Rita Ndzanga was born on 17 October 1933, the third child of Isaac and Alina More in a village called Mogopa near Ventersdorp, western Transvaal (now North West Province). Her father worked in Johannesburg and they lived in Sophiatown. At the age of seven her mother returned to Mogopa so that the children could attend school in their village. Her grandfather and others bought two farms, one of which was called Mogopa.
After she had completed standard six (Grade Eight), the family returned to Sophiatown to attend high school, Madibane High in Western Native Township. Due to a lack of finance, Ndzanga only went up to Form Three (Standard Eight).
She tried to get a job but was unsuccessful. A man called Marokane, who was organising a trade union, the Brick and Tile Workers Union, offered her work in his office. In this way she began to learn about trade unions.
By this time, 1956, she was married to Lawrence Ndzanga. They lived in Eastern Native Township at George Goch, after which the couple moved to Soweto. Her husband earned his living by collecting clothing for dry cleaning.
In 1955, Ndzanga began work in the Railway Workers Union as a secretary and was responsible for collecting member’s fees. Her husband was also actively involved in recruiting members for the union. He had to travel all over the country to organise workers.
Ndzanga and her husband belonged to an underground cell of four people. In April 1964 her husband was banned and in August she too was banned. Ndzanga had to report to the Moroka Police Station every Monday.
On 12 May 1969, Ndzanga and her husband were detained under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act. She remained in prison for six months without a single change of clothing, save for the clothes she had on when she was arrested. She was in detention with Winnie Mandela, Thoka Mngoma, Martha Dlamini and Joyce Sikhakane.
In detention, policemen severely assaulted Ndzanga whilst she was in detention. Advocate George Bizos defended them in court. They were acquitted but were immediately re-arrested.
Ndzanga would clandestinely work in the American Embassy in Johannesburg. A man named Mahanyele, an employee of the Embassy, made the office available at nights for Ndzanga and her colleagues to work. Later Mahanyele gave evidence for the state against Ndzanga and her friends.
The second time around, Ndzanga and 21 others were arrested, including her husband. They were detained for 17 months. The detained were not allowed any visitors nor were they allowed any change of clothes. Her children stayed with her younger sister and younger brother.
Upon her release from detention in 1970, Ndzanga was banned for another five years. Neither the torture of detention, nor the death of her husband, Lawrence Ndzanga, in detention in January 1977, deterred Rita Ndzanga's continued involvement in the trade union movement, and in resistance to state repression. Ndzanga was only released from prison a day after his funeral.
The Federation of Transvaal Women (FEDTRAW) was formed in December 1984, bringing together close to 200 women from all over the Transvaal (now Gauteng). Sister Bernard Ncube was elected as the first president of the federation, while Albertina Sisulu, Rita Ndzanga, Francis Baard and Maniben Sita were elected as active patrons. Helen Joseph and Winnie Mandela were non-active patrons.
In 1999, Ndzanga was elected as a Member of Parliament in the National Assembly. She served in the first, second and third democratic Parliament.
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