Feziwe Bookholane was born in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape in October 1942. She was the first born of seven children. After completing her matric she joined a Catholic convent where she served as a nun. During her seven years in the nunnery, she was told by the head of the nunnery that she would feel out of place because she had never lived with white people before. She was given different food from them, her meals were leftovers and she was expected to read books on her own, because she was the only black nun. She wrote to the Bishop to get a dispensation and left the convent.

She became a nurse and worked at the Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth. She was transferred to work at a day hospital in KwaZakhele Township. After she completed her midwifery training she got married to Fats Bookholane an actor, who already had two children.

Bookholane became politically involved between 1976 and 1977 at the height the student revolt which had spread to Port Elizabeth’s townships. While working as a nurse at the day hospital, she received and treated people who had been injured by the government forces as they violently tried to quell the revolt. She worked secretly with five other people, two from Johannesburg and one from Port Elizabeth. At the same time she also helped young political activists who were being sought by the police to secretly leave the country. Her work at the hospital and that of facilitating the movement of young people exposed her to the risk of arrest by the security police. 

Subsequently, on 23 March 1978 she was arrested at the hospital by the security police and detained. She was assaulted by the police as they attempted to force her incriminate herself and other comrades, but she refused and remained steadfast. On 4 April 1979 Bookholane together with six other people was convicted of terrorism and sentenced to eight years imprisonment. She was kept in Potchefstroom for almost a year. She appealed against the severity of the sentence and subsequently the sentence was reduced to five years. While in prison she fought against the poor food being given to prisoners by embarking on hunger strike with others. As a result she was transferred to Klerksdorp prison, where she was detained in isolation for eight months. When the quality of food in that prison also deteriorated and one of the prisoners got sick, she gave passed the information to the visiting doctor about what was happening in the prison. As a result, she was moved to Pollsmor prison in Cape Town for a year where she was held in solitary confinement again.

In 1981 while she was in prison, she heard that her stepson was murdered together with seven other African National Congress (ANC) members in the Maputo raid in Mozambique by South African Army. In 1982 she was moved to Kroonstad Prison where her children were allowed to visit. It was the first time that she saw her child since her imprisonment in 1978.

Bookholane was released from prison in January 1984. In relating her experience in prison, she was quoted as saying;

“I almost wished that I was still in prison. I felt I wasn't ready to be out making decisions.... Even now over three years after my release, I can carry around fifty rand for two weeks and not spend it. I go into shops, but I find it hard to choose things”.

The Eastern Cape Council of Churches organised a professional help so that she could adjust to life outside the prison. She also spent time with her family recovering from the trauma of being imprisoned. She found work at the regional office of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) as a field worker for inter-church in Port Elizabeth.


Russell, D. E.H, (1989), Lives of Courage, women for a new South Africa, (iUniverse), pp.54 -64|

Bookholane, F, Quotation by Feziwe Bookholane, from the Dictionary.com, [Online] available at quotes.distionary.com [Accessed: 18 January 2013]


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