Vera Ponnen (nee Vera Gwendoline Alberts) was born in 1915 in England. She came to South Africa in 1938 as a governess. The next year, she went to Johannesburg and while there she met members of the Communist Party. She later joined the party and became an active member.

After she was married, the Ponnen household in Durban became a hub of anti-apartheid and trade union activity from 1940 to 1966. Her home was an accessible site as she lived in an "undeclared area", where all races could meet. It was a necessity for the Ponnens, as George was a South African of East Indian descent and Vera was a British Jew. However, she was but classified as East Indian by the government after her marriage.

Ponnen worked for the Housewives League, the South African Federation of Democratic Women and was one of the founders of the Non-European Soldiers` Dependents League during the Second World War. She was also an Executive Member of the Congress of Democrats, and was therefore involved in many strikes of black workers fighting for better wages and conditions and against unjust laws.

She was secretary of the Brewery and Mineral Workers Union, which was composed of African, Indian and Coloured workers. She was the first woman to be banned in the Province of Natal under the Suppression of Communism Act under which she was banned for five years and placed under house arrest for another five years.

George Ponnen was the first man to be banned for five years in Natal in 1950. He was thus removed from his position as Secretary and Organiser of a number of trade unions, and as a result, his means of livelihood was completely cut off. He started dressmaking and Vera helped him with this to make a living. She however continued to carry out political work underground.

In 1967, Vera went with her husband to Zambia, leaving South Africa on an exit permit. During nearly 10 years in Zambia, Vera continued her work for the African National Congress (ANC). In the early 1970s, Ponnen and her husband moved to Canada to join their children. However, she had been ill for a long time and she was hospitalized in Edmonton, Canada, where she died the 1st of March 1979, at the age of 64.


South African Communist Party[online] Available [Accessed on 18 June 2009]|University of Alberta [online] Available at[Accessed 22 June 2009] 

Collections in the Archives