four months awaiting trial and then given a five-year suspended sentence. She was prohibited from attending gatherings and speaking publicly from 1980 to 1990 when the ANC was unbanned.
Ma Vesta was a founding member of the United Democratic Front. She was co-chair of the Anti-President’s Council Committee and participated in door-to-door work to dissuade people from voting for the Presidents Council. She was co-chair of the Federation of Transvaal Women and was a member of the Federation of South African Women. She was detained in 1986 together with her three sons and held at the Johannesburg Prison for 10 months under the State of Emergency Regulations.
She spent her adult life serving the community, worked to develop the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) and assisted detainees throughout the 1980s. She worked at the Christian Institute with Dr Beyers Naude and Horst Kleinsmidt until it was banned. She also worked at the South African Committee for Higher Education as an administrator before joining the LRC.
Ma V is well respected in the community of Noordgesig and is an active member of her church.
Vesta Smith has lived for the struggle for freedom and never gave up hope for liberation. Bannings, detentions and harassment by the system never broke her spirit and belief in the future, free from apartheid. Instead, she resolutely resolved to intensify her fight against institutionalised racism. She is a brave woman committed to her country and the principles of a non-racial, non-sexist and united South Africa.
Ma V still lives with and serves the community of Noordgesig despite her advanced age. She is a role-model for many female activists who played a role in dismantling apartheid.