When Julia Mavimbela was growing up in South Africa, she was required to learn both English and Afrikaans, even though her home language was Zulu. As she mastered seven languages, she became aware of the immense illiteracy problem among her countrymen, a problem she worked tirelessly to eliminate. After obtaining a degree in psychology, Julia became one of the first black female school principals in South Africa.
After her marriage to John Mavimbela, Julia started a women’s club called Homemakers that encouraged women to teach each other different homemaking skills. She later started another club to encourage thrift. Feeling an urgent need for all races to unite in solving problems, she helped found Women for Peace, an organization to sponsor activities and playgrounds and to protect the rights of citizens. She became a nationally recognised leader and champion of rights for the disadvantaged, especially black women and children.
She was also repeatedly elected the president of the National Council of African Women. In a speech addressing the council, she said, “It can, it should be a glorious thing to be a woman. It is important for women to be aware of their common lot. It is important for women to stand together and rise together to meet our common enemies—illiteracy, poverty, crime, disease....”
During political unrest throughout South Africa, Julia, now a widow with five children, sold the store she had run since her husband’s death to focus more on her children’s needs. “In addition to negotiating with national and community leaders, I began organic gardening with four to ten year olds, since many of their parents were out of work in the political disorder. Children began showing their parents gardening skills, which led to many family gardens.”
Part of the beauty Julia planted was in the hearts of the young. “When I was planting with them, I would say, ‘Now look, boys and girls, as we see this soil down here, it is solid and hard; but if we push down a spade or a fork, we will crack it and come out with lumps. And then if we break those lumps and throw in a seed, the seed will grow.' This is my message to young people. They should have it in their hearts. Let us dig the soil of bitterness, throw in a seed, show love, and see what fruits it can give. Love will not come without forgiving others.”
With all of her achievements and associations, none has meant as much to her as meeting two missionaries. One day Julia was asked to help lead a project to repair a library destroyed in one of the Soweto riots. She went to the site to see what she could do to help. There, she was shocked to see two young white men working in the dust and heat. Seeing white men in Soweto was rare, but seeing them do manual labour for black people was sheer fantasy. Curious, Julia approached them. They identified themselves as missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and invited her to hear their message.
“I was deeply impressed by the First Vision of the Prophet Joseph Smith, how he talked directly with God. Reading the Book of Mormon changed my whole life,” she said. She was a missionary to all she met and saw the baptisms of many of her friends and acquaintances in Soweto. She served as a Relief Society president and Gospel Doctrine teacher. “Being sealed to my husband and my parents was one of the most touching experiences of my life.” Julia worked in the temple every Saturday. Within those walls she found peace and love in joyful abundance.
The gospel, human rights, literacy, and self-sufficiency were the causes that defined her life and filled her days. She was honoured at BYU for her outstanding contribution to community and religion.
Watch a video about Julia Mavimbela