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Josie Mpama: South African anti-apartheid and labour activist.
Josie Mpama, born Josephine Palmer, was a South African anti-apartheid and labour activist.
Josie Mpama was born on March 21, 1903 in Potchefstroom, Transvaal. She was born to Stephen Bonny Mpama and Georgina Garson. Her father was an interpreter for the Potchefstroom resident magistrate. Mpama grew up in Sophiatown in Johannesburg. In 1921, she moved back to Potchefstroom. Palmer is the anglicised version of her father’s Zulu name, ‘Mpama’. She later adopted the surname ‘Mpama’ when she moved to a Black township, and she continued to use both surnames throughout her life.
Mpama’s husband, Edwin Mofutsanyana, was a leading member of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA). CPSA later became the South African Communist Party (SACP) in 1953. Mpama started involving in politics in the late 1920s when she became a member of CPSA. She was one of the first black women to join the party. Shortly after joining the party, Mpama became Potchefstroom Branch Secretary. During this time, she led a 1928 campaign against residential permits in the Potchefstroom area when the local municipality tried to impose a system of lodger’s permits for Africans. She organised a series of protests, revealing her to be a formidable leader. In the 1929- 30 period, Mpama actively organised anti-pass campaigns.
In April 1954, Mpama played a significant role in forming the non-racial Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW).
During the 1920s and 1930s, Mpama wrote for Umsebenzi, CPSA’s journal. Through her writing, she drew attention to the plight of Black workers. She also highlighted the connection between the oppressive political system that governed the country and the workers’ struggles.
CPSA sent her to study at the Lenin School in Moscow, Russia. By the 1940s, Mpama became a member of the party’s Johannesburg committee, becoming the first black woman to play a significant role in the organisation. In 1944, she started working with the National Anti-Pass council. In 1947, a decision to set up a racially all-inclusive women’s organisation was taken, resulting in the formation of the Transvaal All-Women’s Union with Mpama as its Secretary.
In April 1954, Mpama played a significant role in forming the non-racial Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW). It was an organisation to unite women from all walks of life, regardless of race or political affiliation. During her stint as the President of the Transvaal branch of FEDSAW, Mpama was served with a banning order just before the historic Aug. 9 1956 anti-pass Women’s March to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, Gauteng. Even though there was a banning order, she played a significant role in organising the march. Mpama was also detained during the 1960 State of Emergency following the Sharpeville Massacre on Mar. 21 1960.
Josie Mpama died on Dec. 3, 1979, after being hit by a car while waiting to collect her pension. She was awarded the Government’s National Order of Luthuli in Silver posthumously for her lifelong commitment to the liberation struggle and workers' rights.