Ginwala: Freedom Fighter Who Lost Two Battles and Won The War

FRENE Noshir Ginwala died in South Africa on 12 January 2023 at the age of 90. South African of Indian descent, Ginwala was born in 1932 in Johannesburg. She studied for her LLB at the University of London (UK), and was called to the Bar before returning home to South Africa prior to the banning of the ANC and PAC.

Ginwala then went into exile in Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique and the UK where she worked as an ANC official. She also served as ANC spokesperson in the UK and was counted among the strong-willed feminists and committed cadres of the ANC.

She became politically active in 1960, when the Sharpeville Massacre triggered off political upheaval. ANC and PAC were banned and many of their cadres were forced into exile.

Ginwala was entrusted with the task of steering ANC President Oliver Tambo’s escape out of the country. Ginwala helped him get across the border into Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and then Tanganyika where they were given asylum by Julius Nyerere who was taking over the helm of newly independent Tanganyika. Ginwala was instrumental in setting up the ANC office in Tanzania and elsewhere. She proudly pointed out that ANC had more missions abroad than the apartheid government embassies

Her stay in Tanganyika was suddenly interrupted when in 1963 Nyerere declared her PI. Her expulsion is said to be due to her editorial in the Spearhead that denounced Tanganyika’s intention to create a one-party state, describing it as the work of a ‘self-entrenching privileged élite’. The editorial questioned Nyerere’s move to abolish multi-party system and bring in what it called ‘No Party State’

Meanwhile President Nyerere was under intense pressure from the left-wing elements within TANU and the University of Dar es Salaam, to take-over The Standard that was owned by a British firm. In 1967 the Arusha Declaration was passed and the ‘commanding heights of the economy’ were nationalised. The Standard was left out

Ginwala at the Standard (Picture: Adarsh Nayar)

But eventually, on 5 February 1970, during the third anniversary of the Arusha Declaration, the Standard ran a front-page editorial proclaiming that it was ‘appearing for the first time as the official newspaper of the government of Tanzania’. A statement from Nyerere said:

“In accordance with the Arusha Declaration, it is clearly impossible for the largest daily newspaper in independent Tanzania to be left indefinitely in the hands of a foreign company. In a country committed to building socialism, it is also impossible for such an influential medium to be left indefinitely in the control of non-socialist, capitalist owners. ….We want Tanzanians to have control of this newspaper.”

Nyerere stressed that the Standard would be expected to support the government policies, while at the same time being free to criticise their implementation, ‘guided by the principle that free debate is an essential statement of true socialism’.

Nyerere asked who else but Ginwala to take over the broadsheet Standard as managing editor, thus reversing the previous ban on her.

Ginwala then assembled her editorial team, using her contacts among the international left-wing groups. From Kenya she picked Philip Ochieng, an outspoken young writer. In his book “I accuse the Press” Ochieng writes:

“In all my 26 years of experience as a newspaperman in all the three East African countries, I do not recall anything like the kind of openness and depth of debate such as took place in Tanzania….. It was the high school of my political education.”

That was Mwalimu Nyerere’s one-party system that politically and intellectually nurtured us. At the time the University of Dar es Salaam was the intellectual hub attracting progressive elements from all over the world. Tanzanian was also the external headquarters of the African liberation movements. I can recollect how Mwalimu used to invite himself to the university and engage in discourse with the campus community. On the other hand he also banned students’ radical journal Cheche

Once change that Ginwala brought about in the newsroom was redacting the Reuters wire stories, getting rid of terms like “Viet Cong” and swapping them with “the Vietnamese Liberation Front”. This didn’t go down well with the western diplomats. Yet Nyerere urged the paper to refrain from self-censorship. At one point he complained that his photograph appeared too often.

