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Hilda Bernstein, 91; Fought Apartheid in South Africa

From Times Staff and Wire Reports
September 13, 2006

Hilda Bernstein, 91, an anti-apartheid activist and author who was a founding member of the Federation of South African Women, the first nonracial women's organization in South Africa, died of heart failure Friday at her home in Cape Town, South Africa.

Bernstein, whose husband was tried for treason along with Nelson Mandela, was born in London in 1915 and emigrated to South Africa in 1932, working in advertising, publishing and journalism.

A fiery orator, she served as a city councilor in Johannesburg from 1943 to 1946 as the only communist elected to public office in a whites-only vote.

Hilda Bernstein: In an obituary of anti-apartheid activist Hilda Bernstein in Wednesday's California section, her husband, Rusty, was identified as the only defendant in the 1964 Rivonia Trial to be acquitted. James Kantor was also acquitted. —

She and her husband were active in the early days of the South African Communist Party and the African National Congress. They both suffered banning and detention by the apartheid state.

Bernstein's husband, Rusty, and Mandela were tried with other anti-apartheid activists in the infamous Rivonia Trial in 1964. Mandela received a sentence of life imprisonment; Rusty Bernstein was the only defendant who was acquitted.

Bernstein and her husband fled the country and eventually settled in Britain. They returned to South Africa after democratic elections in 1994.

Bennie Smith, a St. Louis-based blues musician who played with such stars as Chuck Berry and Ike and Tina Turner, died Sunday after a heart attack there. He was 72.

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