Helen Joseph: SA anti-apartheid activist receives honor from Google
- South Africa
Happy birthday, Helen Joseph!
Today, Google illustrates a beautiful doodle to celebrate South African anti-apartheid activist Helen Joseph's 116th birthday. A leading figure of white dissent of the unjust practice of apartheid, Helen Joseph is widely considered one of South Africa's most influential freedom fighters and women's rights advocates.
Helen Joseph (full name Helen Beatrice Joseph) was born in Sussex, England on this day in 1905. She was the daughter of a government Customs and Excise officer, Samuel Fennell. Helen Joseph came from a middle-class white family. She grew up in a racially prejudiced household.
Helen Joseph graduated with a degree in English at King's College London in 1927 and then departed for India, where she taught for three years at Mahbubia School for girls in Hyderabad. After working as a teacher she intended to return home via South Africa.
In the port city of Durban she became friendly with Dorothy Stubbs, a teacher at Clifton School (Durban), whose father Harry Stubbs was headmaster. When Miss Stubbs left the school to get married, her father offered the vacant position to Helen Joseph. She taught at the school in 1930-1931.
In Durban, Helen Joseph met and in 1931 married Billie Joseph, a Jewish dentist 17 years her senior. She served in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force during World War II as an information and welfare officer. After the war she divorced Billie Joseph. She trained as a social worker and started working in a community centre in a Coloured (mixed race) area of Cape Town.
Apartheid laws, which were enacted in 1948, divided South Africa along racial lines and extended to many facets of daily life. In 1951, Helen Joseph took a position with the Garment Workers Union where she met Solly Sachs, who educated Joseph on South Africa's political landscape and the realities of apartheid. Joseph soon became a founding member of the Congress of Democrats (COD), a white political ally of the African National Congress (ANC), and on August 9, 1956, she co-led a march of 20,000 women with the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) on Pretoria's Union Buildings. Joseph's fearless opposition resulted in government-led attempts to silence her but despite the backlash, Joseph remained active, taking in the children of exiled or imprisoned political activists, including Nelson and Winnie Mandela's children.
Helen Joseph faced harsh repercussions for her actions, and yet, she persisted. Her lifelong fight to unite the people of South Africa was recognized by the ANC in 1992 with the Isitwalandwe/Seaparankwe Award.
In honor of the historic women's march on Pretoria and the unwavering advocacy of women like Helen Joseph, August 9 was commemorated annually as Women's Day in South Africa. She died on December 25, 1992. Today Google pays tribute to this famous South African anti-apartheid activist on her 116th birthday.