Ginwala accepted the job on condition that there would be no state interference in running the paper. Nyerere in response gave her a Charter saying a socialist paper has to be people’s paper. I remember it was framed and displayed in the foyer. Ginwala told her editorial staff that what was needed in Tanzania was a committed paper, not a neutral paper. “We are not going to pretend to be objective,” she stressed

Yet to make it clear who was the boss Nyerere appointed himself the Editor-in-chief. And so when Nyerere wanted something published editorially, a despatch would arrive from the State House, asking nothing to be changed. President Nyerere also came to the newsroom and gave a talk on the party policy.

True to the Charter, Ginwala tried to run the Standard as people’s paper. Readers were encouraged to express their opinions and the Readers’ Forum sometimes ran up to three pages. . It was through this column that the abuse of Zanzibari Indian girls forced into marriage with aged politicians was first exposed and eventually stopped

Ginwala also took to heart Nyerere’s advice for the Standard to criticise government when it failed to meet its own criteria. The paper ran a story regarding the detention of a Nigerian doctoral student from the LSE who was conducting a research on Chinese activity in Tanzania.

He was detained for thirty-nine days without being taken to court. Once released he gave an interview to the Standard, describing the jail condition as ‘animalistic and inhumane.’ He also gave details of people detained for “political reasons”, including foreign citizens. As a follow up the paper then ran an editorial saying:

Ginwala at the Standard (Picture: Adarsh Nayar)

“There is today an atmosphere of fear and intimidation which prevents people from raising and exposing illegal actions. …..If the people allow themselves to be intimidated, and by their silence act as if they are living in a police state, they will run the danger of creating one.”

The last straw was when the Standard ran an editorial condemning the massacre carried out by President Jaafar Nimeiry of Sudan. What happened was that Idi Amin of Uganda was very hostile towards Tanzania and Nyerere had few allies, one of them being Nimeiry who was briefly ousted in a short-lived left-wing coup in 1971.

Within a few days Nimeiry bounced back with the help of his loyalists. He then embarked on summary execution of young communist military officers who staged the aborted coup.

The Standard editorial slammed Nimeiry, calling him ‘a butcher,’ adding that if one stages a coup in future it would be better to kill the head of state than leave him alive.

Apparently, Ginwala was not informed that Nimeiry, a strong ally of Nyerere, was scheduled to visit Tanzania. The last thing Nyerere wanted was his government paper to stir up diplomatic tension over Nimeiry’s bloody purge. That was not his idea of a free press

And so Nyerere immediately relieved Ginwala of her job, less than 18 months after he appointed her. She was out of the country on the first flight. Though Ginwala was responsible for approving the editorial, it was actually written by her foreign editor Richard Gott who was also given a marching order.

This was the second time Ginwala is kicked out from Tanzania by Nyerere. Twenty four years later in 1995 he was destined to be welcomed to the South African parliament by Ginwala as the first post-apartheid speaker.  Nyerere came face to face with his former managing editor who introduced Mwalimu to the MPs and welcomed him to address them.

Possibly Speaker Ginwala was reflecting how, with Nyerere, she lost two battles in Dar es Salaam but won the war. Back in Tanzania Nyerere eventually guided Tanzania’s return to multiparty politics.

That was Ginwala who returned home after being in exile for 31 years. From 1994 she led the Parliament with a firm and fair hand for a decade.

During the exile she played remarkable role in the struggle against patriarchy within the ANC. She worked with Women’s Section to ensure that ANC principles were non-sexist. After a long and arduous process she set up the ANC’s Emancipation Commission in 1991, devoted to fighting sexism in the movement.

Eventually all ANC documents ensured a “non-sexist democracy”. During the constitutional debates Ginwala helped set up the Women’s National Coalition with the aim of drawing a women’s charter. She ensured that gender equality was firmly embedded in the country’s 1996 constitution. Ginwala was awarded The Order of Luthuli for her “excellent contribution to the struggle against gender oppression and her tireless contribution to the struggle for a non-sexist, non-racial, just and democratic society.”


  • Was born in Zanzibar and is citizen of Tanzania. Intellectually nurtured at the University of Dar es Salaam, he is educator by training and writer by passion. He spends time in Tanzania and Canada, and is reachable at

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