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Violet Sarah Matlou (née Phiri) (1920 - )

The Order of Luthuli in

Violet Sarah Matlou (née Phiri) (1920 - ) Awarded for:
For her outstanding contribution to the struggle for liberation and for the ideals of a just, non-racist and democratic South Africa.

Profile of Violet Sarah Matlou

Ms Violet Sarah Matlou was born on 4 April 1920 in Rustenburg. She started her primary school in Welgeval and completed it at Mmabeskraal under the tutelage of Reverend Selope Tema, a prominent African National Congress (ANC) leader. She completed her high school education in Orlando High in Soweto. 

Between 1940 and 1943, she completed a nursing course in Johannesburg, and started to work at the Non-European General Hospital. In 1947, she completed Midwifery at King Edward VIII General Hospital in Durban. 

With her marriage to an ANC Youth League member Joe Matlou in 1950, Ms Matlou sealed her immersion to the ANC for life as well, for all her life thereafter became inextricably interwoven with that of the movement. 

She soon became an active member of the ANC, attending marches and protest actions together with other women such as Ms Dorothy Nyembe, Ms Kate Molale and Ms Maggie Resha. Her husband was arrested with 156 others in the 1956 Treason Trial and she single-handedly took care of her four children. 

In 1961, Mr Matlou was sent to establish an ANC office in Botswana, to make a transit point for the liberation fighters. Ms Matlou and Ms Keitsing ensured that these soldiers enjoyed proper food until their departure for East Africa. When the ANC deployed Joe Matlou to Tanganyika (Tanzania) in 1963, she had to rely on her wits to reach Tanganyika some months later, bearing all the challenges of travelling with six children. 

This was during a restive period in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) when people were preparing for the elections and she negoti¬ated many hurdles until she finally reached her destination. 

In Tanzania, she became the only woman in the Luthuli Camp at Kongwa in Dar Es Salaam. Her husband had moved to Algeria to work for the ANC from that country. Later, together with other female ANC members, she formed the first ANC Women’s League in exile, with her as the first chairperson. 

In 1966, she left Tanzania to join her husband in Ghana, a move which was also dogged by many challenges in the aftermath of Kwame Nkrumah’s overthrow. Ghana had expelled all freedom fighters and liberation movements in that country. 

She appealed to the Government to allow her to stay in Ghana, which was granted on condition that she does not get involved in political activities. But she served the struggle in many other ways, opening her home to political activists and students from all over Africa. 

The regular gatherings at her home rekindled the spirits of activists such as Mr Tsietsi Mashinini, Ms Miriam Makeba, Ms Zonke Majodina and many others from various countries such as Botswana. 

Mme Matlou’s medical knowledge benefited her neighbourhood in Kanda, Accra, where she stayed from 1966 to 1985, when she and her husband returned to Botswana. Her husband died in 1991 and from 1994 to 1998 she stayed in the United States of America to provide care to one of her children who was involved in an accident. In 1998, she came to lead a quiet life in the country as an octogenarian. Now in her 90s, Ms Violet Matlou stays in Pretoria with her eldest son. 

We are proud to honour Ms Violet Sarah Matlou with the Order of Luthuli in Bronze for the sacrifices she made in advancing our struggle to achieve a free and democratic dispensation.