Biography of Amina Cachalia

Amina Cachalia was born in Johannesburg to a politically conscious family which played a meaningful role in the struggles led by Mahatma Gandhi.

From an early age, Cachalia was a member of the Transvaal Indian Congress and her father was Chairperson of its forerunner, the Transvaal British Indian Association. Through the political work of this organisation she soon became involved with the African National Congress (ANC).

As a member of the ANC, in the early 1950s, Cachalia worked hard to make the Defiance Campaign a success by distributing leaflets, making home visits and recruiting volunteers. She was arrested and sentenced to 14 days in Boksburg Prison for her participation in the Germiston March.

Cachalia was particularly concerned about the oppression of women. This concern led her instrumental role in launching the Women’s Progressive Union in 1948, an organisation that aimed to make women financially independent. In 1954, she took the lead in launching, together with other leading women of the movement, the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) of which she became Treasurer. FEDSAW’s immediate objective was to oppose the proposed extension of pass laws to Black women, a campaign which culminated on 9 August 1956 in a national march of 20 000 women of all races to the Union Buildings to present their petition against pass laws – a day celebrated in South Africa as Women’s Day.

In the early 1980s, after three consecutive banning orders amounting to 15 years of house arrest, Cachalia supported the campaign to oppose the Tricameral Parliament, a sham institution through which the nationalist Government hoped to co-opt Coloured and Indian communities by giving them a limited measure of political rights. The Transvaal Indian Congress was revived and the United Democratic Front was formed to oppose the new dispensation.

As a measure of the high regard with which Amina Cachalia is held, she was offered high office by the first democratic Government, which she modestly declined.


Last Modified: Tue, 16 May 2017 14:33:39 SAST