Stella Margaret Nomzamo Sigcau was born on 4 January 1937, she was the eldest of the three children of Paramount Chief Botha Sigcau of East Pondoland who became the first state president of the Transkei when it assumed independence in 1976. As the daughter of a paramount chief, Sigcau was politically conscientised from childhood and this was reinforced at Lovedale College in Alice where she attended school in the early 1950s. While a student at the University of Fort Hare, Sigcau joined the African National Congress Youth League. She graduated with a BA degree majoring in Anthropology and Psychology and became a teacher. She subsequently worked in Natal and KwaZulu. Sigcau's husband, Ronald Tshabalala, died in 1964 and in 1968 she became politically active at the request of her father, then leader of the Transkei National Independence Party. That year Sigcau won the Lusikisiki seat from the opposition Democratic Party (DP), and became a member of the Transkei Legislative Assembly. She was appointed Minister of Roads and Works and over the next 20 years handled several ministerial portfolios, including energy, education, interior and posts and telecommunications. During this time she was the only woman in the cabinet. Aware of issues around women's rights, Sigcau undertook to challenge discriminatory traditions and laws in an active campaign to empower rural Transkeian women. She was instrumental in having single mothers granted land ownership rights in the region, but was herself forced by Transkei prime minister.
Chief Kaizer Matanzima, to resign from the cabinet in 1977 because she was unmarried and pregnant. Soon after the opening of the parliamentary session in 1978, Sigcau led most of the Pondoland MPs across the floor to sit in the opposition and formed the Democratic Progressive Party. However, she rejoined the ruling Transkei National Independence Party in August 1980. In 1981 she was appointed to the cabinet of George Matanzima as Minister of Telecommunications, replacing ousted Minister of the Interior, Saul Ndzumo. Following the resignation of Chief George Matanzima as a result of corruption charges in October 1987, Sigcau became prime minister of the Transkei. She defeated two male rivals. Kholisile Nota and Ngangomhlaba Matanzima, in the struggle for the premiership. On 30 December of the same year she was removed from power in the military coup led by her defence force chief, Major General Bantu Holomisa, who accused her government of corruption and Sigcau personally receiving a bribe in return for the granting of gambling rights. She denied receiving the bribe, but admitted that she had received R50 000 from a senior official in the form of a bursary for her daughter's education.
Sigcau dropped out of the political scene for a few years and disbanded the Transkei National Independence Party in 1990. When the Transkei government was invited to participate in the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa), Holomisa consulted with a number of existing organisations to nominate delegates to join the government delegation. In the process Sigcau, who is a member of the national executive committee of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa), was nominated. She also became active in ANC structures and at one stage headed the ANC Women's League in the Transkei.
In December 1993 the Transitional Executive Council (TEC) was established to level the playing fields in the run-up to the election. Sigcau served on the TEC sub-council on foreign affairs. In the April 1994 general election Sigcau stood as an ANC candidate and became a member of parliament. In May she was appointed Minister of Public Enterprises. At the ANC's December 1994 congress in Bloemfontein Sigcau was elected to the organisation's national executive committee.
Stella Sigcau died at Durban's St Augustine Hospital on the 7 May 2006 at the age of 69. She died of a recurring heart problem. She is survived by three children.
Gastrow, S. (1995). Who\'s Who in South African politics. Johannesburg: Ravan