Brigalia Bam was born in the former Transkei, in the Eastern Cape. She was formally educated in South Africa and abroad specializing in teaching, social work, communications and management. She is a qualified social worker with a post-graduate degree from the University of Chicago. In the 1980s Brigalia worked for the Women’s Workers Programme that was part of the International Food and Allied Workers Association in Geneva. She has co-ordinated the World YMCA International Training Institute and Programme, as well as its affiliate, the Development for Human Rights.
She worked as the general secretary for the South African Council of Churches between 1997 and 1998. She was a founding member of the Women’s Development Foundation and became the foundation’s president in 1998. She has been a board member of the Matla Trust as well as the South African Broadcasting Commission (SABC). Since 1999, she has been the chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) of South Africa.