Florence Elizabeth Mnumzana (née Mhinga) was born on 21 February 1919 in Mhinga Village, Northern Transvaal (now Limpopo), into the Mhinga traditional royal family, where her father was a local chief. Mnumzana was a highly qualified nurse by profession. She obtained her Surgical Nursing Certificate in 1943 and a Midwifery Certificate in 1944. She went on to work as a nurse in several hospitals, during which time she developed a strong awareness of the link between the social system and health problems in the country on the one hand, and apartheid on the other.
She joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1952 at the beginning of the Defiance Campaign. Mnumzana was part of the anti-pass Women’s March of 1956 to the Union Buildings in Pretoria. In 1960 she became the secretary of the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) (Western Native Township Branch), and in 1964 she joined the executive committee of the Transvaal section of this federation. That year she was appointed to the secretariat of FEDSAW, Transvaal.
Due to her political involvement, Mnumzana received a five-year banning order and was restricted for five years, in 1966. She violated the conditions of her ban and was arrested in 1969. In 1970, together with her two young daughters, she left for Botswana as a refugee. In 1971 she moved to Lusaka, Zambia, where she worked for the Health Ministry from 1970 to 1977. Mnumzana was affectionately called “Mam Flo”.
While working in the health sector and providing for her small family, at the same time, she was participating in ANC-related activities, including branch meetings, health assistance to her comrades and participating in international solidarity and women’s gatherings such as the United Nations Women’s Conference in Mexico in 1975 and the 1980 Women’s Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.
In 1977 she headed the ANC Women’s Section in Lusaka and thereafter, in 1978, was posted to Mozambique, to take care of the ANC’s health facilities for its members there, as well as in Swaziland and Lesotho. Concurrently she headed the ANC’s Women’s Section. In 1980 she opened a health clinic in Manzini, Swaziland. In 1983 she was transferred to Luanda, Angola, where she headed the Women’s Section until 1987. Thereafter, until 1989, she concurrently headed the Vianna ANC Health Centre in Luanda, and tutored future ANC nurses in Mathematics and Science, in preparation for the formal World Health Organisation course in Tanzania.
Mnumzana returned to Lusaka when the ANC camps in Angola were closed, and served on the Health Committee and at the ANC Emmasdaile Clinic. In all these countries she combined her health work with the leadership of the ANC Women’s Section.
After the ANC was unbanned, she was instrumental in the organisation of one of the first ANC activities, the Kimberley Women’s League Conference in December 1990. She returned to South Africa after 21 years in exile in August 1991, and continued working with the Health Committee of the ANC until she retired to her village.
She was honoured with the Order of Luthuli in Silver for her lifetime commitment to the struggle for liberation in South Africa and for her complete dedication to the creation of a better South Africa. Florence Elizabeth Mnumzana passed away on 20 January 2020.
- Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology. 2000. Women Marching Into the 21st Century: Wathint' Abafazi, Wathint' Imbokodo. Shereno Printers: South Africa.
- The Presidency Republic of South Africa. N.D. Florence Elizabeth Mnumzana. [online: 24 August 2020] http://www.thepresidency.gov.za/national- orders/recipient/florence-elizabeth-mnumzana-1919