South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid

Dora Tamana

(November 11, 1901 - July 23, 1983)

Dora Tamana was born in Gqamakwe in the Hlobo district of the Transkei in 1901. She grew up like her sisters and attended the nearby two-roomed mission school. Growing up aomng the Mfengu people Dora remembers that there were no politics at the time. Her father's hardships of walking from Gqamakwe to Kimberly to earn a living, and her daily trips to fetch water with a tin bucket balanced on her head helped her realise the privation of apartheid. Dora became politically active within her community, but she still had time to help her neighbours.

She married John Tamana and had four children between 1924 and 1930. Three of these children died of starvation, tuberculosis and meningitis. This tragedy prompted the couple to move to Cape Town in search of a better life. The city did not live up to their expectations, but it provided sufficient income. Dora subsidised her income by selling sewn patchwork blankets in Langa, where she lived. John made very little money and moved from job to job. At this stage Dora had to support six children, some of who were her sister's.

John developed a drinking habit and one day returned home, having bought a car. He had used money saved for their children's education and this damaged their relationship. A few months later the car needed repairs, but they could not afford to fix it. This meant that their saved money was wasted. In 1938, John left Dora for another woman. She recalls that this as a very painful experience because she loved John. She then moved to Blaauwvlei, now part of Retreat, in 1939 where she built herself one of the first shacks in the settlement. The area began to expand, and as a result of her community involvement, she became a community leader.

Dora became involved with the Cape Flats Distress Association (CAFDA). This organisation was trying to improve living conditions of people in shacks, or 'pondokkies' as they were called then. During this time she heard a Communist Party member at a rally mention that Russian workers had childcare. She loved this idea and decided to put it into practice at her Blaauwvlei community, where she built the first crèche.

Dora's involvement in community struggles also led her to meet Ray Alexander, the Communist Party Secretary at the time, who introduced her to the party in 1942. She served the Communist Party for a little while before she joined the resistance of the removal of her Blaauwvlei community. The Elsies River and Windermere communities were against the removals, and for better living conditions, and supported their protests.

She was also involved in the Women's Food Committee during and after World War II. The war had caused severe food shortages. Dora also joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1943 and consequently her political work increased. The introduction of the Suppression of Communism act of 1950 brought about her, and many other political leaders, banning. She was also forced to move as a result of the Group Areas Act because Blaauwvlei had been made a Coloured area. She took part in the Defiance Campaign against these laws successfully and when bread price increased she took part in a march to see the Finance Minister.

Dora was an organiser of the first Conference of the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) on 17 April 1954 . At this conference she spoke of a Women's Charter that the conference was drawing up. She spoke with such commitment and enthusiasm that she was elected into the organisation's National Executive Committee.

As the political work intensified, she left for London . She stayed there but contracted a heart weakness. Wherever she went in world she was always impressed by crèches in most countries. When she returned to South Africa she was banned for five years because she had left the country under suspecious circumstances.

In 1960 Dora was removed from Blaauwvlei to Gugulethu by the government and this is where she was when the State of Emergency was announced. She, and many other people, attended protest marches and she was arrested in Paarl. Dora grew older and her eyesight deteriorated. She began to lose her friends to oversees countries due to hostile and deliberate intimidation by local police.

On 5 April 1981 the United Women's Organisation (UWO) was launched in the Western Cape . Dora opened the event with a poem titled "We have opened the way for you". In July 1983 Dora contracted bronchitis that developed into pneumonia. This led to her passing away on 23 July 1983 at the age of 82. Her contribution to the struggle is greatly appreciated by many people who can now enjoy what she could not.


This biography is from South African History Online. Used by permission. 
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