Sophia Williams-De Bruyn is a living legend of the South African
liberation struggle, who has contributed immensely to the dismantling
of Apartheid. She participated in the major political campaigns
of pre-1994 while still a student and has never looked back, she
is the only surviving member of the four leaders of the historic women’s
march to Pretoria which took place on 9 August 1956. The march was against
the carrying of the notorious pass that limited the movement of black people
within the country. Despite the intimidation tactics of the Apartheid regime,
the march was supported by more than 20 000 defiant women who translated
the slogan “within’ imbokodo” into action.
It was not only the sheer number of women that participated in the historic
march to Pretoria that made it quite a unique and significant event, but
also the participation of women from other racial groups in solidarity
with the toiling black women. This day has remained in the psyche of the
nation for generations and is currently celebrated in post-apartheid South
Africa as “Women’s Day”.
Tireless worker for human rights
Williams-De Bruyn’s selfless contribution to the liberation struggle
was not confined to the dismantling of apartheid. She also played a major
role in the struggle for economic justice through her participation in
the workers’ struggle led by the militant South African Congress
of Trade Unions (SACTU) of which she was a founder member.
SACTU had a close relationship with the African National Congress (ANC)
and in many ways played a major role in directing the burgeoning organisation’s
focus towards the plight of the working people. When SACTU was disbanded
due to the repression of the Apartheid government, the core of its cadres
in exile worked tirelessly to form the giant labour federation, the Congress
of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu).
Like a true activist, she bemoans the fact that the current generation
of cadres concentrates more on paying attention to issues such as deployment
and cancerous jockeying for position – a luxury in her generation.
She says that, at the height of the struggle against apartheid, her generation
did not know the word “deployment”. Instead, ANC cadres always
rose to the occasion when they were given assignments. Every task that
was geared towards defeating the state, whether it was painting slogans
on the bridges of certain suburbs in Johannesburg or canvassing for the
signing of the Freedom Charter and distributing leaflets informing people
about the Freedom Charter, it all counted equally.
Scholar of note
During that same year She was recommended, together with other middle-management
staff, to be interviewed for a Civil Service Training Course. She successfully
met the criteria and was selected to begin the preliminary course at
Eskom. The main training courses were undertaken at the Civil Service
Training College in London, at the International Training College in
Paris, France, and the Bundes Akademy in Bonn, Germany. She did her
attachment at No 10 Downing Street, London.
The final course in Civil Service Training Management, was completed
in Windhoek, Namibia, where she was attached to the Prime Minister’s
office and at the Civil Service Commission of Namibia in 1994.
Her late husband Henry Benny De Bruyn who was deployed in the department
of International Affairs headed by Thabo Mbeki, at that time, was recalled
from Italy in 1994 where he was based as the Chief Representative of
the ANC in Rome and the Vatican. He worked at Shell House in the DIA
and in 1995 when the ANC’s different structures integrated into
government Henry Benny De Bruyn was appointed by Foreign Affairs as
the first Ambassador to Jordan. She accompanied him as his spouse and
they were highly respected and loved by the diplomatic community. They
returned in November 1998 before his contract had ended because of
his illness. He passed away in June 1999.
Accolades and awards
The contribution of Williams-De Bruyn to gender equality did not go
unnoticed as she was appointed by the President to serve as a Commissioner
on the Gender Commission.
She also serves on the Sarah Baartman Eminent Person’s Group
which comprises a group of men and women who were appointed by the
previous Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture to advise on the Sarah
Baartman situation. This committee’s focus has, since the return
of the late Sarah Baartman, been extended to include any other similar
In appreciation of her service to the nation, in June 1999 an award
in Class Silver was presented to her by former President Nelson Mandela
for meritorious service in the interest of the general public.
Again, in August 1999, she was presented with the Ida
Mntwana Award Silver for exceptional service rendered to the women of
South Africa. And if this were not enough, President Thabo Mbeki also
unveiled the portrait of the four women who led the historic march to
the Union Buildings.
In August 2001, she was the first recipient of the Women’s Award
for exceptional national service which was presented to her by the Minister
Services, Dr LN Sisulu. At the same ceremony she received a Commendation Certificate
for having demonstrated devotion and loyalty to South Africa through rendering
exceptional service and thereby setting a fine example for others. In recognition
of her immense contribution to the establishment of democracy in South Africa,
she also received the Mahatma Gandhi Award presented to her by President Mbeki
in October 2001.
this rich history and a wealth of experience in the political arena,
it is no surprise that Sophia Williams-De
Bruyn was appointed Deputy Speaker in the Gauteng Legislature following
Metcalfe departure from the same position in February this year.
She chairs a number of Committee’s and is also tasked with providing
oversight role on administration to ensure strategy implementation
and that the affairs and concerns of Members of the Legislature (MPLs)
addressed both politically and administratively.
It seems there is no stopping her. Once she sets her energies into
a task, you can rest assured that there’ll be positive results
and the Legislature is set to gain from her wealth of experience
It was, however,
in the ANC as an exile where her contribution was felt. From being
a part-time secretary of the SA Coloured People’s
Congress, which was an essential component of the Congress Alliance,
she rose to the position of secretary of the ANC’s Women League
(ANCWL) that was based in Zambia. She also served on the ANCWL Secretariat
while at the same time carrying out “special” administrative
functions for the late OR Tambo at the ANC headquarters in Lusaka.
Fast-tracking the stuggle
It was also in exile that Williams-De Bruyn realised the need to attend
to the unfinished challenge of completing her formal education, which
left in abeyance. She enrolled for evening studies. This, she says, was a
real challenge, as she had to balance her many responsibilities with
With the undying support of her family and the ANC she was able to complete
her “O” and “A” levels. Three years later, she went
on to study for a Teacher’s Education Diploma, which she completed
successfully in 1977.
While in exile, she was not daunted to take on new challenges to fast-track
the struggle of oppressed South Africans as illustrated by the number of
projects in which she was involved and headed.
In 1980, she was one of the founder members of the ANC Education Council
in Lusaka, which was responsible for the education and training of ANC cadres
at the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College. During the same year she was deployed
by the ANC to the United Nations Institute for Namibia (UNIN) to assist in
building the capacity of SWAPO cadres in Administration and Secretarial skills.
In 1984 she was requested by the ANC to establish a Secretarial Project in
Mazimbu. The project ran successfully and contributed a great deal in building
the capacity of ANC members in exile and who are today holding senior positions
in Government, Parastatals and even in the Private sector.
The early 1990s presented a stiff challenge to the ANC which was then in
a transient state as it was migrating from its offices in exile and at the
time establishing itself both administratively and politically inside South
Africa. Again, the organisation called upon her to come from Lusaka to South
Africa to assist as the head of administration in preparing its first legal
conference inside the country at NESRAC.
When the ANC was established administratively in South
Africa, Williams-De Bruyn was appointed assistant administrator to the
deputy secretary-general, a post she performed to the best of her ability
until 1993 when she was appointed by the ANC National Working Committee
(NWC) as the head of human resources at Shell House.