Helen Joseph

Helen Joseph

Date: July 17, 2011
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Because it is women’s month we feature someone from the past – a woman who fought for freedoms that South Africa currently enjoys, yet are largely unknown by many.

A tireless campaigner for women’s rights and antiapartheid stalwart Helen Joseph (née Fennell) was born in Sussex, England, on 8 April 1905. She grew up in London and graduated with a degree in English from the University of London in 1927. She taught in India for three years, then came to live in Durban in 1930 where she met and married dentist, Billie Joseph.

Joseph served in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force during World War II as an information and welfare officer, which exposed her to some of the realities of South African life. After the war she took a job with the Garment Workers Union led by Solly Sachs. She was a founding member of the Congress of Democrats. Appalled by the plight of black women, she played a pivotal role in the formation of the Federation of South African Women in the 1950s. She was one of the leaders who read out clauses of the Freedom Charter at the Congress of the People in Kliptown in 1955. She was one of the organisers of the Women’s March on 9 August 1956 in which 20 000 women walked to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against the pass laws. Today, 9 August is celebrated as Women’s Day in South Africa.

Joseph was arrested on a charge of high treason in December 1956 and banned in 1957. In October 1962 Joseph became the first person to be placed under house arrest under the Sabotage Act, which had just been introduced by the apartheid government. She survived several assassination attempts, including bullets fired through her bedroom window and a bomb wired to her gate. She was diagnosed with cancer in 1971 and her banning orders were lifted for a short time before being reinstated for two years in 1980. Her last banning order was lifted when she turned 80.

Helen Joseph died on 25 December 1992 in Johannesburg aged 87. She was awarded the ANC’s highest award, the Isitwalandwe/Seaparankoe Medal for her devotion to the liberation struggle.

Source: http://showme.co.za/durban/lifestyle/women%E2%80%99s-rights-champion/


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