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​​For Women’s Month, a series of online posts were launched to profile outstanding women who left their mark on Johannesburg.

“Our online Woman of the Week series captured stories of these great women. The blue heritage plaques give a mark of recognition to amazing women who continue to inspire,” said Cllr Margaret Arnolds, who is the Member of the Mayoral Committee for Community Development in the City of Johannesburg. 

Over the past 20 years, the City of Johannesburg has been recognising remarkable personalities, historical sites and other pieces of history by means of blue heritage plaques at approximately 150 sites.

For 2020, tribute was paid to Mama Letta Mbulu, Mama Vesta Smith, Mme Sophie Masite and Ma Mary Fitzgerald, who were awarded the heritage blue plaque status. 

In the first week of the Women’s Month, the spotlight was on Mbulu, an internationalist, recording artist and living legend. On Heritage Day, 24 September 2018, a blue plaque was unveiled at Mbulu’s childhood home in Orlando East.  During 26 years of exile in the United States, Mbulu toured extensively, together with artists like Harry Belafonte, Quincy Jones, Cannonball Adderley and her husband Ntate Caiphus Semenya. 

Women Icons of Noordgesig were up next, with a double bill featuring Ma Vesta Smith and Mama Betty Glover, known for their life-long commitment to uplifting the poor and oppressed. Recently, they were celebrated through a series of new murals that have brightened the face of Noordgesig. 

Affectionately known as Ma Vee, the late Smith (1922-2013) was a courageous opponent of apartheid who faced bannings, harassment and imprisonment. Present at the Congress of the People and the Women’s March to Pretoria, Smith gave shelter to children evading arrest after the Soweto Uprising, and became the founding member of the United Democratic Front.  

Glover is remembered for opening her home in 1962 to start one of the first feeding schemes in Soweto.  This feeding scheme is still in operation and feeds around 300 people per day from Noordgesig and the surrounding areas such as Orlando, Diepkloof, Pimville, Nancefield, Freedom Park, and Lenasia. A skilled gardener, she ran her feeding scheme using vegetables she grew herself in her garden, and often bought the rest of the ingredients using her own pension money when sponsorships and donations dried up.

Tribute also focused on South Africa’s first woman trade unionist, Mary Fitzgerald, a militant campaigner for workers’ rights, after whom Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown was named in 1939. She was the first woman to be voted as a mayor at the age of 33 and became a deputy mayor of Johannesburg.  Fitzgerald was an editor of The Voice of Labour, a radical publication.

The series ended by celebrating South Africa’s first black woman mayor, Mme Sophie Masite, who was the leader of the rent boycott in Soweto in the 1980s, but insisted on payment for services when the political motivation for boycott ended. From 1995 until her untimely death in 1997, she was the mayor of the Southern Metropolitan Substructure including Soweto. While serving as mayor, she continued to live in her modest township home in White City, Soweto.

Woman of the Week posts are available on:​