Deborah Nikiwe Matshoba was born in Munsieville, Krugersdorp, western Gauteng, in December 1950. She was the second eldest of four daughters and a brother. Her father was the nephew of Samuel Matshoba, an adviser to Gijima, chief priest of the Israelites - a Christian Sect that was slaughtered at the Bullhoek Massacre in 1923.
In Krugersdorp he worked as a clerk for a firm of attorneys. Her mother was the eldest daughter of Chief Mathlabane of the Barolong in the then Western Transvaal. In spite of being first in line to the chieftainship upon her father’s death, Matshoba’s mother was prevented from assuming this role because of her gender.
During the forced removals of the 1950s, the Matshobas were forced to relocate to Kagiso Township, Krugersdorp in spite of a long and partially successful resistance by the residents of Munsieville.

She initially attended Boipelo Primary School and later the St Francis College in Mariannhill, Natal (now kwaZulu-Natal).
After high school, following in the footsteps of her mother she joined the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). The YWCA sent her to its world congress in Ghana in 1971.

Matshoba went on to university and in 1973 was appointed literacy director of the South African Students’ Organization (SASO). After being expelled from the University of Zululand for political activities, she studied radiography.  She then worked at the Krugersdorp General Hospital as a radiographer and then went back to university.

Her activism led to several arrests during the late 1970s and an eighteen month spell in solitary confinement. In 1976 she was arrested under the Suppression of Communism Act and detained at the Fort in Johannesburg, Transvaal (now Gauteng) until December of that year.

Six weeks later, Matshoba was arrested in Pietermaritzburg, Natal (she was on her way to Durban) under the Section Six of the Terrorism Act and detained without trial until 1978. The police manacled her ankle to a big iron ball and made her stand the entire night. She was given a pen to write a statement, about her involvement in SASO, as an executive member. The police kept on tearing up her statement, asking her to rewrite it. By the third night she started becoming delirious and her legs were swelling.

A policeman started beating her. He strangled her with a towel and bashed her head against the wall. She was very weak and could not sit. When she collapsed, he kicked her. Eventually Matshoba passed out.

The beating lasted for a week. She suffered from asthma and they refused to give her medication. A sympathetic White, male, Afrikaans-speaking uniformed policeman assisted her by smuggling her asthma spray and tablets to her, and later smuggling her out to see a doctor.

She became mentally unstable as a result of her torture.  She was then transferred to Bethal prison and then to Middleburg Prison in the Eastern Transvaal (now Mpumalanga)

Following this period of detention, Matshoba was ‘released from detention’ and driven to Krugersdorp. The police then took her again to the Fort where was imprisoned once more for six months.

Matshoba was released from prison but placed under house arrest and later banned for five years (until 1983), restricted to the Krugersdorp magisterial district. She could not attend her own wedding due to her banning orders. As a result her husband left her.

Matshoba passed away on September 7, 2014.


TVSA. (2006).Flowers of the Revolution - Deborah Nikiwe Matshoba online. Available at . Accessed on 25 September 2013.|

HSRC Press. (2000). Women Marching Into the 21st Century: Wathint' Abafazi, Wathint' Imbokodo online. Available at . Accessed on 25 September 2013.|

Truth and Reconciliation Commission. (1997). Human Rights Violations Women's Hearing Deborah Matshoba online.  Available at Accessed on 25 September 2013.|

Mngxitama A., Alexander A. & Gibson N.C. (2008). Biko Lives! Contesting the Legacies of Steve Biko online.  Available at Accessed on 25 September 2013.|

SABC. Truth Commission Special Report TRC Final online.  Available at online. Accessed on 25 September 2013. 

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