The Board of Trustees and staff of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation (AKF) are deeply saddened by the passing of Ms Maniben Sita on Wednesday, 7 July 2021, at the age of 94. She had contracted Covid-19, and spent the last week at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Tshwane.


We remember Maniben for her courageous and principled opposition to apartheid for over five decades, her contribution to building a democratic South Africa and her lifelong commitment to the cause of freedom, non-racialism and justice. Maniben epitomised the qualities of a great freedom fighter. She was eloquent, stirring on a public platform, fearless in the face of repression, principled in her opposition, and unwavering in her
commitment.


Born on 24 December 1926 in the Asiatic Bazaar in Pretoria to Nana and Pemi Sita. Nana Sita was born in 1898 in India, who came to South Africa at the age of 15 looking for better economicopportunities. The young Nana found his way to Pretoria and lived with J.P. Vyas to study
bookkeeping. Also living at the house was the lawyer Mohandas K. Gandhi – better known as Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi was to have profound influence on Nana who became a satyagrahi (passive resister), a freedom fighter and a lifelong vegetarian.

Nana Sita went on to become the secretary of the Pretoria Branch of the Transvaal Indian Congress (TIC), and later when Yusuf Dadoo
was banned, President of the TIC. When the Group Areas Act came into effect in the 1950s, he steadfastly refused to move out of the declared white suburb of Hercules in Pretoria to the newly established township of Laudium, and was jailed several times as a result. He became known
throughout South Africa and the world for his principled stand against an unjust and repressive law.


From a young age, Maniben participated and supported her father in his political and community work. During the 1946 Passive Resistance Campaign, she led a group of women resisters to Durban and courted arrest, spending three weeks in jail. Maniben in an interview said that five members of her family were imprisoned during this campaign. She also participated in the Defiance Campaign of 1952, and spent three months in jail for sitting on a white railway bench in defiance of racial
segregation. In December 1963, she joined Dr Zainup Asvat in a march to the Union Buildings to oppose the Group Areas Act, and the establishment of the puppet South African Indian Council.

Nana Sita encourage all seven of his children – Ramlal, Pranlal, Maniben, Shivlal, Jethalal, Niroo and
Urmila – to educate themselves, to be active participants in community issues and the struggle for
justice and democracy. He encouraged Maniben to study and she obtained a BA degree and
qualified as a teacher in 1957. Ten years later, after the transfer of schools catering for South African
Indians from the Transvaal Department of Education to the Department of Indian Affairs, Maniben
resigned in protest against apartheid education.
After the passing of her father in 1969, Maniben together with her mother and siblings continued to
defy the Group Areas Act by remaining on their property in Hercules. In 1976, however, they were
forcibly moved to Laudium, when threatened with expropriation. Maniben and her mother lived
together until the death of her mother in 1980, and then she lived alone. She continued her activism
in Laudium, and when students at the Laudium High School and Himalaya Secondary School
embarked on the 1980 school boycotts, Maniben immediately pledged her solidarity.
In 1981, she actively campaigned for a boycott of the elections for the South African Indian Council,
which was created as a toothless advisory body by the apartheid government. In May 1983, with the
resuscitation of the Transvaal Indian Congress (TIC) Maniben was elected on to its council, and her


