Bio of the Week

To commemorate Women's Month, the FrankTalk blog will feature women, mothers of the nation, who have been instrumental to South Africa's journey to democracy.  This week we profile, Dr. Brigalia Bam.

Dr. Brigalia N. Bam

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Democracy has to take root in each and every corner of the country. We will work with all organs of civil society, including churches and non-governmental organisations to build strong strategic partnerships to ensure that every South African is able to exercise their democratic right to register and vote in the elections.” – Brigalia Bam

Brigalia Bam, a social activist and writer, was born in 1933 in the former Transkei, in the Eastern Cape. Bam studied and worked as a teacher, and also received further education in social work, communication and management. She received her post graduate degree in social work from the University of Chicago.

Dr. Bam has held various prestigious positions both domestically and internationally. From 1994 to 1998 Bam was the General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches. She also co-founded and became the president of the Women’s Development Foundation in 1998, has been a board member of the Malta Trust as well as the South African Broadcasting Corporation. From 1999 until her retirement in 2011, Bam was the Chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa. She currently serves as the Chancellor of Walter Sisulu University and is Chairperson of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation.

South Africa has become familiar with Bam’s fierce leadership and wise counsel that has seen the country through many difficult times, and for this she is an important and valuable asset to South Africa.

Brigalia’s hard work and leadership has been widely recognized by organizations and South African citizens. In 1999, Bam was awarded the Order of Simon Cyrene; the highest award given by the Anglican Church of Southern Africa for her dedication to the religious practice of service. In 2000, Bam was given the S.A.W.W. (South African Women for Women) Award in Social Justice.  Bam was also awarded the Order of Baobab; a South African honour established in 2002 which is granted by the president of the country to distinguished individuals in fields of service.

In 2013 Brigalia Bam was awarded the Mahatma Ghandi Award for Peace and Reconciliation for her commitment to democracy. 

In addition to her accolades, Dr.Bam is also a published author.  Her book, Democracy, More Than Just Electionswas launched earlier this year.  Below is an excerpt in which Bam speaks about her relationship with Mandela:  

"My relationship with Madiba had come a long way. I had known him since 1955. I met him in Johannesburg when I was a student at the Jan Hofmeyr School of Social Work. In my first year I got to know Winnie Madikizela and Marcia Finca, who were in their second year but who were from my part of the world (the Transkei). They welcomed me as a “home girl” and we became friends. They showed me the ways of Joburg. One day, Winnie invited us to go with her to certain lawyers’ offices in town. Oliver Tambo was from her town in the Transkei, Bizana, and she wanted to pay him a courtesy call.

Buti (brother) Oliver Tambo received us warmly but seemed very reserved. Then in walked this tall, rather attractive person with a very fashionable parting in his hair. We all looked at him. He wanted to know who we were and where we came from, and offered us tea. We were feeling coy and shy. We ate lemon cream biscuits – the first time I had tasted them as I couldn’t afford them! We were fascinated with that name: Rolihlahla. We never called him Nelson. He was Buti Rolihlahla."

Dr. Bam is an illustrious and integral figure in South Africa’s social justice. An iconic and influential woman of leadership and power.

We salute you Qhawe lamaqhawe.


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