Sisisi “Sisi” Tolashe, also known as Nokuzola Gladys Tolashe, is an Eastern Cape-based South African politician. She was born on December 21, 1959. In July 2023, she was chosen to lead the African National Congress (ANC) Women’s League. Since March 2023, Tolashe has served as the government’s Deputy Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth, and Persons with Disabilities.
Between 2001 and 2008, Tolashe served in the Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature, and under President Angie Motshekga, she ascended to national political prominence as the Secretary-General of the ANC Women’s League. From July 2008 until her resignation in August 2015, she served as Secretary-General. From 2016 to 2018, she worked as a backbencher in the National Assembly. From 2018 to 2019, she was the mayor of the Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality in the Eastern Cape. Following the 2019 general election, she was elected back to the National Assembly, and President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed her to her deputy ministerial position in March 2023.
Since December 2022, Tolashe has been a member of the ANC National Executive Committee; she previously served on the body from 2007 to 2017.
Early life and activism
On December 21st, 1959, Tolashe was born in Queenstown, the old Cape Province. She joined the United Democratic Front and served in a number of civic organizations after becoming involved in anti-apartheid youth organizations. She was held without charge for five years in the 1980s—three years under the Internal Security Act’s Section 29 and two years under the rules in effect at the time.
Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature: 2001–2008
Tolashe filled a temporary vacancy in the African National Congress (ANC) caucus on January 29, 2001, by being sworn in to the Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature.Up until 2008, she was a member of the provincial legislature.
Tolashe was elected to a five-year term as a member of the ANC National Executive Committee when she was in office, in December 2007, at the 52nd National Conference of the mainstream ANC. She earned 1,574 votes from the nearly 4,000 conference attendees, making her the 59th-most popular candidate of the 80 ordinary members chosen to the committee. Her candidacy had been supported by the Congress of South African Trade Unions.
ANCWL Secretary-General: 2008–2015
She left the legislature after being elected to the full-time job of national secretary-general of the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL), which is housed in Luthuli House. At a league meeting in Bloemfontein on July 6, 2008, she was chosen to hold that position. She succeeded Bathabile Dlamini, who was defeated by Angie Motshekga in the race for the ANCWL leadership at the same conference. The chosen replacement for Tolashe is Mpai Mogori.
Tolashe was re-elected to the ANC National Executive Committee during the ANC’s 53rd National Conference in December 2012, coming in 56th place with 1,715 votes from 4,500 delegates.The ANCWL received criticism after the convention for not putting out female candidates for the highest leadership positions. Tolashe predicted that the mainstream ANC would elect a woman as president “in time” and added that while the time had not yet come, “I think we are almost there now.”
At the ANCWL’s subsequent elective conference, which was finally held in August 2015 after a lengthy delay, Motshekga and Tolashe were both ousted from the league’s leadership. Meokgo Matuba defeated Tolashe for the office of Secretary-General by 348 votes.
Return to government
National Assembly: 2016–2018
Tolashe was sworn in as an ANC representative in the National Assembly, the lower chamber of the South African Parliament, on September 5, 2016. She took over for the deceased Raesibe Nyalungu. She served as a representative on the portfolio committees for agriculture, forestry, and fisheries, as well as communications and digital technologies. Additionally, she continued to serve on the ANC National Executive Committee until the party’s 54th National Conference in December 2017, where she was unsuccessful in running for re-election and appeared to still support ANC President Jacob Zuma.
Less than two years were served by Tolashe in the National Assembly when she resigned on February 25, 2018, handing Daniel Jabu Kabini the seat.
Mayor of Enoch Mgijma: 2018–2019
Tolashe resigned from Parliament to accept the position of Executive Mayor of her native Eastern Cape community, the Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality. She was chosen to succeed the troubled Lindiwe Gunuza-Nkwentsha on February 26 as part of an ANC effort to stabilize poorly run towns.
She served as mayor for a very short time. She was selected to run for re-election to the National Assembly in the 2019 general election, coming in at number 11 on the ANC’s regional party list for the Eastern Cape seat. Sibusiso Mvana succeeded her as mayor following the election.
Return to the National Assembly: 2019–present
Tolashe was chosen to join the Standing Committee on Public Accounts and the Portfolio Committee on Transport upon her return to Parliament. Additionally, on June 24, 2020, she was chosen without opposition to lead the special parliamentary committee tasked with selecting Kimi Makwetu’s replacement as South Africa’s Auditor-General. In October, the committee finished its study and unanimously recommended Tsakani Maluleke for the job. Tolashe was chosen to serve on the Committee for Section 194 Enquiry into the Public Protector in 2021, another ad hoc committee.
