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Sally Motlana (1927 - )

The Order of the Baobab in

Sally Motlana (1927 - ) Awarded for:
Her excellent contribution to women’s emancipation and upliftment and her struggle for a non-racial, just and democratic South Africa.

Profile of Sally Motlana

Born in 1927 in Pilgrim’s Rest in the then Eastern Transvaal, Sally Motlana came to Johannesburg in 1931. She stayed in Vrededorp initially and moved to Sophiatown in 1933.

After gaining her junior certificate, she was unable to further her studies due to a lack of funding and was sent to the Diocesan Training School by the Anglican missionaries to train as a primary school teacher. While teaching, she obtained her matric in 1949 through part-time studies. She commenced her studies the following year at the University of Fort Hare. It was at this point that she began to question everything in her life – her surroundings and her country – and in 1951 she was elected secretary of the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League.

True to the spirit of the Defiance Campaign, she resigned her teaching post in 1954 following the introduction of Bantu education.

Within seven years of her being in political office, the police pounced on Sophiatown on 9 February 1955 and forcibly relocated the people to Meadowlands, Soweto. In the battle that the system waged against its victims, Motlana proved not only to be an adept political activist but also a spiritual human being with a passion for community-based development initiatives.

In the most difficult time faced by the church, she became an energising ingredient in making the South African Council of Churches (SACC) take a stand against an unjust system.

The 1970s witnessed this voice being elected to serve the Black Housewives’ League (BHL) as national president for 20 years and she is still the organisation’s honorary president. Under her direction, the BHL built a six-classroom Primary School in Polokwane. In 1988, the BHL was given a piece of land in the same area and used it for growing vegetables. She secured visits by students of the Potchefstroom Dept of Agriculture to ensure a transfer of skills from students to the Polokwane BHL Branch on better ways of growing vegetables.

Other areas that started vegetable projects under her direction were the BHL in Lebowakgomo, Bushbuckridge, Kiblaren. In 1989, the BHL Mphahlele Branch built a crèche. More crèches were built in other areas.

The BHL under her direction refused to join with their white counterparts, because, according to her, the white counterparts were concerned about the price of butter whilst the BHL was concerned about the price of maize meal which was and still remains the staple food of black people.

She travelled extensively doing work for the SACC and the All African Council of Churches, raising the awareness of the international community about oppression and the dehumanising effects of apartheid.

Being constantly arrested by the police, Motlana had to find other means to complement the family’s income. She opened a grocery shop called ’Sizwe’ which is still operational in Mofolo Central, Soweto.

In 1976, during the Soweto uprising, she was detained. She was detained again in 1977 and 1978. During this time, Motlana still found time to serve on the board of Operation Hunger, the Johannesburg Diocesan Council, the Institute for Multiparty Democracy and the Urban Foundation. She was also an elder leader at the St Paul’s Anglican Church where she teamed up with Bishop David Nkwe to start a candle-making project, of which sales abroad injected much-needed income into self-help community initiatives.

Sally Motlana’s life is a story of a woman who may have lost her heart in Sophiatown, but found her spirit in combat readiness when Soweto exploded in June 1976. She enlivened all around her with the power of her profound spirituality, and braved apartheid brutalities by taking on the system wherever life took her.

Her voice is still greatly admired by young members of the Soweto-based choir, Isiphephelo Choral Society, of which she is a patron.