Nancy Dick was born in Durban, South Africa and was brought up in Cape Town. She was one of four daughters. Her father was a proponent of the Cape liberal tradition, and a business-man in the sugar cane industry. Olive Schreiner, one of South Africa’s famous radical writers and early feminist, was a family friend.  

In the 1940s onwards, Dick was drawn into politics so much that she began to join the trade unions. She became the secretary of the Textile Workers Union, a position that enabled her to work closely with many of the communists including Ray Alexander, Jack Simons and Pauline Podbrey. However, she never joined the South African Communist Party (SACP) herself. In 1950 Dick was listed under the Suppression of Communism Act and was later banned from union involvement.

She dedicated much of her energies in the service of the National Council of Women (NCW)’s African Affairs committee and the Black Sash. As a result of her activism, the security police placed her under surveillance. In April 1960 Dick was one of the people arrested and detained for five months without trial by the Apartheid government alongside Jean Bernardt, Jack Simons and Lettie Malindi.

Nancy Dick was banned for a second time between 1966 and 1971. However, soon after her second ban she left the country and went to exile in the United Kingdom. There she became active in the Anti-Apartheid Movement and many other organizations, such as Oxfam. Dick’s generosity was demonstrated after her father’s death; when she donated her inheritance to support families of a number of activists, such as Dora Tamara.  

Dick died of a heart attack in the early 1990s in London. Pauline Podbrey states that “her devotion, integrity and quiet courage were never sufficiently appreciated, largely due to her excessive modesty and her refusal to project herself”


• Helen Scanlon, (2007), Representations and Reality; Portraits of Women’s Lives in the Western Cape 1948-1976, (Cape Town, HSRC), pp.253-254

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