Trustee News

Betty Davenport

bettyBetty Davenport was one of the first cohort of women who formed the Black Sash in the Western Cape, joining in 1955 a few months after it was founded in Johannesburg. She was then newly married, and teaching at Herschel School, but was able to take part in the early protest demonstrations and picket stands. 

Betty served as a Black Sash Trustee from 1994 to 2005.

Her first child was born in 1956, and her Sash activities were somewhat curtailed for the next few years, until she and her husband Rodney moved to Grahamstown in 1965.  The Black Sash in the Eastern Cape had been through many difficult times, and branches and regions were closing, or becoming very small, as support for them dwindled.  Betty was among those who revived the Albany Region, and they devoted their energy to building up the Advice Office in Grahamstown, which re-opened in 1972.  She remembers with great warmth the older members who had never wavered, and were “great characters”, and the renewed energy with which they confronted the area’s many challenges over the next decades: social welfare issues such as pensions at first, then also the forced removals in terms of the Group Areas Act.

The Grahamstown Advice Office opened on Saturday mornings, and at first was staffed almost entirely by volunteers.  They came to know the area and its problems well, and to be known by the local community.  As tensions grew, the work expanded into the surrounding areas, where people were being subjected to detention without trial and repression of all protest and resistance.  The Black Sash was involved in support for detainees and their families, helping to arrange transport, working with other organisations to provide food and other assistance.  Betty had been teaching at DSG, but during the 1980s she worked as the regional manager for the Black Sash, together with Jonathan Walton who is still with the organisation 30 years later.

In 1990 the Davenports moved back to Cape Town, and once again Betty found in the Black Sash friends and fellow workers who shared her commitment and beliefs.  She dedicated herself to the Advice Office in Mowbray.

After 1994 and the installation of the new democratically elected government, Betty formed part of the Black Sash’s “Legiwatch Group”, established to monitor the changes in legislation taking place and to keep a watching brief over the protection of human rights.

In 1995 the Black Sash Trust was established, and Betty was appointed as a trustee. She has made an important contribution to the organisation for over fifty years.

We pay tribute to Mary Kleinenberg on her retirement as a Black Sash Trustee

MaryK2017Mary Kleinenberg retired as a trustee of the Black Sash Trust in 2015 after twenty-four years of being an active, dedicated and valued member of the Board. 

An outstanding component of her service was as chair for twenty-two years of the Human Resources Committee (HRC) – a vitally important sub-committee of the Trust.  Mary had been ‘in on the ground’ of the work of this committee when, in 1993, the newly appointed national advice office coordinator convened a weekend workshop to address the need for parity among staff members in the various provinces in which the Black Sash had a presence.  The workshop was the springboard for the writing of the first staff manual and the birth of the HRC’s predecessor, the Standing Remuneration Committee (SRC).    Mary was present at that workshop from which time she guided and led the work of the committee until she retired.

Mary became a member of the Black Sash in 1980.  She worked in the Pietermaritzburg Advice Office on Saturday mornings and later chaired the Natal Midlands Branch of the organization and the Pietermaritzburg Advice Office Committee for some years.  She became a trustee of the Black Sash Trust in 1991.  The range of her experience placed her ideally to co-author the history of the Natal Midlands region of the Black Sash with well-known historian, Dr Christopher Merrett.  Their book, Standing on Street Corners, was published in 2015.

Aside from her leadership role in the Black Sash, Mary is known for being an avid writer of letters to The Witness over many years.  She was part of a small group of women in Rape Crisis that provided a 24 hour telephone service by carrying a pager for a week at a time.  After years of counseling and providing support to rape survivors by telephone, the organization also went out in crisis situations until Rape Crisis was taken over, by consensus, by Lifeline in the late 90s.  Mary also served on the Boards of Justice and Women (JAW) and the Church Land Project in addition to being an active member of the Women’s Coalition.  When the Women's Coalition dissolved in Pietermaritzburg, it became The Midlands Women's Group (MWG) which started operating in 1995.  Its initial focus was on on the local government elections, encouraging women to register and vote; stand for election; monitor gender-awareness of candidates and demand that they commit themselves to the principles laid out in the Women’s Charter. The mission of the MWG was “to facilitate women’s development and ensure that their rights are upheld and their achievements and resources recognized”.  Mary was actively involved in the MWG until it closed in March 2007.

Mary was also a founder participant in the formation of Ditikeni as an ethical investment platform that today benefits a range of NGOs, amongst which is the Black Sash Trust.

From 1989 to 2001, in her remunerated working life, Mary was the first finance officer of AFRA and later, its director. 

In her retirement, Mary is committed to improving the lot of the crafter community by encouraging them to sell their beautiful work to the Tatham Art Gallery shop in Pietermaritzburg where she plays an active role.


Mary Burton named Patron of the Black Sash

Mary BurtonWe are delighted to announce that Mary Burton has been named as Patron of the Black Sash.

We believe that a Black Sash Patron is someone who demonstrates her belief in our core values and someone who contributes to the betterment of our community. She is also a woman who is admired by the staff and trustees for all that she has added to the organisation as well as wider society through the years.

Mary is the second person to be named patron of the Black Sash, following the late Sheena Duncan, who also embodied these characteristics.

Mary joined the Black Sash in 1965 and, besides being regional chair for several terms, served as National President from 1986-1990. She was one of the founders of the Advice Office Trust in 1985 (known as The Black Sash Trust from 1995) and served as a trustee continuously until 2016.  Besides holding high office within the organisation, she has always been known for her work ‘on the ground’, most especially her unwavering presence and support in the advice office. She put her journalistic skills to good use over the years by providing rigorous summaries, skilfully drafted resolutions and detailed written records of our work.

