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21 Icons Season II featuring fourth icon Frene Ginwala


Frene Ginwala “The hallmark of a good leader is that you don’t see yourself as a leader. Leadership is about listening to people, setting an example, thinking about the issues from all aspects and then leading by example, not just making speeches.”

On 24 August 2014 at 20h27 on SABC 3, 21 ICONS season two features Frene Ginwala, the first female speaker at the National Assembly of South Africa. The preview is available on YouTube.

This episode is the fourth in the series, which pays homage to the men and women whose courage, passion, dedication and vision has not only helped to shape our country, but whose influence has had a global impact. These are the heroes of South Africa; people we look up to and whose legacies linger.

In addition to the short films, where each subject speaks frankly about their accomplishments, the challenges they have faced and the motivations that have propelled them forward, 21 ICONS further comprises a series of black and white portraits featuring each of these role models. These portraits will appear in the weekend paper on the same day as the short films are flighted.

Filmmaker and photographer Adrian Steirn has succeeded in capturing the essence of what makes these people great in pictures that make an evocative statement about who they are and how they have contributed to our country. To watch the 21 ICONS promo video, visit:

Ginwala’s portrait depicts an icon who is  incredibly adaptable, as Frene can turn her mind to almost anything to master any issue within a very short space of time including becoming the first female Speaker of the National Assembly. It also reflects her anecdote about being the travel agent that facilitated people’s departure into Africa in the early 60s,” comments Steirn.

Frene Ginwala

The portraits will be auctioned at a charity event later this year. Ginwala has nominated Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation Trust as the recipient of the funds generated through the sale of her portrait.

Given her upbringing, Ginwala’s entrance into politics was almost inevitable. She explains to Steirn that her political consciousness was created by her parents, who were always reminding her and her sister that they were privileged.

By the time Ginwala went to study law overseas, she was an active member of the Indian Congress, which by then had joined forces with the ANC. Her involvement with the latter organisation increased when, after her return from her studies, she was approached by Walter Sisulu to set up an external mission, a process that gained momentum after the Sharpeville Massacre and subsequent banning of the ANC. Ginwala admits that she didn’t know how to set up the mission, or even how to help the exiles gain entry into other countries – but she did have a particularly valuable resource: a passport.

With her return to South Africa came a new position within the ANC: although she had planned to set up the organisation’s research department, Nelson Mandela informed her he wanted her to be parliamentary speaker. Ginwala reveals that she had wanted to turn down her nomination for the role, but with the entire leadership backing Mandela’s proposal, she felt there was no point in saying no.

Looking back, she is able to see the mark she left on her country. “I believed I strengthened and transformed the parliament, which is what we needed to do. We started that parliament with a blank sheet; there were no traditions and no precedents as far as the ANC was concerned, because there had been no democracy. If you don’t have democracy, you don’t have a parliament.”

She believes challenges can be overcome, with good leadership and input from all members of society. “We need a South Africa in which the population as a whole – men, women, poor, rich – has a say, knowing their views and attitudes are taken into account,” she states.


Frene Ginwala, former Speaker at the National Assembly, talks to filmmaker Adrian Steirn about how she helped struggle leaders into exile during Apartheid, her role as the first speaker in South Africa’s democratic parliament, and her multifaceted career.



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