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Florence Elizabeth Mnumzana (1919 - )

The Order of Luthuli in

Florence Elizabeth Mnumzana (1919 - ) Awarded for:
Her excellent leadership and activism in the healthcare sector as a contribution to the fight against apartheid.

Profile of Florence Elizabeth Mnumzana

Ms Florence Elizabeth Mnumzana was born on 21 February 1919 in Mhinga Village, Limpopo, from the Mhinga traditional royal family, where her father was a local chief. 

Ms Mnumzana is a highly qualified nurse by profession who could have had a comfortable life, but she threw her weight behind the cause of freedom by joining the African National Congress (ANC) during the Defiance Campaign of 1952, and never looked back. 

She obtained her Surgical Nursing Certificate in 1943 and a Midwifery Certificate in 1944. She went on to work as a nurse in several hospitals, during which time she developed a strong awareness of the link between the social system and health problems on the one hand, and apartheid on the other. 

She joined the ANC in the early 1950s, at the beginning of the Defiance Campaign. She also joined the Federation of South African Women and became secretary for Transvaal from 1960 until 1966. In her formative political years in the 1950s, Ms Mnumzana was part of the anti-pass Women’s March of 1956 to the Union Buildings in Pretoria. 

Due to her political involvement, she was banned and restricted for five years, during which period she violated the conditions of the ban and was arrested in 1969. In 1970, together with her two young girls, she left illegally for Botswana as a refugee, and in 1971 moved to Lusaka, Zambia. 

In the years 1970 to 1977, she worked for the Health Ministry in Zambia in Kabwe, which became handy for the maintenance of the kids on the one hand, while contributing to the much needed skills in the health sector on the other hand. 

While working in the health sector and providing for her small family, Ms Mnumzana was at the same time participating in ANC-related activities, including branch meetings, health assistance to comrades and participating in international solidarity and women’s gatherings such as the United Nations Women’s Conference in Mexico in 1975 and the 1980 Women’s Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. 

When the number of exiles swelled in the aftermath of the 1976 riots, the ANC established professional services, particularly in Health and education and Ms Mnumzana served diligently in the health section, offering full-time services when her daughters finished school. In 1978, she was sent to Mozambique to take care of the health services for the ANC cadres, including those in Swaziland and Lesotho. 

The apartheid Government was mounting attacks and raids in neighbouring countries, during a time that was called the total onslaught. Due to her bravery and political maturity, Ms Mnumzana managed to stay on course in her service during all these challenging times, heading the ANC Women’s Section in those countries.

In 1983, she was transferred to Luanda, Angola, where she headed the ANC Women’s Section until 1987. She worked in Angola for six years during the most trying period of the South African Government’s aggression against Angola. At Vianna ANC Health Centre in Luanda, she tutored future ANC nurses in Mathematics and Science, in preparation for the formal World Health Organisation course in Tanzania. 

She returned to Lusaka when the ANC camps in Angola were closed, and served on the Health Committee and at the ANC Emmasdaile Clinic. In all these countries she paired her health work with leadership of the ANC Women’s Section. 

After the ANC unbanning, she was instrumental in the organisation of one of the first ANC activities, the Kimberley Women’s League Conference in December 1990. She returned to South Africa after 21 years in exile in August 1991, and continued working with the Health Committee of the ANC until she retired to her village. 

She was a committed and selfless political activist who shunned the privileges of royalty, chose a modest career of nursing and dedicated her entire life to the struggle for freedom and equality in South Africa. 

“Mam Flo”, as she was affectionately called in Zambia, was remarkable for her readiness to serve the liberation movement at first call. She is very modest and unassuming, not one used to complaining or seeking attention. 

We are proud to honour Ms Florence Elizabeth Mnumzana with the Order of Luthuli in Silver for her lifetime commitment to the struggle for liberation in South Africa and for her complete dedication to the creation of a better South Africa.