Margaret Nash: Human rights activist - SUNDAY TIMES, Review 07 Aug 2011

MARGARET Nash, who has died in Cape Town at the age of 82, was a human rights activist who in 1980 authored a damning report on forced removals, which the apartheid government promptly harmed. In 1984 a church delegation took a reworked version of her report to the United Nations, Britain and Europe ahead of a tour by South Africa's then president, PW Botha.

It was a devastating document, caused severe embarrassment for Botha and added to international pressure to stop forced removals. Nash worked out that between 2.5 and 3 million people had been forcefully moved from their homes out of an intended 6 million. She also wrote comprehensive reports on the demolitions of squatter camps in the Western Cape. She was a valuable source of information for church groups opposing apartheid in Germany, who used her information to ratchet up public pressure on SA. Nash was born in England on March 1 1929 and came to Durban with her family in 1931. After matriculating she went to Rhodes 'University in Grahamstown at the age of 16 and worked as a teacher.

She joined the Liberal Party in 1960, then the Black Sash and the Christian Institute, which — until it was banned in 1977 — provided a welcome outlet for her need to be more actively involved in opposing apartheid. A committed Anglican, she was on the Anglican Board of Social Responsibility for many years and worked for the SA Council of Churches, on whose behalf she wrote many of her reports. Nash was appalled by the apartheid government's assault on human dignity but did not confine her sense of outrage to reports. She went to squatter camps when they were being demolished and stood in front of bulldozers in brave but futile attempts to stop the process. She was a person who was not afraid of anything or anyone.

She could be combative and was no "queen of tact", as a friend put it. Nash never hesitated to take on church leaders if she felt they were not responding loudly or strongly enough to the demands of the moment. She returned to university in the early 1970s to study theology at the University of Cape Town, and in 1975 published a doctoral thesis on "the ecumenical movement in the 1960s". She was a driving force behind the movement. After apartheid fell she became energetically involved in the campaign for a gun-free South Africa, which was launched in 1994. Nash had a sharp intelligence and the ability to lay out her arguments with a devastating logic which those disagreeing with her learned to dread.

Sharing a committee room with her was seldom a relaxing experience. Her outstanding characteristic was probably her persistence. She was not loud or aggressive, but she was persistent. If she was set a task or project she would fmish it, come hell or high water. She was a person who did not know how to give up. Nash, who never married, is survived by her sister Eleanor Nash, a former professor of psychiatry at Groote Schulte' Hospital. — Chris Barron STRONG VVILLED: Margaret Nash