Leonie Sybeth Caroline (1958 - 2013)

Black Sash Trust Regional Manager, Western Cape from 2001 - 2013.  
Dearest Leonie;  You joined our Black Sash family just over a decade ago. You saw our organisation through many incarnations as it changed direction, strategy and size.

You were one of a kind - unique, colourful, humorous, direct, complex, strong-willed and compassionate; a leader in your own right. Your multiple gifts and talents served others - your family and community in local and global contexts - and the greater public good.

We have come to know and respect you as a fierce and unflinching fighter for human and socio economic rights - particularly for the children, the poor and vulnerable sectors of our society.

We note your tireless efforts to advance the interests of under-protected workers, including those on farms, in domestic and precarious employment as well as the unemployed who had no social protection. Your human rights actions encompassed protecting the rights of asylum seekers and refugees.

We particularly acknowledge your special passion for the realisation of women’s rights.  

Your faith and trust in the agency of ordinary citizens was unquestionable. You never shied away from opportunities to hold government officials accountable and remind them of their mandate.

You have capacitated and nurtured many community leaders and paralegals in the not-for-profit sector. And under your tutelage many local and international interns blossomed and discovered their direction and calling.

We watched, in 2013, how you struggled, with great courage and humour, as the cancer tightened its grip on your body. We hope you took comfort in our words, prayers, supportive gestures and our visits to you. Your work among us is completed. We love you dearly but are relieved that you have moved to another realm without medication, scans, therapies and pain.

We have sent word to the ancestors to welcome you into their fold. We hope that you will hold a special portfolio in your next life to help advance our work. You will be glad to know that Madiba will be joining you shortly.

Our lives are richer and more textured for having walked our respective journeys with you. We will miss your incredible institutional memory.

As this community assembles here today, we bid you farewell and pass forward your rich legacy to Lindy, Hilliard (jnr) and Kelly Nyman to continue and pass to the next generation.

Go in peace ....

Lynette Maart, on behalf of the Black Sash

Tribute paid by Mary Burton at Leonie's funeral service

It is a great privilege to pay tribute to Leonie today on behalf of the trustees and the staff, past and present, of the Black Sash.   She was the Western Cape Regional Manager of the Black Sash, and the whole organisation feels a deep sense of loss.

There are beautiful photographs of her, and many, many messages circulating among her colleagues and on our website. People clearly have wonderful memories of working with this greatly respected, strong, and principled fighter for social justice. She was a vocal champion of women; a defender of the rights of children; a supporter of rural people and their quest for a better life.

There are strong threads running through the messages – we all remember her sense of humour, and many have spoken of her kindness and generosity. She was a wonderful person full of laughter and encouragement. She was never too busy for anyone, nor for a joke. As one friend described her, she was a “charming, jolly, talkative, loud and cheerful person”.

Yet there was more to her than the warmth and the humour. She was a person of great integrity, indeed a “mountain of integrity and conviction” as one description portrays her, and she did not hesitate to speak out when she thought it necessary. One of the trustees remembers her spirited interventions at the difficult meetings we had when having to decide on the future of the Black Sash, and says she was “honest and to the point... difficult but genuine”.

It was that honesty and integrity which people admired in Leonie. She held onto her principles, and was passionate about her work and the people she sought to serve. We have respected her robust and straightforward way of addressing issues, and take pride in the decades of her dedication to the struggle to make human rights real.

Leonie came to the Black Sash after many years in trade union work, and her experience and knowledge stood her in good stead. She was connected to an astonishing number of people all over the province, and had an extensive network of colleagues. Those of our trustees who also have trade union backgrounds have paid tribute to a committed and powerful woman who fought for human rights for all.

Most of all, when I remember Leonie, I find myself thinking about her impact on the many young interns who come to work with the Black Sash from many different parts of the world. One would come into the office and find Leonie surrounded by an eager group learning the ins and outs of social protection and the work required to realise social and economic justice. Her institutional knowledge will be greatly missed. Warm and sad messages have come in from so many of these interns, and not only from them, but even from a mother, or a boyfriend, who have seen the effect Leonie had on each cohort of temporary additions to the Black Sash team. This contact has meant that her teaching and example has been spread through many countries and she will never be forgotten. “The respect she generated will be a lasting testament”.

We thank her family for the support they gave her, and we know that often she was very busy when they might have wanted to have more of her time. The Black Sash is thankful for the generosity with which they shared her, and for those who helped her with the task of caring for her children. She was immensely proud of them, and we extend our deep condolences to them and to her husband and wider family.

At this time in the history of our country, I would like to conclude with words written by the late Nelson Mandela:

“Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for eternity”.

Leonie, too, did what she considered to be her duty to her people and her country. May she rest in peace.

Siyabulela Leonie, ulale ngoxolo.

Mary Burton - 7 December 2013

A memorial for Leonie Caroline was arranged by the Black Sash at Community House, Salt River on Thursday 12 December. Leonie's funeral service took place in Bredasdorp on Saturday, 7 December at the Anglican Church of the Holy Spirit.