PIONEER

Josie Palmer Mpama

Josie Palmer Mpama. Unknown / South Africa History Archive
Josie Palmer Mpama. Unknown / South Africa History Archive

Unionist | Human rights activist | Federation of South African Women founding member

Born: 1903 Died: 1979

“For hooligans to shoot a Native is but to break a black bottle, and then congratulate themselves on being such good marksmen.”

Who was
Josie Palmer Mpama?

One of the first women to join the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA), anti-apartheid activist and trade unionist.

Professions
and Roles

Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) founding member and trade unionist.

Best Known For

Pioneering activism in the liberation struggle, mobilising people in the townships against oppressive residential permits and pass laws.

Life highlights

  • Josie Mpama was born “Josie Palmer”. She married Edwin Mofutsanyana, a leading member of the CPSA and the African National Congress (ANC). The couple lived in an African area, though she classified herself as coloured, and when they moved to this township she adopted the surname Mpama.
  • In the 1920s, Mpama joined the CPSA and became the Branch Secretary in Potchefstroom.
  • Mpama was a leading figure in Potchefstroom in the 1928 campaign against residential permits.
  • Mpama wrote for Umsebenzi, the CPSA’s journal, in which she highlighted the plight of black workers and made the connection between workers’ struggles and the general political system in the country.
  • By the 1940s, Josie was a member of the CPSA’s Johannesburg committee, becoming the first black woman to play a significant role in the CPSA.
  • In 1944, she started working with the National Anti-Pass Council.
  • In 1947, Mpama became the Secretary of the newly formed Transvaal All-Women’s Union.
  • In 1954, Mpama played a crucial role in the formation of the multi-racial organisation, the FEDSAW.
  • While serving as the President of the Transvaal branch of FEDSAW, Mpama was served with a banning order, shortly before the historic Women’s March to the Union Buildings of 9 August 1956.
  • Mpama was also detained during the State of Emergency declared after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960.
  • Mpama was awarded The Order of Luthuli in Silver for “her lifetime contribution to the struggle for a democratic, free and non-racial South Africa and the rights of workers.”

IN THEIR OWN WORDS

“For hooligans to shoot a Native is but to break a black bottle, and then congratulate themselves on being such good marksmen.”

– Josie Mpama, Potchefstroom Demonstration, 1929

When Mpama travelled to the Soviet Union with Mathilda First in 1935 to attend the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International (Comintern), she presented under the pseudonym ‘Red Searl’.

EXPLORE THE ARCHIVE

Audio Visual

President Mandela gives his State of the Nation address in Parliament. Mandela ends his address with the words, “Let us all get down to work”.

“We must construct that people-centred society of freedom in such a manner that it guarantees the political and the human rights of all our citizens.”– President Mandela, extract from State of the Nation Address, 24 May 1994

President Nelson Mandela announces his cabinet. It includes members of the African National Congress, National Party and Inkatha Freedom Party.

“There was pride in serving in the first democratic government in South Africa, and then the additional pride of serving under the iconic leadership of Nelson Mandela … [He] represented the hopes of not just our country, but of oppressed, marginalised and the poor in the world.”– Jay Naidoo, then Minister of RDP housing
“We place our vision of a new constitutional order for South Africa on the table not as conquerors, prescribing to the conquered. We speak as fellow citizens to heal the wounds of the past with the intent of constructing a new order based on justice for all.”– President Nelson Mandela, 10 May 1994