Apart from her work in the Black Sash, Mary has served in various other capacities. Amongst many other things, she was the Provincial Electoral Officer of the Independent Electoral Commission in the Western Cape for the first democratic election in 1994 and was also a Commissioner for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She served as Deputy Chairperson of the Council of the University of Cape Town, as Chairperson of the Convocation ofUCT and was the co-founder of the ‘Home for All’ campaign.

Mary’s contribution is widely recognised and she has been the recipient of many awards and commendations. To name a few, she is a recipient of the order of Luthuli (Silver), (a South African honour granted by the president), the Order of the Disa (the Western Cape's highest award) and the Reconciliation Award (conferred by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation). She is a recipient of the City of Cape Town’s Civic Honours and was awarded the UCT Vice-Chancellor’s medal for services to the university. In 2011 she received an honorary doctorate from UCT.

In 2015 Mary’s acclaimed history of the Black Sash was published, entitled The Black Sash: Women for Justice and Peace.

Mary Burton has dedicated over 50 years of her life to political activism and lobbying for human rights in our country and it is an honour for us now also to be able to call her Patron of the Black Sash.

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Mary Burton awarded UCT Vice-Chancellor's Medal

A circle of Mary Burton’s family, friends and colleagues gathered at UCT Vice-Chancellor Max Price’s residence, Glenara, on 28 July, to witness him handing the Vice-Chancellor’s medal to Mary.  The award recognized Mary’s outstanding contribution to her Alma Mater, the University of Cape Town – in her work as a Member of the University Council (which she served for two terms, one as Deputy Chair), as President of Convocation, as a member of the UCT Foundation Trust and in her numerous roles as member of committees and as honorary research associate.

Much of her time as research associate was devoted to early work on her book that will be launched next week.  In response to Dr Price’s heartfelt praise for her unique and committed contribution, Mary said that the University had played a significant role in her life and she was grateful for the opportunities afforded her to be so intimate a participant in the life of the University.  This had commenced with her registration for a BA degree when she was 39 and she found some extra hours in her day after the youngest of her four sons was no longer a baby.

Together with others, Black Sash trustees Mary-Jane Morifi, Jenny de Tolly and Di Oliver were proud witnesses of the award being given to Mary, while Deena Bosch represented Lynette Maart who was unfortunately in Johannesburg for a meeting.  Both Dr Price and Mary emphasized the significance of the Black Sash in the role it played in Mary’s formation and Dr Price praised the leadership Mary has given to the organisation over many years.  - Di Oliver


Rosemary van Wyk Smith became a trustee of the Black Sash NPO around 1999. She was an elder from the Black Sash in its previous incarnation, and retired in January 2014 as a member of the board.

On behalf of the board of Trustees, fellow board member Mary Burton has written the following about her journey with the Black Sash.

Rosemary joined the Black Sash not long after arriving in Grahamstown in 1966 as a young English wife and mother, determined to make a success of her new life there. Although she did not find it easy to adjust to the Eastern Cape scenery and the harsh political divisions she encountered, and although she soon had four young children to bring up, she began to learn more about the injustices of apartheid. She undertook some research work for HW van der Merwe, used her social welfare training to find part-time work at a welfare agency located within Rhodes University, and subsequently helped to run a pre-school. She provided as much support as she could to her husband Malvern’s work for the Progressive Party.

From 1968 onwards she became more and more involved in the Black Sash work – its protest demonstrations, its Saturday morning Advice Office and its discussions and debates. She says in her book, Swimming with Cobras, “As the activities of the Black Sash enveloped me I began to find, if at first timidly, a voice and an identity”.

Rosemary worked for 12 years for GADRA, the Grahamstown Area Distress Relief Association, based in the advice section, located in a pre-fab office in Fingo Village (next to the beer hall). Here she learned about the daily lives of African people, their desperation over the resettlement policies being imposed on them and the creation of two “homelands”.   Among her colleagues were several other Black Sash members, and together they, and the two organisations, acquired the skills and perseverance which gave them strength to face the deeper repression which marked the 1980s.

As the prisons filled, and the resistance movement became more active, not only in Grahamstown itself but also in the towns around it, the need for greater involvement grew. With others, Rosemary found herself attending funerals in Adelaide, travelling to other towns, and organising a support programme for political prisoners and detainees, which later grew into a significant de-briefing project for released detainees and their families. The chapter in her book about that period of the 1980s and the mass detentions in the Eastern Cape in particular is moving and insightful.

Rosemary had become the Regional Chair of the Black Sash, and a brave and outspoken leader. In addition, her warm and thoughtful personality meant that all the Sash members and staff felt cared for in the small band that made up the organisation. At National Conferences she often spoke for the smaller regions, insisting that their concerns be recognised and their voices heard.

In 1987 she was elected a National Vice-President of the Black Sash and served in that role for 3 years. In April 1989 she was part of the IDASA delegation to Harare for the “Women in the struggle for Peace” conference. In January 1990 she was one of the delegation of women from within South Africa to go to Amsterdam to the Malibongwe conference, where they met women in the exile movement.

After 1995, when the Black Sash changed its structure away from a membership-based organisation, she took on the full-time position of manager of the advice office in Grahamstown, and worked there until 1999.

She became a Trustee of the Black Sash soon after 1999. When she retired from her employment with the Black Sash, her friends and colleagues gave her a book of tributes. Many of these teased her about being arrogant and intimidating, which is sometimes hard to believe. However, she herself likes a Tibetan proverb: “Better to live one day as a tiger than a thousand years as a sheep!”