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Josie (Palmer) Mpama (1903 - 1979)

The Order of Luthuli in

Josie (Palmer) Mpama (1903 - 1979) Awarded for:
Her lifetime contribution to the struggle for a democratic, free and non-racial South Africa and the rights of workers.

Profile of Josie (Palmer) Mpama

Josie (Palmer) Mpama was born to “Coloured” parents in Potchefstroom in 1903. In the 1920s, she joined the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) and soon became the Branch Secretary in Potchefstroom. Palmer, who adopted the surname Mpama when she moved to the local township to be with her husband, was a leading figure 1930s, Mpama wrote for Umsebenzi, the CPSA's journal in which she highlighted the plight of Black workers and made the connection between workers' struggles and the general political system in the country. By the 1940s, Josie was a member of the CPSA's Johannesburg committee, becoming the first Black woman to play a significant role in the CPSA.

In 1944, she started working with the National Anti-Pass Council. At the 1947 International Women's Day meeting in Johannesburg, a resolution was passed to establish a 'non-colour bar women's organisation' and the Transvaal All-Women's Union was formed, with Mpama as its Secretary. Later, while Mpama served as the President of the Transvaal branch of the Federation of South African Women, she was placed under a banning order just before the historic Women's March to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956. Mpama was also detained during the State of Emergency declared after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960.

Mpama's life was one of service and dedication to the plight of workers and women. Her pioneering activism made her a role model for many generations of women.