“Like Trotsky, I did not leave home with the proverbial one-and-six in my pocket. I come from a family of landed gentry . . . [and] could have chosen the path of comfort and safety, for even in apartheid South Africa, there is still that path for those who will collaborate. But I chose the path of struggle and uncertainty.” – Phyllis Ntantala Jordan, A Life’s Mosaic

Country: South Africa

Why We Love Her: Mama Phyllis is often called South Africa’s greatest feminist intellectual. She passed away sadly earlier this year at the age of 96. But she leaves behind a great academic and critical legacy. She is an often overlooked part of the South African liberation struggle where she was a fierce advocate of not just general liberation but the liberation of women in particular. Mama Phyllis was an active member of the anti-Stalinist Non-European Unity Movement in Cape Town.

“But the men too, become strangers in a strange land, but equally strangers at home to their wives and children.” – Phyllis Ntantala Jordan, Widows of The Reserve

She wrote prolifically about the indignities suffered by black people during Apartheid. Her essay, detailing the personal effects of Apartheid on the family, “Widows of the Reserves” won critical acclaim internationally. It was republished first in Langston Hughes’ An African Treasury and later as a pamphlet issued by the United Nations on Apartheid in 1972.


Mama Phyllis also contributed to society through her myriad vocations including teacher, social worker, linguist and author. She also translated into English, her husband A.C. Jordan’s only novel, Ingqumbo Yeminyanya.

As an author in her own right, she penned memorable speeches, essays and books. One was Let’s Hear Them Speak, which highlighted South African women the unsung heroines of the nation. Her own autobiography, A Life’s Mosaic is a gem. Among other things it describes the condescension she faced as an educated woman and the pain of exile, which she endured because of her association with the ANC.

“It is one of the ironies of history that the most pervasive and total oppression, the oppression of women, has been to a large extent neglected by scholars within the ranks of the [liberation] movement. This can be explained, in part, by the male chauvinism which has been the bane of colonial liberation movements, and also the imprecise terms in which we discuss the future socio-economic order we envisage for a free South Africa. – Phyllis Ntantala Jordan

She is also the mother of Pallo Z Jordan, former Arts and Culture Minister and likewise a noted intellectual. She is truly an inspiration to us all and her work lives on as a testament to her incredible life and thoughts.


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