Ncube, Bernard Nekie Zellie
Sister Bernard Nekie Zellie Ncube is a women's activist and long-time opponent of South African apartheid.
A member of the Companions of Angela, a black Catholic religious order founded by the Ursulines when apartheid laws prevented white religious communities from accepting African members, she received teacher training and a diploma in theology at Roma College in Lesotho. She taught in Catholic schools in Johannesburg and since 1980 has worked in adult education. She is involved primarily with consciousness-raising among African women. She also spent seven years on the staff of the South African Bishops' Conference (SABC), coordinating training programs for Catholic sisters in rural areas. During this period Sister Bernard became closely allied with Father Smangaliso MKHATSHWA, the general secretary of the SABC. She began working with mothers and in 1984 formed the Federation of Transvaal Women (FEDTRAW), which she has led since then. Using community organizing techniques, FEDTRAW - which focuses on the social, legal, economic and political status of women - has become an action group affiliated with the United Democratic Front (UDF), the multiracial political organization that represented the African National Congress (ANC) during its banning.
FEDTRAW feared that the liberation movement would bypass women, and its position (stated in its Women's Charter) was that the freedom of women had to parallel that of the general population. Ncube was detained six times, including once when she spent three months in solitary confinement under the emergency regulations of 1986. Her cause came to international attention, along with that of detainees MKHATSHWA and Zwelakhe SISULU. She was subsequently freed but was again arrested with a number of others and charged with sedition and subversion; however, the state withdrew the charges when they could not be substantiated.
In 1989, Ncube was part of the UDF delegation that met with President George Bush, and since 1991 she has been a member of the National Executive Committee of the ANC. In 1994 she was elected to the South African parliament on the ANC ticket.
Norbert C. Brockman
Gastrow, Shelagh (ed.). Who's Who in South African Politics. 3rd. edition. New York: Hans Zell, 1990.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from An African Biographical Dictionary, copyright © 1994, edited by Norbert C. Brockman, Santa Barbara, California. All rights reserved.