Sister Bernard Ncube was born Nekie Zellie Ncube in 1932 in Johannesburg, South Africa. In 1955, she joined the Companions of Saint Angela and worked as an elementary school teacher for over twenty years at St. Mary’s School in Kagiso. In the wake of Vatican II reforms, for the first time in its history, Ncube’s order was led by a black superior, Sister Mary Modise. Modise’s leadership of the Companions of Saint Angela coincided with the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference’s (SACBC) shift toward explicit opposition to apartheid. Ncube participated in the opposition, helping found the SACBC supported Sisters Project with the Cabra Dominican Margaret Kelly. The Sisters Project worked to mobilize women religiously against the apartheid state. Police arrested Ncube in 1983 and jailed her for four months for possessing illegal literature at her convent. Later that year, Ncube spoke on “Black Women’s Liberation Theology” at the Institute of Contextual Theology.
Ncube worked against apartheid throughout the 1980s and drew fellow sisters from her Companions of Saint Angela order into the movement. Along with other sisters, Ncube was arrested and jailed on multiple occasions, once for sixteen months. As apartheid was legally dismantled in the early-1990s, Ncube’s labors gained international recognition. Ncube was elected to parliament in 1994 and then won a mayoral seat in 2002. She was a consistent champion of the rights of women and children during her political career. Ncube died in Edenvale, a suburb of Johannesburg, in 2012.
This biography was excerpted and adapted by Tyler Lenocker from Catherine Higgs, “Silence, Disobedience, and African Catholic Sisters in Apartheid South Africa,” African Studies Review 54.2 (2011): 1-22.