The Black Sash

February 1968 issue
The history of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), African National Congress (ANC), South African Students' Organization (SASO), and the fight for liberation in South Africa is well known. Less well known is the organization called The Black Sash. This organization of volunteers began in May 1955, when six white women met to try to figure out what they could do to protest against the Nationalist Party, the architects of Apartheid, which was making a mockery of the Constitution which had been created in 1909.

On the 25th May 1955, 2,500 women marched in Pretoria to protest. So infuriated were these women, they drew up two petitions to be sent to Parliament, to be signed by women only. Against all odds, delays, and other obstacles, they gathered 100,000 signatures. In vain. Thus was born a movement that would work assiduously, bearing Gandhi's principles of non-violence in mind, to defeat Apartheid, to bear witness to atrocities, to mourn the removal of rights and dignities, to provide moral support and courage to those treated unjustly, to stand vigil against the moral turpitude of the supporters of Apartheid. More often than not, these women were pelted with eggs, tomatoes, and verbal abuse as they stood silent, the least they could do in the face of the violence being done to Non-White people and the trampling of democratic principles.

Black Sash protesting Group Areas Act, Capetown 1956. Shirley Singer far right
The Black Sash protested against every move made by the Nationalist Party to control the lives of all people in South Africa, but especially Coloureds, Indians, Africans. The Nationalists used propaganda, disinformation, brain washing, and violence in the attempt to create a society in the image of Nazi Germany: the superiority of the Aryan "race". They tried divide and conquer amongst different white constituencies. They legislated relationships, they created fear of the "other", they distorted and contorted geography.

 After the first free elections in South Africa in 1994, the Black Sash met to ascertain what transformation they needed to go through to serve the challenges and encourage the success of the new South Africa.  Two videos recently produced explain where they came from (first) and where they are going (second).


The Black Sash Trustees produced a Position Statement September 2012 that sets forth their vision. Their website is well worth perusing to see examples of their work, to marvel at how an organization adapts to changing times and needs, to get inspiration for what is possible.

In memory of Shirley Gersohn Singer, 24 July 1929-2 January 2009

1 comment:

  1. Dear Hazel,
    What a lovely email to receive this morning as I start in the office for 2013! It is incredibly encouraging to know you are thinking of us - and urging others to do so - so far across the world! And particularly special given your mother's affiliation with the Black Sash.
    Thank you very much for your affirming statements about our ability to transform - change is never an easy business, as you will know, but we believe we owe it to ourselves and to the ongoing struggle for human rights in South Africa, to continue to do so. I look forward to us keeping in touch.
    Very best wishes also to you for your important work.

    Jane Coombe
    Acting National Director
    National Programme Manager
    Black Sash Trust
    Elta House
    3 Caledonian Street