Anti-apartheid activist Frene Ginwala, the speaker of South Africa’s first democratic elected parliament and the first woman to hold the post has died aged ninety, the president’s office said on Friday.
The constitutional expert and journalist passed away at her home on Thursday night, two weeks after suffering a stroke.
“Today we mourn the passing of a formidable patriot,” said President Cyril Ramaphosa.
“We have lost another giant among a special generation of leaders to whom we owe our freedom and to whom we owe our commitment to keep building the South Africa to which they devoted their all.”
Born in Johannesburg to South Africa’s Indian community, Ginwala studied law in Britain.
Her life was changed by the 1960 Sharpeville massacre, when police killed sixty-nine demonstrators protesting the “pass” laws, a pillar of white minority rule.
She headed for Mozambique, helping prominent members of the African National Congress escape abroad after the ANC was banned.
In the 1970s, she became a prominent figure in the international media, travelling around the world to muster support for the anti-apartheid movement and draw attention to abuses.
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“Dr Ginwala exposed to the international community the crimes of the discredited, oppressive regime in South Africa through her sharp journalistic pen,” parliament spokesman Moloto Mothapo said.
Ginwala was appointed speaker of the National Assembly in 1994, when Nelson Mandela was elected president, marking the end of decades of white rule. She held the post until 2004.
Mothapo said she was a “torchbearer” of the post-apartheid parliament who was instrumental in the formation of South Africa’s democracy.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation described her as a “stalwart of struggle” and offered condolences to family and friends.
“Madiba had the greatest respect for her,” said the Foundation’s chief executive, Sello Hatang.
Madiba was the name by which Mandela was widely known.
“Many of the rights and material benefits South Africans enjoy today have their origins in the legislative programme of the inaugural democratic parliament under Dr Ginwala’s leadership,” said Ramaphosa.
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