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Hilda Bernstein remembered
      #1801773619 - 11/10/06 05:13 PM

Hilda Bernstein, wife of Rusty Bernstein (Rivonia trial defendant), and author of 'No. 46 - Steve Biko', died last month in Sea Point.

Her obituary:

Hilda Bernstein
May 15, 1915 - September 8, 2006

South African activist who fought against apartheid and after being exiled continued the struggle from London

HILDA BERNSTEIN was one of the last surviving leaders of apartheid resistance in South Africa in the 1950s and 1960s. As the newly elected Afrikaner nationalist government formalised racial segregation and flexed its muscles, opposition leaders were either jailed or, like Bernstein and her husband, forced into exile.
During 30 turbulent years in South Africa, Bernstein became an important opposition figure, campaigning among fellow whites and also organising resistance by anti-apartheid women of all races.

Driven out of the country by the threat to their own safety and the future of their young family, Bernstein and her husband spent the next 30 years campaigning from Britain for an end to white rule in Pretoria and returned in 1994 to help in the election of their friend, Nelson Mandela, as South Africa’s first black president.

Bernstein was born Hilda Schwarz in London in 1915 to Russian immigrants. Her father, a Bolshevik, left the family to return to his homeland when she was 10, and when she was 18 she emigrated to South Africa and worked in advertising, publishing and journalism.

Shocked by the rise of fascism in Europe, she joined the youth wing of the socialist South African Labour Party. However, its attitude to the oppression of blacks was, at best, ambiguous, and by 1940 she had joined the non-racial Communist Party.

She rose quickly, serving on a regional committee and the national executive and in 1941 married a party colleague, Lionel “Rusty” Bernstein, a quietly spoken architect five years her junior. Two years later Hilda Bernstein was elected to the Johannesburg City Council, its only communist member.

In 1946 she ended her term as a councillor and was also convicted of helping an illegal black mineworkers’ strike.

During the 1950s the Communist Party was banned but its members, including Bernstein’s husband, reorganised underground. In between looking after her growing family, Bernstein continued her political work and was a founder and national secretary of the South African Peace Council. She had to give this up after the Government banned her from being a member of 26 organisations and from attending meetings. However, she found enough ways around the restrictions to help to set up the Federation of South African Women and was an organiser of the massed Women’s March to Pretoria in 1956.

In 1958 the grip tightened further and Bernstein’s banning order was extended to prevent her from writing or publishing. Meanwhile, Rusty spent four years from 1956 in and out of court as one of the 150 accused in the mammoth Treason Trial, at the end of which all were acquitted.

In 1961 Hilda Bernstein was arrested and held for five months without trial during the state of emergency after the Sharpeville killings.

The Government stepped up its efforts to crush the opposition and banned several organisations, including the African National Congress (ANC). Then, in 1963 it put on trial ten of most senior activists, including Rusty Bernstein. This was known as the Rivonia trial, the name taken from the Johannesburg suburb where the ANC leaders had been arrested. Rusty was the only one acquitted but, as he left the dock where Mandela and the others had been jailed for life, he was rearrested and charged but then given bail.

A few days later the security police came for Hilda Bernstein, but she fled through the back door as they arrived at her house and went into hiding.

Leaving their three youngest children with their eldest daughter, the Bernsteins were reunited in hiding and then fled north into Bechuanaland (now Botswana). They arrived eventually in London, where they were later joined by all four children.

Bernstein wrote the autobiographical The World that Was Ours (1967, revised 2004) and continued her political work, especially in the women’s section of the ANC and also the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM). Despite initial despair at being wrenched from her adopted country, she took full advantage of being free to write and speak in public.

She also began a new career as an artist, with exhibitions of her etchings, drawings and paintings being held in Britain, the US and Africa. Her illustrations appeared in books and on book jackets and on posters and cards for the AAM.

She wrote several books, including No 46 — Steve Biko (1978), referring to Biko being the 46th person to die in security police detention; Death Is Part of the Process (1983), a political thriller; For Their Triumphs and for Their Tears: Women in Apartheid South Africa (1985); and The Rift — The Exile Experience of South Africans (1994).

The Bernsteins, who later moved out of London to Wales and then rural Oxfordshire, returned to South Africa to take part in the country’s first non-racial election in 1994. They visited South Africa several times and donated most of their books to the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Rusty’s home city of Durban.

In 2002 the couple took part in a reunion of the Rivonia triallists in Johannesburg. Later that year Rusty died and Bernstein moved to Cape Town to live with one of her children.

In 2004 she was given the Luthuli Silver Award for “contribution to the attainment of a free and democratic society in South Africa”.

The same year Bernstein reflected: “Maybe this little group of whites did make a difference, however small. I feel proud we were among those who helped to influence the inevitable change, which has come much sooner and more calmly than I ever felt possible."

She is survived by her four children.

Hilda Bernstein, political activist, was born on May 15, 1915. She died on September 8, 2006, aged 91.,,60-2381365.html

It's only when you look at an ant through a magnifying glass on a sunny day that you realise how often they burst into flames. Harry Hill

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