Lettie Malindi was born in Firgrove, near Stellenbosch, on 26 March 1922, the fifth of eleven children. Her father, John Matibi, was a railway worker from the Eastern Cape, and her family later migrated to Cape Town. Matibi had joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1912 when it was formed, and her mother Harriet was also a member of the organisation. When her father retired, he bought a house in Athlone, Cape Town (while it was still legal for Africans to do so), and it was here that Lettie grew up. Land purchases by Africans were restricted under the Urban Areas Act of 1923 and prohibited in 1938. Matibi became chairman of the Athlone ANC branch, and was one of those charged in the 1956 Treason Trial.
Lettie attended primary school in Stellenbosch and then in Langa, Cape Town. She passed standard five (grade seven) and did not attend high school. After leaving school, she became a clerk at the Alexandra Institute, a home for the intellectually disabled in Maitland, and became a member of the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL). It was at the ANCYL where they discussed politics and also interacted with someone senior from the movement who lectured them politically. She was the only one of the Matibi children who became politicised.
In 1942 she married Zollie Malindi, ANC secretary for the Western Cape, with whom she had five children. Lettie was actively involved in the African National Congress Women’s League (ANCWL) and Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW); she was one of the organisers of the Kliptown Congress of the People in 1955. On 9 August 1956, she was among 200 protestors who demonstrated against the imposition of passes on women in Cape Town, being too far advanced in pregnancy to travel to Pretoria.
A key figure in the establishment of Cape Association to Abolish Passes for African Women (CATAPAW), she worked at the Black Sash advice office from 1958, first as a volunteer and later as a paid interpreter, for 28 years. Lettie was arrested on many occasions, including when she protested against the arrival of pass units at the Rondebosch Town Hall in November 1959. In 1960, she was arrested again during the State of Emergency and held for three-and-a-half months. While she and her husband were in detention, one of her children died. Members of the Black Sash lobbied for her release.
Zollie and Lettie remained members of the ANC’s underground political movement, but they were repeatedly harassed by the police. She became politically active during the student protests of 1976, and in the 1980s through the United Women’s Organisation (UWO). In 1986, she retired from the Black Sash office. Lettie Malindi died on 27 June 2010 after suffering a stroke at the age of 89.
- Scanlon, H. 2007. “Representation and reality: Portraits of Women’s Lives in the Western Cape 1948-1976”. HSRC Press: Cape Town.