A tribute to Muriel Crewe

Muriel Crewe

Di Oliver, Black Sash Trustee, pays tribute to Muriel Crewe at her Memorial Service in Kalk Bay, Cape Town on 22 November 2007.

For Jonathan, Robin and Adrian Crewe and their families


Thank you, Adrian for asking me to say a few words about your wonderful mother on behalf of the Black Sash. I held her in the highest regard. She was an inspiration to me and many others, and a treasured friend.

There are many Sash friends who are not able to be here today, all of whom have expressed their love and admiration for Muriel. We think especially of Dot Cleminshaw, Candy Malherbe and Evelyn van der Riet who are with us in thought and spirit.

It was a friend and teaching colleague, Norah Henshilwood, who persuaded Muriel to join the Black Sash - and what a gift she was to the organisation! When Muriel stopped teaching at UCT and the Teachers’ Training College in the mid-80s, she devoted what seemed like all her time and great energy to serving the Black Sash and its anti-apartheid cause. Muriel served as chair of the False Bay Branch of the organisation for at least eight years and she served several terms on our Regional Council. She led and supported the indomitable Sash members of the South Peninsula in deed and by example. She donned her sash and stood with her placard in many one-woman silent protest stands opposing the injustices of our apartheid past, right here on the pavement outside Holy Trinity Church. She was insistent on her co-members adhering to the rules of standing - of “not talking to anyone when standing and not fighting with the police!”

She was rock solid reliable, always immaculate in appearance, sensible, discerning, disciplined, an excellent chair of meetings (with a gift of holding proceedings lightly); she was always calm, composed, dignified and well organised. She was always willing to see the young person’s side of an argument. She was enormously supportive of other members who were active in a variety of ways, not the least through her 24-hour availability to Peggy North and her roster of helpers who monitored the wicked persecution and forced removal to Khayelitsha of those referred to as “the Noordhoek squatters”, people who found themselves homeless when the farms on which they worked were sold.

Muriel was dedicated to the values of the Black Sash: justice, integrity, dignity, non-violence, rigour, the affirmation of women, independence and courage and the need for an active civil society. She attended endless protest meetings, marched with our religious leaders, participated in the mass protest against beach apartheid and she was there to welcome Mr Mandela on the Parade when he was released from prison.

A hallmark of Muriel’s Sash work was her court monitoring. She abhorred violence (so wasn’t at all sure about the words of some of the freedom songs!) but found herself monitoring many “public violence” and other political trials, many of them based on trumped-up charges which fizzled out after tying up the accused in legal proceedings that consumed their time. Muriel was extremely good at court monitoring, and good at reporting on it. This was work that she was to subsequently feel was one of the most worthwhile things she did in her life. She introduced others to court monitoring and gave them confidence in the way she mentored them. She would collect the names of those who had been arrested from the Dependants Conference and then appear at the courts where they were to stand trial. She made a huge effort to get to know the families of those arrested - who were often children - and immense appreciation for her friendship and presence at court was expressed by many.

This work took her to visit prisoners on Robben Island and in Pollsmoor Prison; she drove all over the Peninsula and to Worcester, Paarl and Hermanus to keep up with the court appearances of those she monitored (bear in mind that the trials were often moved from court to court to curb public support for the accused). Muriel also monitored the Yengeni trial in which Jenny Schreiner - an Epworth scholar - was a co-accused (Muriel was Vice Principal of Epworth School in Pietermaritzburg before she moved to the Cape). When the Black Sash recently launched a digital archive of its work in association with UCT, Muriel handed me some of her court monitoring records. They were meticulous and beautifully written in her own hand. They are now safely housed along with all her other reports for future generations to access. Anyone doing research with this material can rely on its absolute accuracy.

Irrespective of our age, Muriel used to call many of us “my girl”! This was her term of endearment for us. She wanted us to be the best that we could be - both as individuals but more so, in our collective effort as members of an organisation to which she was deeply committed and in whose human rights agenda she so profoundly believed.

Muriel was a loving friend to many and we loved her. She will be greatly missed, but her unique contribution and spirit live on in the Black Sash today.


Di Oliver

Holy Trinity Church, Kalk Bay

22 November 2007