From a young age, Maniben participated and supported her father in his political and community
work. During the 1946 Passive Resistance Campaign, she led a group of women resisters to Durban
and courted arrest, spending three weeks in jail. Maniben in an interview said that five members of
her family were imprisoned during this campaign. She also participated in the Defiance Campaign of
1952, and spent three months in jail for sitting on a white railway bench in defiance of racial
segregation. In December 1963, she joined Dr Zainup Asvat in a march to the Union Buildings to
oppose the Group Areas Act, and the establishment of the puppet South African Indian Council.
Nana Sita encourage all seven of his children – Ramlal, Pranlal, Maniben, Shivlal, Jethalal, Niroo and
Urmila – to educate themselves, to be active participants in community issues and the struggle for
justice and democracy. He encouraged Maniben to study and she obtained a BA degree and
qualified as a teacher in 1957. Ten years later, after the transfer of schools catering for South African
Indians from the Transvaal Department of Education to the Department of Indian Affairs, Maniben
resigned in protest against apartheid education.
After the passing of her father in 1969, Maniben together with her mother and siblings continued to
defy the Group Areas Act by remaining on their property in Hercules. In 1976, however, they were
forcibly moved to Laudium, when threatened with expropriation. Maniben and her mother lived
together until the death of her mother in 1980, and then she lived alone. She continued her activism
in Laudium, and when students at the Laudium High School and Himalaya Secondary School
embarked on the 1980 school boycotts, Maniben immediately pledged her solidarity.
In 1981, she actively campaigned for a boycott of the elections for the South African Indian Council,
which was created as a toothless advisory body by the apartheid government. In May 1983, with the
resuscitation of the Transvaal Indian Congress (TIC) Maniben was elected on to its council, and her

brother Ramlal Bhoolia elected as the Chair of the Executive. Soon thereafter, the United Democratic
Front was established with the TIC as a founder affiliate.
The first major campaign undertaken by the TIC and UDF was to call for a boycott of the elections for
the House of Delegate. This was part of the apartheid government’s reform strategy of co-opting
South African Indians and Coloured with limited power sharing in a tri-cameral parliamentary
system. This sought to isolate the African majority and deflect the demand for equal, democratic
rights. Maniben addressed several rallies in the then Transvaal and Natal in support of the boycott.
Her popularity on public platforms was based on her fiery speeches in perfect English, emanating
from a diminutive, elderly, white sari-clad woman! On Election Day in August 1984, Maniben and
playwright and educationist Dr Muthal Naidoo, clad in black, stood outside in protest at the polling
booth at the Laudium Civic Centre.
Maniben actively participated in many of the struggles against apartheid that intensified in the
1980s. Activists fondly remember her driving her bakkie to numerous meetings, demonstrations and
events. She willingly addressed public rallies in the face of intensifying repression. She insisted on
travelling by bus in July 1985 to the funeral of Mathew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkhonto and
Sicelo Mlauli, UDF activists who were brutally killed by the apartheid regime. She was arrested
together with several other comrades on the bus as it was returning to Johannesburg on the first day
of the State of Emergency that was declared the night before. Maniben spent 87 days in solitary
confinement at the Johannesburg Prison (known as Sun City). On her release, she remained
undeterred and continued to fight for a free and democratic South Africa.
She was elated by the unbanning of the ANC and the release of Nelson Mandela in February 1990.
She served one term as ANC ward councillor for Laudium in Pretoria. Maniben was deeply saddened
by the corruption and malfeasance so prevalent over the last few years. She was unequivocal in her
call for ethical governance and upstanding elected representatives and public servants. Maniben
remained steadfast in her support for oppressed people all over the world. At the age of 91, she
attended a demonstration at the Union Buildings in support of Palestinian prisoners marking a forty-
day hunger strike.
Maniben always said that she was not a politician, that her activism stemmed from her strong belief
that all people were born equal regardless of race, class, creed or religion. She extended this
compassion to all living creatures, and was an ardent vegetarian and a pacifist.
She loved gardening, and grew fruit and vegetables. She meticulously authored a book of vegetarian
recipes, testing, recording and photographing each recipe. She studied the art of yoga, saying it kept
the mind sharp and the body supple. She took a vow of celibacy, never married and had no children.
She used to say the world and its creatures were her children. She took a great interest in the lives of
her nieces and nephews, and their children.
As Maniben got frailer with age, she could no longer manage to live on her own. She then moved to
the Laudium Retirement Home last year. After testing positive for Covid-19 and developing
complications, she was transferred to the Steve Biko Academic Hospital where she sadly passed
away.
Maniben is survived by her two sisters, Niroo and Urmila, twenty-one nieces and nephews, twenty-
eight grand nieces and nephews and one great grand nephew.
Hamba kahle Maniben Sita – a beacon of light, a pillar of strength and a strong moral compass.

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In pursuing its core objective
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