Sister Bernard Ncube was born to Benedict Khosi Ncube and Annah Dichia Ncube in Edenvale in 1935.
One of the 11 siblings, her family was forcibly removed to Dube, Soweto; perhaps a felony that ignited a sense of disgust over the then apartheid system of separate development.
Sister Bernard – as Ncube was popularly known as – leaves behind two brothers, four sisters and a South African community that she served with compassion and dedication.
Sister Bernard started her primary school as Sacred Heart in Dukathole, Germiston and proceeded to St Thomas Catholic School for her secondary education. She was then sent to Roma College in Lesotho where she completed a Diploma in Theology. In 1955 she entered the Companions Catholic Order and took the name Sister Bernard.
She taught at St Peters Primary School in Kagiso, Krugersdorp, and was moved by the condition of learners. She eventually mobilised young people to form the Congress of South African Students (COSAS).
Sister Bernard was also a Director for Ministries in the Institute of Contextual Theology, an institution she formed with Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa. Contextual Theology was an organisation that aimed to define religion from the liberation struggle standpoint, something that Sister Bernard was passionate about till her passing. She often bemoaned how religion today spoke generally of the hereafter, and referred little to issues of self-reliance and the current living condition of the people. She was actively involved in bringing senior church leaders closer to the war for justice.
In 1991 she was elected to the National Executive Committee of the ANC where she served until 1997. After the 1994 elections, Sister Bernard was elected ANC Member of Parliament, where she served as Chairperson of the Portfolio committee on Arts, Culture, Science and technology. She also served as Executive Mayor of the West Rand District Municipality from 2002 to 2005.
Despite her strong Christian beliefs, religion did not stop Sister Bernard from pursuing her civic calling and she never wavered in her call for human rights and justice for all, especially the downtrodden.
MEMBERSHIPS AND ORGANISATIONS
As a found member of the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) in 1955, Sister Bernard, together with Albertina Sisulu; Helen Joseph; Rita Nzanga; Maniben Sita; and Francis Baard, amongst others, took a decision in December 1984 to resuscitate the organisation by forming the Federation of Transvaal Women (FEDTRAW).
She served as its first President. She was tasked with the responsibility of recruiting, training and preparing women for participating in an organisation whose mandate was to popularise the ANC’s Freedom Charter; to support families of political detainees, in particular student detainees; and to address the plight of rural women, to mention a few.
Sister Bernard was also tasked with finding and resuscitating membership of every veteran of FEDSAW and starting the process of establishing women’s organisations in every town and village in South Africa.
She worked with a team of young women around her, including Zeni Tshongweni, Nomvula Mokonyane, Jessie Duarte, Baby Tyawa, Leila Patel, Cecelia Palmer, Susan Shabangu and Feroza Adam.
Two boys, Bennie Monama and Ohara Diseko, completed a posse od dedicated and radical youngsters that milked every bit of political knowledge and substance from a dedicated Sister Bernard – who was also anchored by stalwarts such as albertina Sisulu and Winner Mandela, to mention a few.
Their often nomadic and dangerous missions resulted in the resuscitation of FEDTRAW, which attracted affiliation from other women organisations like the National Organisation of Women (NOW) and the United Women’s Congress (UWCO), among others.
During her detention FEDTRAW launched a campaign “VUKANI MAKHOSIKAZI, TSOGANG BASADI” to demand the immediate release of detainees and for the troops to leave townships.
Sister Bernard also worked clandestinely as a conduit of the AND – operating under the instruction of Ma-Sisulu – and was part of the United Democratic Front (UDF).
When Kagiso was occupied by the South African Defence Force (SANDF) and turned into a war zone in 1985, Sister Bernard and the priests in the area mobilised parents to assist with large number of children detained and killed. The repression in Kagiso spurred the establishment of the Kagiso Residents Association (KRA), which became the leading organisation in the area. No stranger to repression, Sister Bernard and twelve members of the KRA were charged with sedition but discharged because the state had failed to prove its case. She inspired a generation of activists who were responsible for turning around the West Rand politically.
She also worked very closely in Kagiso with Father Lebamang Sebidi, one of her closest friends who passed away in June this year; in improve the living condition of that community. The two were quite close until Sebidi’s death.
Sister Bernard was constantly in contact with the ANC Women’s Section in exile and her sister, Gloria, was her runner, periodically taking messages to Lusaka. She had contact with Gertrude Shope, Ruth Mompati and Ray Simons; to whom reports were sent on the progress regarding the organisation of women in the country.
In 1989 Sister Bernard was part of the United Democratic Front (UDF) delegation that travelled to the USA to meet with George Bush Senior and Margaret Thatcher. The delegation was led by Albertina Sisulu and included Azar Cachalia, Titus Mafole, Curnick Ndlovu and Jessie Duarte to present the conditions of South Africa under an apartheid-infused Nationalist Party-led government.
Sister Bernard, Albertina Sisulu and Jessie Duarte also travelled toSweden as guests of the Socialist women’s International where the delegation met with Swedish First Lady, Lisbet Palme, the wife of Olof Palme, the Swedish Prime Minister who was a strong opponent to the apartheid regime, and discussed assistance with the establishment of scholarships for women. The Three women then travelled to France to meet with Danielle Mitterand, the spouse of the President Francois Mitterand, and secured her support for projects by women in Soweto.
From Paris the women flew to Lusaka and met with the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC and President Oliver Tambo. Sister Bernard was invited to meet with President Nelson Mandela before his release to report on the status of women’s organisation in the country.
This history and much of the unpublished and unknown work, clearly demonstrates her political commitment which dictated her life’s work as a personal sacrifice to serve her country, its children and women in particular. She leaves a legacy as a fighter for justice and freedom, a notable advocate of the rights of women and a stricter for socio-political and economic order and transformation.
LALA NGOXOLO KHAMBUL’ELIHLE MZILANKATHA!