Black Sash stand tall for Madiba

By Michelle Jones

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MORE than 20 years after their last stand, past members and friends of the Black Sash, gathered yesterday on the steps of St George’s Cathedral to honour Nelson Mandela.

For an hour, about 40 people, the majority of them women, stood still and in silence.

Some wore their traditional black sashes and some wore Black Sash T-shirts.

Some cars hooted their support as they drove past while a number of those passing by stopped to take photographs.

Mary Burton, former national president of Black Sash, said it had been important to past members to honour Mandela in this way.

“All of us felt the need to be together and honour Mandela on behalf of the Black Sash.

“To make a statement that we believe in the things that he did.

“All of us as individuals felt we wanted to show we all need to carry forward his message.”

Burton, who became a member in 1965, said she was delighted at the number of people who had participated.

The last time she had taken part in a similar stand was 1990 and in the years since had been a part of marches and pickets.

Black Sash had been founded in 1955 and worked to improve human rights and bring an end to apartheid.

There had been no membership since 1995 but it had continued its work with human rights as an NGO.

National director Lynette Maart said those involved, past and present, with the organisation had understood its tradition of protest.

“We thought we wanted to pay our respects to Mr Nelson Mandela in terms of our history. For that reason we decided it was appropriate to stand for an hour in silence. To do it here at St George’s Cathedral, a historic place of struggle.”

Maart said the hour-long stand had required a lot of discipline and focus.

“It was like meditation, it was a prayer. I felt so connected to Madiba and thought about many of his teachings. That was really an amazing gift.”

Di Oliver, a Black Sash trustee, said the organisation had a special relationship with Mandela, leading to him mentioning the role it had played in his speech at City Hall after his release from prison in February 1990.

He had said: “I also salute the Black Sash and the National Union of South African Students. We note with pride that you have acted as the conscience of white South Africa. Even during the darkest days in the history of our struggle you held the flag of liberty high.

“The large-scale mass mobilisation of the past few years is one of the key factors which led to the opening of the final chapter of our struggle.”

She had been a member of Black Sash from 1978 till the membership closed in 1995.

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