Member of SACP, National Secretary of FSAW, member of the ANC Women’s League
First name: DoraLast name: TamanaDate of birth: 1901Location of birth: Hlobo, Eastern Cape (formerly Transkei), South AfricaDate of death: July 1983
Dora Tamana (nee Ntloko) was born in 1901 in Hlobo, Transkei, the eldest of seven children. Her childhood centred mainly on the many tasks demanded of a young girl growing up in rural South Africa. Tamana and her four sisters had to help work on their father’s plot, before and after school, where they cultivated potatoes, pumpkins, peas, cabbages, and chillies, as well as keeping some livestock. Every Saturday the girls would go to Idutywa, the nearest town, to sell their produce to make “money so that we could buy cookies and tea and so on”¦” (Tamana in Scanlon, 2007: 169).
Due to the Hlobo region having intense missionary activity for over a century, her family was part of the Christianized African peasantry or amakholwa – her grandfather was a preacher in the Wesleyan Methodist church. With this came a mission education and Tamana attended the local two-roomed mission school until Standard Four (Grade 6). However, the way in which the local Wesleyan Methodist clergy treated Africans resulted in Tamana’s family converting to the Israelite church. Due to this conversion Tamana left school at the age of 16.
When she was 20, her father and two of her uncles were among those killed at the Bulhoek Massacre in 1921. The massacre occurred during the annual Israelite seven-day Passover at Bulhoek. The government tried to evict the Israelites, but their refusal to leave ultimately resulted in the death of approximately 180 people who were shot dead by police. After this incident, Tamana returned to the family home but was unable to meet subsistence needs on the land. She then moved to Queenstown where she took up employment as a domestic worker.
In 1923, Tamana married John Tamana, who had been injured in the Bulhoek Massacre. Between 1924 and 1930, she bore four children, three of whom died of meningitis and tuberculosis. The increasing struggle for survival led the Tamana family to Cape Town where they rented a converted stable in District Six.
Like many other women who came to the city, Tamana began earning an income through working in the informal sector. This provided her with some freedom to look after her children (she had another four after moving to Cape Town) while earning at the same time. Tamana, like many women of the time, also had to endure her husband’s squandering of the family’s meagre income on cars, alcohol and girlfriends. After the outbreak of the Second World War, the family moved to an informal settlement in Retreat called Blouvlei. In 1948, John left her and the children.
Tamana’s involvement in the politics of the region was precipitated by the government wanting to clear and re-house squatters living in Blouvlei.
“[In] 1942 we were told to leave Blouvlei”¦we had nowhere to go. My uncle understood about these things”¦Cissie Gool was a councilor and my uncle went to her about this”¦[She] told him that they must call a meeting at Blouvlei.” (Tamana in Scanlon, 2007: 173).
Cissie Gool was to have a profound impact on Tamana’s political consciousness. The meeting held by the Blouvlei community was attended by over 500 residents and addressed by a number of leading Communist Party members. In 1942, the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) became the first of many organizations that Tamana joined, ostensibly because of the threat to her home.
Over the next few years Tamana became increasing drawn into political activity, becoming an executive member of the Cape Town women’s food committee and a member of the ANC. Tamana was particularly active in advocating self-help in the African areas and became committed to community upliftment, setting up a number of local schemes in the area such as a sewing group for women and the establishment of a crèche in 1948.
In the more public arena of national politics, it was the anti-pass campaigns that led to Tamana’s prominence. By 1953, Tamana was heavily involved in mobilising women against the imposition of passes. After attending the inaugural meeting of the Federation of South African Women (FSAW) she was elected its National Secretary in 1954.
However, her tenure was cut short as she was elected, with Lilian Ngoyi, to attend a World Congress of Mothers in Switzerland, and then to visit China and Russia. The overseas trip increased her status within her community but also drew the attention of the government. In April 1955, on her return to South Africa, the Minister of Justice banned her from a number of organizations and from attending political meetings for a period of five years.
She became one of only five African women in the Western Cape to be listed under the Suppression of Communism Act. In the following years she suffered constant police harassment and was often the victim of repeated pass raids. On one such occasion, local women forced the police to release her.
“I told him I was not carrying a pass. He pushed me into the van. But a group of women came out to protect me: “If you arrest Dora we are all going to”. They surrounded the police van singing”¦So they let me go free.” (Tamana in Scanlon, 2007: 178).
In 1960, Blouvlei was officially rezoned a Coloured area under the Group Areas Act and thus the Tamana family was forced to settle in Gugulethu. The Blouvlei nursery school Tamana established was allowed to continue provided that it catered for Coloured children alone. After the anti-pass campaigns lost momentum during the ‘quiet decade’ of the 1960s, Tamana accepted a reference book with great reluctance, as without it no African women could receive a pension.
At the same time, during the 1960s, she endured two terms of imprisonment while her health deteriorated to the extent that she could no longer work, although she continued to participate in local affairs for many years. Tamana was often described as a woman of remarkable strength and dignity.
One of her sons, Joseph Bothwell Ndlovu, was captured and sentenced to death during the Wankie guerrilla campaigns of 1967 in a skirmish with South African and Rhodesian soldiers, and was imprisoned in Salisbury jail where she regularly visited him and other prisoners.
During the 1970s she joined forces with a group of women to protest high rents, and to start a number of projects such as first-aid classes and crèches in the townships. In 1981, the newly formed United Women’s Organisation (UWO) was officially launched by 400 delegates from the Western Cape.
Tamana, who was 80 years old, blind and in a wheelchair, opened the conference urging women to unite. Three years later, in July 1983, Tamana died and over 2000 people attended her funeral.