Ayesha “Bibi” Dawood

Ayesha Dawood with her family. Private collection
Ayesha Dawood with her family. Private collection

Unionist | ANC Member | Federation of South African Women Member

Born: 31 January 1927 Died: 1 June 2014

“It does not matter what race you belong to, we must all pull together. We shall not retreat.”

Who is
Ayesha “Bibi” Dawood?

Political activist and trade unionist, she was arrested and charged as part of the Treason Trial and eventually forced into exile for 23 years.

and Roles

Activist, trade unionist, African National Congress (ANC) member.

Best Known For

Anti-apartheid activism as part of the African National Congress (ANC) and the Committee of Women.

Life highlights

  • In 1951, Dawood volunteered to organise a one-day strike as part of the trade union movement.
  • Shortly after the strike, Dawood and her friends formed the Worcester United Action Committee, of which she was elected Secretary. The Committee addressed problems related to pass laws, housing, and increasing rentals.
  • During the Defiance Campaign of 1951, Dawood worked closely with the ANC in calling for volunteers to defy apartheid laws. By July 1952, the Committee had taken the lead in the Western Cape, with over 800 people joining the Campaign.
  • By 1953, Dawood had become a member of the ANC and was sent by the Committee of Women, a predecessor of the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW), to Copenhagen for an International Democratic Federation Conference for Women.
  • In 1955, Dawood was charged with inciting hostility against Europeans and sentenced to  nine months under the Suppression of Communism Act. The sentence was suspended.
  • In 1956, Dawood was arrested and charged with high treason along with 155 others as part of the Treason Trial.
  • In 1961, Dawood married Yusuf Mukadam, who had followed her back to South Africa from India. Mukadam was soon arrested for entering the country illegally, and the security police threatened Dawood that her husband would not be allowed to remain in the country unless she agreed to work for them. She refused and was promptly served with a permanent exit permit out of the country. She left for India in 1968 where she and her family were granted full citizenship and they stayed with Mukadam’s family in the remote village of Sarwa.
  • During her stay in India, Dawood and her family fought hard to return to South Africa. Eventually, her children were issued with South African passports. After 23 years, Dawood returned to South Africa as one of thousands of exiles when all political parties were unbanned in 1990.


“It does not matter what race you belong to, we must all pull together. We shall not retreat.”

– Ayesha Dawood


“Her sacrifices for a free and democratic South Africa will never be forgotten.”

-Danielle Melville, Nelson Mandela Foundation spokesperson

Dawood’s awareness of the apartheid laws, particularly the Group Areas Act and the pass laws, began as a young girl, while reading the newspaper to her father.


Audio Visual

President Mandela gives his State of the Nation address in Parliament. Mandela ends his address with the words, “Let us all get down to work”.

“We must construct that people-centred society of freedom in such a manner that it guarantees the political and the human rights of all our citizens.”– President Mandela, extract from State of the Nation Address, 24 May 1994

President Nelson Mandela announces his cabinet. It includes members of the African National Congress, National Party and Inkatha Freedom Party.

“There was pride in serving in the first democratic government in South Africa, and then the additional pride of serving under the iconic leadership of Nelson Mandela … [He] represented the hopes of not just our country, but of oppressed, marginalised and the poor in the world.”– Jay Naidoo, then Minister of RDP housing
“We place our vision of a new constitutional order for South Africa on the table not as conquerors, prescribing to the conquered. We speak as fellow citizens to heal the wounds of the past with the intent of constructing a new order based on justice for all.”– President Nelson Mandela, 10 May 1994