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Magdalene Maggie Resha (1923 - 2003)

The Order of Luthuli in

Magdalene Maggie Resha (1923 - 2003) Awarded for:
Her excellent contribution to the struggle against the apartheid system in South Africa and fighting gender injustices in society.

Profile of Magdalene Maggie Resha

Magdalene Tsiu was born on 5 May 1923 in Matatiele, Eastern Cape.

She experienced the effects of racial discrimination when she began schooling at Ramohlakana Combined School, where two rooms were shared (simultaneously) by five classes. She went on to study for a junior certificate at the Welsh High School in East London.

By 1948, she had come to Johannesburg and joined the African National Congress (ANC). She became increasingly politicised, attending meetings every Sunday at Freedom Square in Kliptown, which were addressed by, among others, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Chief Albert Luthuli, J B Marks and Lilian Ngoyi. In the same year, she married Robert Mweli Resha, who was then a leader of the ANC Youth League.

By 1952, she was serving as an office-bearer in the ANC Sophiatown branch and was also elected to the National Executive Committee of the Federation of South African Women.

Resha became part of the movement resisting the extension of passes to African women and participated in protests together with fellow nurses at Baragwanath Hospital. She led a march of more than 1 000 women to protest against the planned removal of the Sophiatown “black spot”. Hundreds of women were arrested, including Resha, who spent some time in jail.

From 1954 onwards, she was one of the most important organisers of campaigns against the forced removal of the Sophiatown community.

She also devoted her attention to the Congress of the People Campaign, which culminated in the adoption of the Freedom Charter in 1955.

In 1956, Resha was a leading organiser of the march of 20 000 women to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where a petition against the extension of passes to women was handed over to the government.

During 1958, she participated in several protest marches. She was arrested for leading a march from Sophiatown to the Johannesburg Pass Office and spent two weeks in prison. She was arrested again later the same year during a protest march against the whites-only elections.

In recognition of her unstinting dedication to the liberation of her people and her leading role in the anti-pass campaigns, Resha was awarded a certificate of merit, signed by the then President of the ANC, Chief Albert Luthuli, and the then Secretary General, Duma Nokwe.

These protests significantly advanced the role and stature of the women's movement within the ANC.

During the 1960 State of Emergency, despite frequent police raids on her house, she joined an underground cell and continued to work for the ANC even though the movement had been banned.

In 1962, the movement smuggled her out of the country to continue her work in exile. During the time she was based in Algeria, she travelled throughout the world trumpeting the cause of the oppressed people of South Africa.

She was also the ANC's representative to the Pan-African Women's Organisation, to which women's organisations from throughout the continent were affiliated, and in 1973 she was elected general secretary of the All-Africa Women's Conference.

After her husband died in 1973, Resha moved to London to become the chairperson of the ANC London branch and deputy chairperson of the Women's League branch.

Throughout her life, Maggie Resha lived for the achievement of the ideals of freedom, truth, justice and gender equality.

Resha returned to South Africa in 1993, and wrote the book My Life in the Struggle: Mangoana Tsoara Thipa Ka Bohaleng. She passed away in September 2003.