Sizani Ngubane

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Sizani Ngubane is a South African activist who works for indigenous women's rights. In 1998 she founded the Rural Women's Movement (RWM).

Early life

Sizane Ngubane speaking at SACSIS event about rural land reform.

Sizani Ngubane was born on November 24, 1946 in KwaMpumuza, near Pietermaritzburg.[1] She and her four younger siblings were raised by her mother, who was working as a domestic worker. Sizani, as the eldest child, decided to drop out of school to assist her mother in raising her siblings. Consequently, she did not have the opportunity to get a formal education, and she made it her own responsibility to be educated.

In 1956, at only 10 years of age, Sizani saw firsthand the detrimental effects of gender bias and the unjustified strain it puts on women. Sizani’s father was a migrant worker in Johannesburg, only returning home two weeks of the year during the festive season and the house was managed by Sizani’s mother. Once while Sizani’s father was away, his brother approached Sizani’s mother, demanding that she leave and give him the house and land: as she was a woman she could not own or live on a piece of land by herself.

Sizani accompanied her mother to approach the chief, asking for his help and requesting that he fulfill his duty to look after the health of a community. He replied, “Mama Ngubane, I wish your daughter was your son, I would be allocating land to you now. But because she is a girl and your eldest son is still too young I am sorry I am unable to allocate land to you in your own right as a woman.” Sizani, her mother and four younger siblings were homeless, unable to take any possessions from their former home and were forced to seek refuge at aunt’s house.

This whole situation was and is still exacerbated by the fact that the pieces of legislation and policies like the Bantu Administration Act of 1927 (section 11 (3) deemed wives in customary marriages to be minors and subject to their husband’s guardianship. They could not own property or enter into any contract or even open a bank account in their own right. Women had to be represented by their male relatives.

This provision has been repealed, but its legacy remains. The position is worse in the province of KwaZulu-Natal where Sizani was born and brought up; customary marriages were not governed by the Bantu Administration Act, but by the Code of Zulu law which prevented the indigenous women from being able to acquire property in their own names: they remain legal minors, subject to their husbands’ guardianship.

In 1959, when she was about 13 years old, her father committed suicide, leaving Sizani and the rest of her family alone.

Her mother moved into her auntie’s home. Two years later Sizani’s mother wrote to a young male marital family member, asking him to stand on her behalf so she could acquire a piece of land: she did not have autonomy. Sizani knew this was unfair and promised herself that when she grew up she would do something to help stop it.[2]


Sizani started her human rights career working underground for the ANC. In 1990 she was one of the members of the ANC who opened a first ANC office in the Northern Natal region. In 1991 Sizani became a Provincial Coordinator of the SA Women’s National Coalition, conducting research about the perception of rural women for a new democratic South Africa. This research contributed to the formulation of the Women’s Charter for Effective Equality.

In the early 1990s Sizani founded an organization called the uMbutho waBesifazane to tackle issues related to HIV/AIDS. Its purpose was to support both women and men. Unfortunately, because of the turbulent political situation in 1992 and her work with the ANC, Sizani did not have much time to focus on this effort.

After the first democratic election in 1994, Sizani stopped working for the ANC and went back to Pietermaritzburg to start the work that would lead her to create the Rural Women’s Movement. She then worked for four years as Gender Specialist for the Association for Rural Development.

Rural Women's Movement (RWM)

RWM [3] was initiated in the 1990s and officially launched by Sizani and a group of 250 indigenous/rural women and youth in November 1998. The Commission on Gender Equality, Commission on Human Rights, National Land Committee as well as the Centre for Applied Legal Studies based within the Wits University were also represented at the event. RWM is now a coalition of some 501 Community Based Organizations (CBO) with a membership of approximately 50,000 women. The members work together across ethnic lines. They work at the village level but also work with their sister organizations at provincial, regional, national and international levels.

Rural Women’s Movement is the only grassroots movement leading an intensive campaign for women and girls’ independent land, property and inheritance rights, lobbying National Parliament and policy-makers for policies that are user-friendly to indigenous and rural women, including differently abled, LGBT, widows, single mothers, married, living positively with HIV/AIDS, out of school, survivors of abductions, torture, forced marriages, rape and incest.

RWM creates space for women to have their voices heard, to have food security for their families and communities, security of tenure and access to land in their own rights as women and girls.

Prizes, awards and achievements

2018 - Winner of NGO CSW62 Woman of Distinction Award (UN Women).[4]

  • 2017 - Nomination for the 2017 Africa Food Prize.
  • 2016 - Selected by the BBC World Service’s to be part of its program: ‘100 woman shines a light on life as a woman in the 21st century’ as we celebrate one hundred (100) years since the emergence of feminism.[5]
  • 2011 - Winner of the 3rd Annual Ruth Selwyn Award for Achievement in Empowering Girls and Women at the International Centre for Human Rights Education in Montreal, Canada.
  • 2011 - Nomination for the prestigious 2011 Woman of the Year Award, presented by Shoprite Checkers.
  • 2010 - Finalist of the Drivers of change Award.
  • 2008 - Selected as Woman Leader for the World by the Global Women’s Leadership Network in the United States of America.
  • 2007 - Finalist as the South Africa’s Women of the Year.
  • 2006 - Winner of the Nelson Mandela/Graca Machel Innovation Award of 2005 from the World CIVICUS Assembly for her human rights work.


  1. ^ West, Edward (9 July 2012). "A Lifetime of Fighting for Women's Rights". Business Day BD Live. Retrieved 17 September 2016.
  2. ^ Src=", <img; amp;; IAW, amp;r=G" width="80" height="80" alt="Avatar" class="avatar avatar-80 wp-user-avatar wp-user-avatar-80 photo avatar-default" /> Lene PindLene Pind is a former Secretary-General of the; Unit, currently head of its Communications (2017-09-23). "IAW nominates Sizani Ngubane for the Jaime Brunet 2017 Award". International Alliance of Women. Retrieved 2019-04-03.
  3. ^ "Who we are | Rural Women's Movement (RWM)". ruralwomensmovement (in Italian). Retrieved 2019-04-03.
  4. ^ "NGO CSW/NY 2018 Woman of Distinction Sizani Ngubane". NGO Committee on the Status of Women, NY. Retrieved 2019-04-03.
  5. ^ "BBC World Service - Witness History, Fighting for Rural Women in South Africa". BBC. Retrieved 2019-04-03.

External links

  • Sizani Ngubane: The Impact of Traditional Authority on Rural Women in South Africa (2014 video)
  • [1] "The Rural Women's Movement" Pambazuka News (2007)
  • [2] I Am Woman Episode 13, Season 3 - Sizani Ngubane (2016 video)
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