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Amina Cachalia (1930 – 2013)

Bynum Tudor Fellow, Former Bynum Tudor Fellow

Anti-Apartheid and women’s rights activist

Amina Cachalia (née Asvat) was born in 1930, in Transvaal (now Gauteng). In the late 1940s she founded the Women’s Progressive Union in Johannesburg, to foster training, skills development, and the financial independence of women. In the 1950s Amina joined the ANC. In 1954 she became treasurer of the Federation of South African Women, an organisation aimed at bringing the women of South Africa together to secure full equality of opportunity for all women, regardless of race, colour or creed; to remove social, legal and economic disabilities; and to work for the protection of women and children. In the late 1950s, Amina received the first of several banning orders, which lasted 15 years.

When the ANC Women’s League was restarted in the 1990s, Amina served on the PWV regional committee. She was elected a Member of Parliament for the National Assembly in the first democratic elections in 1994, which she declined to accept for personal reasons. Amina was a close friend and ally of Nelson Mandela. In 2004, the South African Government awarded Amina The Order of Luthuli in Bronze, for her lifetime contribution to the struggle for gender equality, non-racialism, and a free and democratic South Africa. She was a recipient of the Indian government’s Pravasi Bharatiya Saman award – the highest honour conferred on overseas Indians – and was awarded an honorary doctorate of laws by the University of the Witwatersrand.

Amina was married to Yusuf Cachalia, secretary of the South African Indian Congess – both she and her husband were banned and house-arrested for almost four cumulative decades by the then Apartheid regime. Both were imprisoned for their beliefs on a number of occasions. Amina’s autobiography When Hope and History Rhyme was published on January 1st 2013. Amina Cachalia accepted her Bynum Tudor Fellowship in 2012 but tragically died on January 31st 2013 before she could visit the College to deliver her lecture.