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Ellen Merafe Kuzwayo is a teacher, social worker, community worker and leader, writer and political activist. For her care of Soweto’s children and for her establishment of self-help projects for women, Ellen is well-known as “the mother of Soweto”.

Born in South Africa on 29 June 1914, Ellen Kuzwayo was an only child. In 1930 she inherited her family's farm, losing it soon afterwards, when, in the spirit of apartheid, the area was declared a 'White area'.

She trained as a teacher, working for many years in this capacity. Enrolling for a time at the University of Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg, she studied social work. Although not a political radical, after the massacre of innocent students in 1976 in Soweto she became actively involved in the protest movement against the apartheid regime. Arrested by the South African authorities, she spent 5 months in detention in 1977.

In addition to her resistance to apartheid, Ellen Kuzwayo has developed a reputation for her commitment to the rights of women in South Africa.

In particular, she has been an influential force behind the movement for equality of rights for men and women under the law, and has participated in a number of programs set up to improve the living conditions in Soweto's sprawling suburbs.

For years Ellen worked as secretary of the YWCA in the Transvaal, work that led her to initiate projects in Soweto where women who have never been to school are taught basic literacy and practical skills such as how to use a sewing machine.  In 1979 she was named Woman of the Year, an award conferred by one of Johannesburg's largest daily newspapers, The Star.

Her 1985 autobiography Call me Woman details many of her experiences in the Soweto of the time. For this work she became the first black writer to be awarded the CNA Literary Prize, South Africa’s premier literary prize.

After a long period of silence, in 1996 she published Sit Down and Listen: Stories from South Africa.

The University of Witswatersrand has recognized her with an Honourary Degree in Literature and she recently accepted the award of a Doctor of Literature honouris causa from the University of Natal.

Ellen is an institution in Soweto.  Highly respected by young and old, her counsel is sought after by many, not only in the Soweto community, but throughout Johannesburg: the courts, schools and colleges, church groups, and welfare agencies.

Ellen Kuzwayo has also participated in a number of films, in a variety of capacities. She continues to live in South Africa, where she is now retired as a member of Parliament.