Black Sash

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Black Sash

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Born in 1955 out of outrage over an artificial enlargement of the Senate that enabled entrenched clauses of the 1910 Constitution to be amended, the Black Sash has fought tirelessly against injustice and inequality in South Africa for six decades. When the first six women mobilised the support of thousands of others to march in protest against laws aimed at removing so-called ‘coloured’ people from the voters’ roll, they could have had little idea of what was to follow. It all started when the six middle-class white women - Jean Sinclair, Ruth Foley, Elizabeth McLaren, Tertia Pybus, Jean Bosazza, and Helen Newton-Thompson – met for tea on 19 May 1955 to discuss the specific Parliamentary Bill designed to increase the number of National Party representatives in the Senate in order to pass the Separate Representation of Voters Bill. Calling themselves the ‘Women’s Defence of the Constitution League’, they organized marches, petitions, overnight vigils, protest meetings and a convoy of cars from Johannesburg to Cape Town. They became known for the symbol of a black sash, worn by members, and draped over a symbolic replica of the Constitution when the Senate Bill and the Separate Representation of Voters Bill were eventually passed. Despite their failed challenge, the women of the League refused to pack away their black sashes, worn in mourning over the loss of Constitutional rights. Instead, they formally took on the name of the Black Sash and embarked on new campaigns against the erosion of civil liberties, racial segregation and the damage inflicted by the policy of migrant labour.


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