“Activism works. So what I’m telling you to do now is to act. Because no one is too small to make a difference.”
The Black Sash was founded in Johannesburg in 1955 as a non-violent resistance organisation for liberal white women. Originally named the Women’s Defence of the Constitution League but was eventually shortened by the press as the Black Sash due to the women’s habit of wearing black sashes at their protest meetings. These black sashes symbolised the mourning for the South Africa Constitution.
The early days of Black Sash campaigned against the removal of Coloured or mixed race voters from the voters’ roll in the Cape Province by the National Party government. As the apartheid system began to reach into every aspect of South African life, Black Sash members demonstrated against the Pass Laws and the introduction of other apartheid legislation. It would later open advice offices to provide information concerning their legal rights to non-white South Africans affected by that legislation. These advice offices were a critical role of the organisation’s brave and principled role as a vital component of civil society.
In more recent times, the Black Sash’s focused primarily on the social grant system. The key focus area during this period was the monitoring and advocacy of the SASSA-SAPO Service Level Agreement. A major victory achieved by the Black Sash was the Hands Off Our Grants campaign. This campaign focused on stopping the unauthorised, unlawful, fraudulent and immoral debit deductions from the SASSA bank accounts of social grant beneficiaries and protect their confidential data.
working towards a
social protection floor
The advent of Covid-19 changed the world. It also changed the field of social assistance in South Africa, not least due to the implementation of a staggered social grant payment system and the introduction of the Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant. Black Sash maintained its strategic focus during this time and adapted its work to accommodate the impact of Covid-related lockdowns on social assistance in South Africa. The Basic Income Support (BIS) campaign gained significant momentum, including making calls for the Covid SRD grant to become a permanent form of BIS linked to the Food Poverty Line which currently stands at R595.