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Frene Ginwala dies – South Africa’s founding speaker of democratic Parliament was a ‘formidable patriot’ and a ‘giant’

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    Frene Ginwala dies – South Africa’s founding speaker of democratic Parliament was a ‘formidable patriot’ and a ‘giant’

    Frene Ginwala dies – South Africa’s founding speaker of democratic Parliament was a ‘formidable patriot’ and a ‘giant’

     Frene Ginwala, the first Speaker of Parliament in democratic South Africa, at her home in Johannesburg on 18 September 2015. 

    President Cyril Ramaphosa hails Frene Ginwala as a leader who ‘epitomised the ethos and expectations of our then fledgling Constitution’, as tributes start pouring in for the founding Speaker of South Africa’s democratic Parliament.

    The Struggle stalwart died at her home on Thursday night at the age of 90, following a stroke two weeks ago, President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced.

    “On behalf of the nation and of the legislative, executive and judicial components of the state, the President offers his sincere condolences to Dr Ginwala’s family, her nephews Cyrus, Sohrab and Zavareh, and their families,” said Ramaphosa.




    As news of her death quickly spread throughout South Africa, tributes began to pour in. The Council for the Advancement of the Constitution, where she was a founding honorary member of the organisation’s Advisory Council, described her as a “fiercely independent-minded woman who would never sacrifice her principles on the altar of expediency”.

    Ginwala was born in 1932 and studied law at the University of London, where she completed her LLB degree. She returned to South Africa to complete her legal training, before the banning of the ANC.

    In exile, Ginwala was head of the Political Research Unit in the office of ANC president Oliver Tambo, where her research focused on the transfer of military and nuclear technology. She also served as ANC spokesperson in the UK on sanctions, the nuclear programme and the arms and oil embargo relating to South Africa.

    Former president Nelson Mandela shares a light moment with Speaker of Parliament Frene Ginwala at the end of the opening session of the ANC’s 51st conference in Stellenbosch on 16 December 2002. (Photo: Anna Zieminski / AFP)

    She returned from exile in 1990 after the unbanning of the ANC.

    In 2005, she was honoured with the Order of Luthuli in Silver for her excellent contribution to the struggle against gender oppression and her tireless contribution to the struggle for a non-sexist, non-racial, just and democratic South Africa.

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    She also helped to set up the Women’s National Coalition, comprising organisations from across the political spectrum, with the aim of drawing up a women’s charter. She was elected national convener of the coalition.

    Ramaphosa said: “Today we mourn the passing of a formidable patriot and leader of our nation, and an internationalist to whom justice and democracy around the globe remained an impassioned objective to her last days.

    Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations

    “Among the many roles she adopted in the course of a life she led to the full, we are duty-bound to recall her establishment of our democratic Parliament which exercised the task of undoing decades-old apartheid legislation and fashioning the legislative foundations of the free and democratic South Africa.”

    Ramophosa added that many of the rights and material benefits South Africans enjoy today have their origins in the legislative programme of the inaugural democratic Parliament under Ginwala’s leadership, with Nelson Mandela occupying the seat of the first president to be elected by the democratic Parliament.

    Frene Ginwala chats to Archbishop Desmond Tutu before he hands over the TRC’s final report to President Thabo Mbeki at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. (Photo: Gallo Images / The Times / Sydney Seshibedi)
    Nelson Mandela enters Parliament with Speaker Frene Ginwala, Defence Minister Mosiou Lekota and parliamentary secretary Sindiso Mfenyana in 1997. (Photo: Gallo Images / Oryx Media Archive)

    “Frene Ginwala epitomised the ethos and expectations of our then fledgling Constitution and played an important role in building the capacity of Parliament through the transformation of activists and leaders into lawmakers who were in turn able to transform our country.

    “Dr Ginwala was similarly influential and instrumental in shaping the advancement of democracy and the entrenchment of democratic political processes and fundamental socioeconomic rights in the Southern African Development Community and the continent at large.

    “Beyond African shores, she positioned our young democracy both as one that had as much to contribute to as it had to learn from global precedents and experience.

    “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.”

    Frene Ginwala at home in Johannesburg on 18 September 2015. (Photo: Gallo Images / City Press / Lucky Nxumalo)
    The signing of the Constitution in May 1996 ushered in a new era of constitutional democracy two years after the country’s historic first democratic election and the installation of President Nelson Mandela. In this photograph of members of the Constitutional Assembly, party leaders in the front row include Roelf Meyer, Frene Ginwala, FW De Klerk, Cyril Ramaphosa, Nelson Mandela, Leon Wessels and Thabo Mbeki.(Photo: Gallo Images / Oryx Media Archive)

    The family has requested a private funeral and the Presidency said it respected their wishes. Details of an official memorial event have not been announced yet.

    The majority opposition DA also sent condolenecs. “She presided over a Parliament that repealed many apartheid laws and contributed to the drafting of the Constitution. May she rest in peace,” said DA parliamentary Chief Whip Siviwe Gwarube. DM

    Frene Ginwala, South Africa’s founding speaker of Parli… (dailymaverick.co.za)

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