Book review by Janneke Weidema, Pretoria Monthly Meeting
The Black Sash were an unlikely bunch of South African anti-apartheid activists. They were mostly English speaking white middle class women who came together in 1955 as the Women’s League in Defence of the Constitution.
They organised a creative campaign to stop changes to the then South African constitution which would remove the already limited voting rights of black people. They operated within the parameters of white South African politics, although on the left of that spectrum. After a few years, as the Nationalist government had pushed through the changes to the constitution, membership in the Black Sash declined.
However, they persisted, and developed advice offices for people who needed help with the infamous pass laws and other apartheid laws. They supported people threatened with forced removals. The Black Sash also carried on with their silent pickets against oppressive laws. These protests were at first in small groups; after that was outlawed, they protested individually on street corners.
Mary Burton has written this fascinating story of the Black Sash. She has written a truthful, and complete a history as possible of these white, mostly middle class women who attracted the ire of the apartheid government. This is a well written book. It is a captivating story of women who were determined to protest injustice, and to support black South African communities.