Nurse, Member of the ANC and office-bearer, National Executive Committee member of the Federation of South African Women, organizer of protest marches, General Secretary of the All-Africa Women's Conference, and Deputy Chairperson of the Women's League
Lives of Courage
Magdaline Resha was born on the 5th of May 1923 in Matatiele, Eastern Cape. She was the second daughter of Mr. Oziel Tsekiso and Lidia Mamodise Tsiu, who had nine children in total. She was given the name of Matebello (Hope) but christened Magdaline after her grandfather’s elder brother’s wife.
Resha began her schooling at age seven at Pontseng, while living with her aunt, which was a three mile walk from her home. The school only had two rooms, shared simultaneously by five classes, where they were taught reading, writing, arithmetic, poetry and music; as well as sewing, weaving mats and baskets and dictation. When Resha was ten, she was sent back to live with her parents to attend the local school, Ramohlakoana, as it was considered better.
In 1939, she went on to study for a junior certificate at the Welsh High School in East London. After attaining her Junior Certificate, a ‘boy’s education’ as her parents called it, Resha studied to be a nurse in at Holy Cross. It was in 1944, while still training at Holy Cross that she first read about the African National Congress (ANC) in a copy of The Bantu World. The ANC would later become a central force in her life.
In 1946, she took her final exam at the King Edward VIII Hospital in Durban after which she received her Hospital Certificate and a First Class pass and went to work at the Pretoria Hospital in 1947.
On 1 March 1948, she married Robert Resha, who was a leader of the ANC Youth League. Thus began her involvement in politics. From then on she became increasingly politicized, attending meetings every Sunday at Freedom Square in Kliptown, which were addressed by Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Chief Albert Luthuli, JB Marks and Lilian Ngoyi, to name a few. By 1952, Resha was serving as an office-bearer for the ANC Sophiatown Branch and was also elected to the NEC of the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW).
As part of FSAW, Resha became part of the movement resisting the extension of passes to African women, and participated in protests together with her fellow nurses at Baragwanath hospital. Her activism also extended beyond the workplace to the community where she lived, and Maggie led a march of more than 1,000 women to protest against the planned removal of the Sophiatown 'black spot'. Hundreds of women were arrested, and spent time in jail together with other women who were arrested while protesting in Alexandra and Orlando.
From 1954 onwards, she was one of the key organisers of the campaigns against the forced removal of the Sophiatown community. She also devoted her attention to the Congress of the People campaign, which culminated in the adoption of the Freedom Charter in 1955. In 1956, Maggie was a leading organiser of the march of 20,000 women to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where a petition against the extension of passes to women was handed over to the government.
In early 1958, she was arrested for leading a march from Sophiatown to the Johannesburg Pass Offices, and spent two weeks in prison. She was arrested again later in 1958 during a protest march against the whites-only elections. The magistrate sentenced her to one year for 'incitement', but after an appeal she served four months imprisonment plus a R50 fine. In recognition of her role in the anti-pass campaigns, Resha was awarded a certificate of merit, signed by the then President of the ANC Chief Albert Luthuli and the then Secretary General, Duma Nokwe.
These protests advanced the role of the women's movement within the ANC, but they did not prevent the demolition of Sophiatown. Resha then moved with her family to Mofolo South, which formed part of the townships that were soon to be known as Soweto. There she became the Chairperson of the ANC Women's League branch.
The state was determined that the 1960's should not be marked by the resistance witnessed in the 1950's, and was prepared to use brute force to achieve this. During the 1960 State of Emergency, despite frequent police raids on her house, Resha joined an underground cell and continued to work for the ANC even though the movement had been banned. In 1962, the movement smuggled her out of the country to continue her work in exile. After five months in Tanzania, she was reassigned to the ANC's new diplomatic office in Algeria, where her husband Robert had been appointed chief representative.
During the time she was based in Algeria, Resha travelled throughout the world broadcasting the cause of the oppressed people of South Africa. She attended numerous Organisation of African Unity (OAU) meetings and African solidarity conferences, with the aim of advancing the diplomatic recognition of the ANC.
In 1966, she was appointed the ANC's Deputy Chief Representative to the North African countries. She was also the ANC’s representative to the Pan African Women's Organisation, to which women's organisations from throughout the continent were affiliated, and in 1973 she was elected General Secretary of the All-Africa Women's Conference.
Following the death of her husband in 1973, Resha moved to London, where she became the chairperson of the ANC London Branch and deputy chairperson of the Women's League branch. She concentrated on working to inform the people of the world of the struggle inside South Africa, and collected funds for those who were arrested and detained. In 1983, she retired mainly due to ill health and remained under regular medical supervision.
Resha returned to South Africa in 1993, and wrote the book "My Life in the Struggle: Mangoana tsoara thipa ka bohaleng". She lived in Romohlokana location until she died in September 2003. She is survived by her brother Caiphus Tsiu, her youngest sister Ruth Molly Mpati Tsiu-Tlhagwane, her daughter Nosipho Malie-Resha and her grand children Nomonde, Malie, Muwelisi, S'busiso, Nobube and Buhle Mkhwanazi.
On 22 April 2008 she was awarded the Order of Luthuli in Silver for “”¦ her excellent contribution to the struggle against the apartheid system in South Africa and fighting gender injustices in society”.
• Resha, M. (1991) ‘Msngoana O Tsoara Thipa Ka Bphaleng’: My Life in the Struggle. Great Britain: SA Writers
• The Order of Luthuli in Silver: Profile of Magdalene Maggie Resha [online] Available atwww.thepresidency.gov.za (Accessed 22 June 2009)