Helen Joseph

Today marks 25 years since Helen Joseph passed away on the 25th of December 2017.

An anti-Apartheid activist of note, Helen Joseph was arrested on a charge of high treason in December 1956, banned in 1957. She was the first person to be placed under house arrest, a sign that she was a real threat to the Apartheid regime.  Her last banning order was lifted when she was in her 80th year. Joseph played key roles in the Congress of Democrats, Federation of South African Woman, UDF and the ANC throughout her political career.

Born Helen Beatrice May Fennell in Sussex, England, in 1905, she graduated from King’s College, University of London in 1927 and taught for three years in India, then came to South Africa in 1931 where she met and married Billie Joseph.

The 9th August 1956 was one of the most important moments of her illustrious political career, when, with the FEDSAW leaders, she spear headed a march of 20,000 women to Pretoria’s Union Buildings to protest against the pass laws. August 8 has, since then, been commemorated as South African Women’s Day.

Joseph wrote three books: If This Be Treason; Tomorrow’s Sun, in which she documented her 8,000 mile search for people banished to remote regions; and her autobiography, Side by Side. Helen showed that what a dictatorial and corrupt regime fears most is not force and firing power, but the witness of people of dignity and integrity.

She had no natural children, but took into her care, as her own, the children of those who were sent to prison or into exile: Nelson and Winnie Mandela’s Zinzi and Zenani; Bram and Molly Fischer’s Ilsa; Eli and Violet Wienberg’s Sheila.

In the early 1960s Helen started a tradition of remembering all those in exile, in prison and those that have died in the struggle, every Christmas day at noon. Even during the years of house arrest and bans, this commemoration continued. It is therefore quite strange and sad that she died on one of her favorite days.


Helen Joseph (April 8, 1905 – December 25, 1992).’  http://overcomingapartheid.msu.edu/people.php?id=65-251-71