Helen Beatrice Joseph (Fennell)
|Birthplace:||Eastbourne, West Sussex, England|
|Death:||Died in Johannesburg, City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality, Gauteng, South Africa|
|Place of Burial:||South Africa|
|Occupation:||teacher, social worker, anti-apartheid activist|
|Managed by:||Sharon Doubell|
About Helen Joseph
Helen Beatrice Joseph (née Fennell) (8 April 1905 – 25 December 1992)
was born in Easebourne near Midhurst West Sussex, England and graduated from King's College London, in 1927. After working as a teacher in India for three years, Helen came to South Africa in 1931, where she met and married a dentist, Billie Joseph. She served in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force during World War II as an information and welfare officer. After the war and her divorce she trained as a social worker and started working in a community centre in a Coloured (mixed race) area of Cape Town.
In 1951 Helen took a job with the Garment Workers Union, led by Solly Sachs. She was a founder member of the Congress of Democrats, and one of the leaders who read out clauses of the Freedom Charter at the Congress of the People in Kliptown in 1955. Appalled by the plight of black women, she was pivotal in the formation of the Federation of South African Women and with the organisation's leadership, spearheaded a march of 20,000 women to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against pass laws on August 9, 1956. This day is still celebrated as South Africa's Women's Day.
She was a defendant at the 1956 Treason Trial. She was arrested on a charge of high treason in December 1956, then banned in 1957. The treason trial dragged on for four years but she was acquitted in 1961. In spite of her acquittal, in 13 October 1962, Helen became the first person to be placed under house arrest under the Sabotage Act that had just been introduced by the apartheid government. She narrowly escaped death more than once, surviving bullets shot through her bedroom and a bomb wired to her front gate. Her last banning order was lifted when she was 80 years old. Helen had no children of her own, but frequently stood in loco parentis for the children of comrades in prison or in exile. Among the children who spent time in her care were Winnie and Nelson Mandela's daughters Zinzi and Zenani and Bram Fischer's daughter Ilsa.
Helen Joseph died on the 25 December 1992 at the age of 87.
Places named for her include the former Davenport Road in Glenwood, Durban, the Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg, a student residence at Rhodes University (Grahamstown, South Africa), and a road in Rustenberg. The Road Name Change Act was initiated by the South African government in 2007 to rename streets, such as Davenport Road, that have names linked to pre-1994 colonialism.
Books by Helen Joseph
- If This Be Treason (1963) Andre Deutsch, London
- Tomorrow's Sun (1967) John Day Company, New York
- Side by Side (1987) autobiography, William Morrow & Co, New York ISBN 0688071031
- ^ Chris van Wyk (2003) Helen Joseph, Awareness Publishing, South Africa ISBN 1-919910-76-X
- ^ a b c Helen Rappaport (2001) Encyclopedia of Women Social Reformers, ABC-CLIO Inc., California ISBN 1-57607-101-4
Names: Joseph, Helen
Born: 8 April 1905, Midhurst, Sussex, England
Died: 25 December 1992, Johannesburg, Gauteng (then Transvaal)
In summary: Teacher, Social Worker and Political Activist.
Helen Beatrice May Fennell was born in Sussex, England, in 1905. She grew up in London, with her parents and brother, Frank. She graduated with a degree in English from the University of London in 1927.
She then taught for three years in India, at Mahbubia School, a school for girls in Hyderabad. She then came to live in Durban, South Africa c. 1930, where she met and married dentist Billie Joseph.
Her service as an information and welfare officer in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force during the Second World War, and her subsequent decision to become a social worker, exposed her to some of the realities of South African life.
After the war she took a job with the Garment Workers Union (GWU) and came under the influence of Solly Sachs, Johanna Cornelius and Anna Scheepers. Helen was a founder member of the African National Congress (ANC)'s white ally, the Congress of Democrats (COD), and national secretary of Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) in the 1950s.
In 1955, she was one of the leaders who read out the clauses of the Freedom Charter at the Congress of the People. The Women's March on 9 August 1956 was one of the most memorable moments of her illustrious political career, as she was one of the main organisers of the protest.
Arrested on a charge of high treason in December 1956, and banned in 1957, Helen's life became a long saga of police persecution. She was the first person to be placed under house arrest in 1962, and she survived several assassination attempts, including bullets shot through her bedroom window late at night and a bomb wired to her front gate.
Joseph was diagnosed with cancer in 1971, and her banning orders were lifted for a short time before being reinstated for two years in 1980.
Joseph passed away on 25 December 1992 in Johannesburg.
Helen Joseph was awarded the ANC's highest award, the Isitwalandwe/Seaparankoe Medal for her devotion to the liberation struggle as a symbol of defiance, integrity and courage.
- Akhalwaya, A. (1992) “Obituary: Helen Joseph” Available at: www.independent.co.uk [Accessed 28 July 2009]
- Helen Joseph 1905 – 1992 [online] Available at: www.anc.org.za [Accessed 24 July 2009]
- Morris, M. (2004) Every Step of the Way: The Journey to Freedom in South Africa. Cape Town. pp.173, 174, 210
- South African Democracy Education Trust (SADET) (2006) The Road to Democracy in South Africa. Vol.2 [1970-1980]. Pretoria. p. 537
- Van Wyk, C. (2003) Learning African History, Freedom Fighters: Helen Joseph. Awareness Publishing [online] Available at: books.google.com [Accessed 28 July 2009]
Helen Joseph's Timeline
April 8, 1905
Eastbourne, West Sussex, England
December 25, 1992
Johannesburg, City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality, Gauteng, South Africa