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Mama Lillian Lily Diedericks

The Order of Luthuli in

Mama Lillian Lily Diedericks Awarded for:
Her excellent contribution to the fight for the liberation of all South Africans and women in particular. She is one of the brave women who led the 1956 march to the Union Buildings to protest against the pass laws.
Profile of Mama Lillian Lily Diedericks

Mama Lillian Lily Diedericks was born in 1925 near the railway line in the infamous Red Location, the oldest section of New Brighton township in Port Elizabeth. In 1940, Diedericks and her family, classified as coloured, were forced out of their home by the apartheid government when the area was zoned for blacks only. She was able to communicate fluently in English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa and this linguistic ability enabled her to achieve great success in her activist roles.

She addressed people in different languages, and managed to conscientise both coloured people in Afrikaans and African people in isiXhosa. Her history of activism is testament to her knowledge, intelligence and linguistic abilities. There was a great deal of political work taking place in Port Elizabeth in the 1940s and 1950s in which Diedericks was fully involved.

As a working class leader, especially in the Food and Canning Workers’ Union, she was able to lead and provide direction in the political space. She was a close friend and compatriot of Struggle stalwart Raymond Mhlaba. After a protest against the Mayor of Port Elizabeth in 1956, Diedericks was arrested for treason, along with Frances Baard, Florence Matomela and numerous other women. They were imprisoned at the Fort Prison in Johannesburg and acquitted in 1961. For a long time Diedericks worked underground in Cape Town and during this period, she worked as a domestic worker. Upon her return to Port Elizabeth, the apartheid government banned her for five years from 1963 to 1969.

During her stint working underground she was together with Mhlaba and Govan Mbeki. When they were imprisoned on Robben Island, Diedericks assisted with the children, especially Mhlaba’s eldest son. She also assisted many families, especially in providing meals to families and children whose parents were involved in the Struggle.