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Broadening the Black Sash’s reach: a biographical study of women activists in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.

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This dissertation examines the contribution made by Black Sash women to the anti-apartheid struggle in the Natal Midlands region. It gives special attention to the biographical narratives of three women who were members of the Black Sash organisation in the Natal Midlands region. These women are Joan Kerchhoff, Mary Kleinenberg, and Anne Harley. This study explores how, for thirty years, these activists who belonged to two different generations of the Black Sash employed different modes of resistance. Furthermore, this study will examine their participation in the anti-apartheid movement, which is unique as they were willing to take risks and go to jail. These Black Sash activists rose to the call of duty and took a stand against injustice, taking a stance that other white people refused to accept. They were passionate in their beliefs, serving jail sentences, and suffered hardship as they lost friends and were often socially ostracised. These activists discarded the white privileges afforded to them by the apartheid government. They dedicated their lives to combating injustice while fighting for their vision for the future, a free and democratic South Africa. It was due to their involvement in the anti-apartheid movement that the fight against the apartheid regime was not merely a black versus white issue but rather against an oppressive system. Their participation in the anti-apartheid movement transformed the liberation movement into becoming multi-racial, albeit their numbers were small. Thus, this study on the three Black Sash women will integrate the role of white women and contribute to the liberation narratives of South Africa. It will demonstrate that the antiapartheid struggle was a collective effort and included a small group of whites, who were to become in some ways the white consciousness of South Africa. This dissertation via the narratives of Joan Kerchhoff, Mary Kleinenberg, and Anne Harley, highlights the contestations between gender oppression and political oppression that so characterised the anti-apartheid struggle. It also provides a more in-depth insight into women’s political collective organisation in the Natal Midlands. Also, it helps us to understand the complex relationship that existed between the Black Sash and other women’s organisations.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.