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The Black Sash was a non-violent white women's resistance organization that was founded on 19 May 1955 in South Africa by Jean Sinclair, Ruth Foley, Elizabeth McLaren, Tertia Pybus, Jean Bosazza, and Helen Newton-Thompson. The founding members gathered for tea in Johannesburg before they decided to organize a movement against the Senate Act. They succeeded to hold a vigil of 2 000 women who marched from Joubert Park to the city hall.
The name of the organization was inspired by women wearing black sashes over one shoulder as they held silent vigils against discriminatory laws.
The Black Sash initially campaigned against the removal of Coloured (mixed-race) voters from the voters' roll in the Cape Province by the National Party government. As the apartheid system began to reach into every aspect of South African life, Black Sash members demonstrated against the Pass Laws and the introduction of other apartheid legislation. In a speech by Marcella Naidoo, National Director of the Black Sash, in June 2005, she said that its members "used the relative safety of their privileged racial classification to speak out against the erosion of human rights in the country. Their striking black sashes were worn as a mark of mourning and to protest against the succession of unjust laws. But they were not only on the streets. Volunteers spent many hours in the national network of advice offices and in the monitoring of courts and pass offices."
Between 1955 and 1994, the Black Sash provided widespread and visible proof of white resistance towards the apartheid system. Its members worked as volunteer advocates to families affected by apartheid law, held regular street demonstrations, spoke at political meetings, brought cases of injustice to the attention of their Members of Parliament, and kept vigils outside Parliament and government offices. Many members were vilified within their local white communities, and women wearing the black sash were often physically attacked by supporters of apartheid.
In 1983, the organization called for the abolition of military conscription.
The Black Sash's resistance movement came to an end in the early 1990s with the end of apartheid, the unbanning of the African National Congress and the release of Nelson Mandela from imprisonment. The role of the organization was recognised by Mandela in the first speech that followed his release and by subsequent political leaders.
The organisation was reformed in 1995 as a non-racial humanitarian organisation, working to "make human rights real for all living in South Africa."
In May 2015, the organization celebrated its 60th anniversary as it shifted its focus towards education, training, advocacy and community monitoring. The celebration of the Black Sash history was also marked by the launching of two books, namely Standing on Street Corners: a History of the Natal Midlands Region of the Black Sash and a biography by Annemarie Hendrikz.
- The Beginning of the Sash 1955-1956
- "STANDING ON STREET CORNERS" (PDF). 2015.
- sahoboss (2011-03-31). "Black Sash". South African History Online. Retrieved 2017-12-28.
- Gasa, Nomboniso (2007). Women in South African History: They Remove Boulders and Cross Rivers. HSRC Press. ISBN 9780796921741.
- "'The conscience of white South Africa': Celebrating the Black Sash, 60 years later | Daily Maverick". www.dailymaverick.co.za. Retrieved 2017-12-28.
- Official website
- Bernstein, H., 1975. For their triumphs and for their tears - Women in Apartheid South Africa, International Defence & Aid Fund, London, United Kingdom.
- A small collection of Black Sash papers can be found at the Borthwick Institute, University of York