Tolashe was chosen to join the Eastern Cape branch of the ANC’s 30-member Provincial Executive Committee in May 2022. She was narrowly elected to the National Executive Committee during the ANC’s 55th National Conference in December, coming in at 77th place out of 80 members with 973 votes from the 4,400 delegates. She reportedly supported Cyril Ramaphosa’s reelection as the head of the ANC at the conference; she had political ties to Oscar Mabuyane and his supporters in the Eastern Cape, a group commonly known as the Chris Hani Cabal.
Deputy Minister in the Presidency
In a cabinet reshuffle announced by President Ramaphosa on March 6, 2023, Tolashe was named as the Deputy Minister for the Presidency for Women, Youth, and Persons with Disabilities. Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who was also recently assigned to the portfolio, was her stand-in.
ANC Women’s League presidency
The ANCWL conducted its first elective conference in July 2023 following the 2015 gathering where Tolashe was ousted from the leadership. With the backing of Ramaphosa and his friends, including Pemmy Majodina and Angie Motshekga, Tolashe was seen as the front-runner for election to the league’s presidency. Lungi Gcabashe, Nokuthula Nqaba, and, up until her passing, Tina Joemat-Pettersson were among her running mates. She ran against the departing ANCWL President, Bathabile Dlamini, and Thembeka Mchunu ultimately won the election as another Ramaphosa supporter.
Tolashe earned 1,564 nominations from branches for the president position at the conference held on July 21–23, 2023, outnumbering Mchunu and Dlamini who received 796 and 258 nominations, respectively. On the last day of the conference, Tolashe was elected as the new president of the league. Mchunu and Dlamini garnered 1,038 and 170 votes, respectively, while Tolashe won 1,729 votes.
Rising through the Ranks
When Sisisi Tolashe was elected to the Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature in 2001, her political career flourished once more. She was elected to the ANC National Executive Committee during her time there, marking a crucial turning point in her ascent to national prominence.
Sisisi Tolashe made history in July 2008 when she was appointed Secretary-General of the ANC Women’s League to work with President Angie Motshekga. She was re-elected to the ANC National Executive Committee at the 53rd National Conference in December 2012 thanks to her leadership that was characterized by a dedication to social justice and women’s empowerment.
- Challenges and Triumphs
Sisisi Tolashe had outstanding accomplishments, however she encountered difficulties with the ANCWL leadership, which resulted in her removal from the Secretary-General position in August 2015. She didn’t let this dissuade her; from 2016 to 2018, she worked as a backbencher in the National Assembly.
When she accepted the position of mayor of the Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality in the Eastern Cape from 2018 to 2019, it was clear she was passionate about helping her community. Throughout her term, she put in a lot of effort to address governance difficulties and stabilize the town.
A Glorious Return
Sisisi Tolashe’s victory in the general election of 2019 and subsequent election to the National Assembly was evidence of her tenacity and steadfast commitment to public service. She continued to have an impact on the country’s legislative environment after being appointed to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts and the Portfolio Committee on Transport.
In a notable step, Sisisi Tolashe was named the Deputy Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth, and Persons with Disabilities during President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet reshuffle in March 2023. She attained this significant position in the government as a result of her dedication to advancing underprivileged groups and promoting the rights of women and young people.
The Crown Jewel: ANCWL Presidency
As she ran for the ANC Women’s League presidency in July 2023, Sisisi Tolashe experienced a turning point in her career. She was a strong candidate for the position due to her significant expertise, backing from President Ramaphosa and his allies, and other factors.
Sisisi Tolashe was elected as the new president of the ANCWL at the league’s election convention, where her vision and leadership were praised. Her victory received overwhelming support, heralding a new age of women’s empowerment and advancement in South Africa.
The biography of Sisisi “Sisi” Tolashe is an excellent example of a life spent battling for justice, equality, and the empowerment of women and young people. Her journey is an encouragement to future generations, from her early days as a brave activist to her current role as President of the ANC Women’s League. Her dedication to the people of South Africa remains unwavering as she continues to serve as the Deputy Minister in the Presidency, leaving an enduring imprint on the political landscape of the country.