When we think of South African struggle heroes names like Oliver Tambo, Steve Biko and Walter Sisulu come to mind, but there were also many women who played a very significant role in the fight against apartheid, names that we should be able to call to mind just as easily.
One such name is Nhlumba Bertha Mkhize, after whom Victoria Street is now named. Mkhize was born in rural Mkhomazi, but moved to Inanda at the age of four, after her father passed away. She was one of the first students to attend the famous Inanda Seminary, and attended high school at the Ohlange Institute, established by John Dube. After training as a teacher Mkhize left the profession and joined her brother in the family tailoring business in Durban.
Through her work Mkhize joined the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union and the African Womens Association (AWA). In 1925 Mkhize joined a crowd of 500 women, many of them members of the AWA, in a march to the Durban City Council to oppose the pass laws which would have women seek permission to enter the city. In 1956, as president of the ANC Women’s League, Mkhize was arrested along with 155 other defendants and charged with treason. The trial lasted four years, at the end of which all those arrested were found not guilty. In 1965 Mkhize closed her business after the City Council forced African businesses out of the area, and moved back to Inanda, where she headed up a creche at the town library.
Bertha Mkhize passed away at the age of 91 in 1981. All these years later, during Women’s Month, we thank her for her service and the vital role that she played in South Africa’s transition to a democratic country.