Founding speaker of parliament Frene Ginwala has died

The founding speaker of South Africa’s first democratic parliament, Frene Ginwala, has died, two weeks after suffering a stroke.

The presidency announced on Friday that Ginwala, 90, a long-standing veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle, had died at her home on Tuesday night.

Ginwala, a lifelong political activist who spent three decades in exile, served as speaker of the National Assembly from 1994 to 2004.

During this time, she presided over the drafting of legislation to transform the apartheid state into a democracy and the adoption of the Constitution.

Ginwala, a lawyer and broadcaster by profession who also held a masters degree in history, oversaw the process of transforming parliament from a white male dominated institution to the diverse one it is today.

She was honoured with the Order of Luthuli in Silver in 2005 for her contributions to the struggle against gender oppression and for the creation of a non-racial, just and democratic South Africa.

Announcing her death, President Cyril Ramaphosa said Ginwala had served the anti-apartheid struggle, and South Africa, in a number of roles as a lawyer, an academic, a political leader, an activist and as a journalist.

He described her as a “formidable patriot and leader” and an internationalist who remained committed to justice and democracy around the world for her entire life.

“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,” Ramaphosa said.

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He said it was important to recall Ginwala’s role in the establishment of South Africa’s first democratic parliament, in undoing decades-old apartheid legislation and fashioning the legislative foundations of the free and democratic South Africa.

“Many of the rights and material benefits South Africans enjoy today have their origins in the legislative programme of the inaugural democratic parliament under Dr Ginwala’s leadership, with Nelson Mandela occupying the seat of the first president to be elected by the democratic parliament,” he said.

Ginwala was born in Johannesburg and studied law in the United Kingdom before returning to South Africa, where she became involved in the ANC and the anti-apartheid struggle.

When the party was banned and forced underground, Ginwala was responsible for establishing escape routes by which leaders were able to flee the country, as well as safe houses for those who remained.

In late 1960 she was herself forced to go into exile and — along with the ANC deputy president Oliver Tambo and Yusuf Dadoo — set up the first ANC office in Tanganyika, now Tanzania.

Ginwala worked as a broadcaster and for the organisation in Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique and the UK — where she was ANC spokesperson — and was serving as head of the political research unit in the ANC presidency at the time of her return from exile in 1991.

During her term as speaker she also played a leading role in Southern African and international parliamentary forums.

Ginwala is survived by her nephews Cyrus, Sohrab and Zavareh, and their families.

She will be buried privately in accordance with her family’s wishes.

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