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The unveiling of Vesta Smith and Cecile Palmer

The unveiling of Vesta Smith and Cecile Palmer.

The unveiling of Vesta Smith and Cecile Palmer

On Saturday the 23rd of July, Community Developmental Projects attended the tombstone unveiling of the late Vesta Smith and her daughter Cecelia (Cecile) Palmer. Both Vesta and Cecile were well respected and influential in the community of Noordgesig.


Vesta Smith was a member of the African National Congress (ANC) and worked closely with Albertina and Walter Sisulu. She participated in anti-pass campaigns, attended the Congress of the People in Kliptown and was an ANC volunteer. Ma Vesta or Ma V – as she is affectionately known in Soweto and Noordgesig– served on the Executive Committee of the Black People’s Convention. In mid-1976‚ after the student uprising in Soweto‚ Vesta and ten other women  who were all largely members of the newly formed Federation of Black Women were detained under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act and placed in solidarity confinement. Amongst the women detained were  Winnie Mandela ,Fatima Meer, and her daughter Cecile Palmer who was pregnant at the time.. They were held at the Old Fort from August to December 1976 in terms of the Internal Security Act. In 1980, Ma V was arrested in terms of the Prohibition of Illegal Gatherings Act, held for four months awaiting trial and then given a five-year suspended sentence. She was prohibited from attending gatherings and speaking publicly from 1980 to 1990 when the ANC was unbanned.


Ma Vesta was a founding member of the United Democratic Front. She was co-chair of the Anti-President’s Council Committee and participated in door-to-door work to dissuade people from voting for the Presidents Council. She was co-chair of the Federation of Transvaal Women and was a member of the Federation of South African Women. She was detained in 1986 together with her three sons and held at the Johannesburg Prison for 10 months under the State of Emergency Regulations. She spent her adult life serving the community, worked to develop the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) and assisted detainees throughout the 1980s. She worked at the Christian Institute with Dr Beyers Naude and Horst Kleinsmidt until it was banned. She also worked at the South African Committee for Higher Education as an administrator before joining the LRC.

Vesta Smith has lived for the struggle for freedom and never gave up hope for liberation. Banning’s, detentions and harassment by the system never broke her spirit and belief in the future, free from apartheid. Instead, she resolutely resolved to intensify her fight against institutionalised racism. She is a brave woman committed to her country and the principles of a non-racial, non-sexist and united South Africa.

Ma V is well respected in the community of Noordgesig and  line many other community members was an active member of her church. She is a role-model for many female activists who played a role in dismantling apartheid.

Cecilie Palmer has been described as a soldier who was committed to empowering women . During her life time she encouraged women to continue being dedicated to achieving the goal of free , a non-racial and non-sexist South Africa. She served in the United Democratic Front, the Federation of Transvaal Women, the Legal Resource Centre, and many other women’s organisations. Before her arrest she was also active in the National Union of South African Students on the University of the Witwatersrand campus. She had additionally , been involved in the organising of a conference where intellectuals such as Mamphela Ramphele, Jakes Gerwel and Herbert Vilakazi spoke. Cecile Palmer also participated in the founding of the Women’s Institute for Leadership, Development and Democracy (WILDD) in 1994, which was widely consulted, with assistance from Oom Beyers Naude, and funded by Swedish women. She also worked at the Constitutional Hill (Women’s Jail) until her passing in 2019.


Sawid was fortunate to have Cecilie Palmer as a keynote speaker at its July 2018 Gauteng Provincial Dialogue. At the Dialogue she noted that “the women’s movement has not been able to move forward and is not where it should be, even after many years of meetings and engagements; this is because women are fragmented along political lines, by religion, race and class”.

She also suggested that unused factories in communities be used as rehabilitative and recreational spaces for youth, suggesting that medical doctors, counsellors, teachers and social workers in communities be invited to support such a project and find ways of making it a success. This highlights her concern of creating a better future for the youth , just like her mother.

The family of Vesta and Cecile, friends and community members were amongst the attendees of the unveiling. The words spoken of both Vesta and Cecile were very affectionate while highlighting and admiring their strength and influence .  It is evident that their spirits will continue to live on in those who loved them .



(Adapted from “ The Presidency” , accessed on 5 August 2022 : https://www.thepresidency.gov.za/national-orders/recipient/vesta-smith-1922

“IOL” accesed on 5 August 2022 : https://www.iol.co.za/capetimes/news/fearless-activist-cecilie-palmer-mourned-19112395

“Power 98.7 accesssed on 5 August 2022 : https://www.power987.co.za/news/struggle-stalwart-remembered-for-her-fight-for-womens-emancipation/


NCEP aspires to achieve our mission and vision through response programming in different sectors of operations, including Education and Training, Arts, Culture and Recreation, History and Story-Telling,and  Civil  Society  Capacity  Development sectors