She lives by herself in a small, tidy house in Johannesburg. She is 77 years old. She has suffered from cancer. She has suffered a heart attack. Now her eyesight is getting bad. And er leg gives her trouble. But her spirit is strong. She fights on.
The fighter is Helen Joseph – the old lady of politics in South Africa.
The government banned her for 16 years. She spent nine years under house arrest. Today she is still a “Iisted” person. So we can’t tell you what she says.
People throw rocks through her window. They fire buIlets at her house. They phone her and swear at her. They once placed a bomb at her gate.
She has suffered for a long, long time. But she never complains. She still laughs. And her eyes still shine. She will never give up.
Helen Joseph came to South Africa in 1931. She came here from India. She was on her way home to England.
She came to South Africa to visit a friend in Durban. She only wanted to stay for a year. But she never left. She made South Africa her home.
Helen Joseph got married in 1932. She lived in Durban. When the war started in 1939, she got a job with the air force. She was an information officer.
After the war she got a job as a social worker. She worked in Fordsburg, Johannesburg. In 1950 she went to work with the “coloured” people in the Cape Flats. In the Cape she saw how the people suffered.
In 1952, something happened that changed Helen Joseph’s life. This was the year of the Defiance Campaign. Thousands of people decided not to obey unfair laws. 8 000 people were arrested. Helen Joseph thought those people were brave. She decided to go into politics. She wanted to work for a better South Africa.
Other white people felt the same way as Helen Joseph. In 1953 Helen Joseph and some white people started an orqanization. They called the organization the Congress of Democrats. This organization wanted equal rights for all people in South Africa.
In 1954, Helen Joseph helped start the Federation of South African Women. She worked with people like Fatima Meer, Ray Alexander and Lillian Ngoyi. They wanted all women in South Africa to stand together.
In June the next year, 3 000 people met in Kliptown. The meeting was called the Congress of the People. Helen Joseph was there. At the meeting the people wrote the Freedom Charter. The Freedom Charter is a list of things the people want.
When Helen Joseph spoke at the meeting, 300 policemen arrived. But Helen Joseph did not move. She finished her speech.
On the 9th August 1956, Helen Joseph marched with 20 000 women to Pretoria. They marched because the government said black women must carry passes. They marched to the government building. They wanted to speak to the Prime Minister. But he did not come out to speak to the women. The women stood outside for a long time. They did not move.
Later in the year Helen Joseph and 155 other people were arrested. They were charged in court. The court case was called the Treason Trial. The court case only finished in March 1962. The court found nobody guilty.
In 1957 Helen Joseph was banned for the first time. The banning order said she could not leave Johannesburg. And she couId not speak at meetings.
This banning ended in 1962. The next day, Helen Joseph left on a 7 000 mile journey around South Africa. She went to visit people in far away places – people the government sent to far away places.
Under house arrest, she stayed home from 6 o’clock in the evening until 6 o’clock in the morning. She stayed home on weekends and public holidays. She was only allowed one visitor – a doctor.
House arrest was a lonely time for Helen Joseph. But her friends did not forget about her. They wrote her letters. They phoned her. And at Christmas time, they stood outside her house and sang Christmas songs.
In 1971 the government stopped her house arrest when she went for a cancer operation. In 1980 the government banned her again for 2 years. Her banning order ended in June this year.
Since June Helen Joseph has spoken at many meetings. She wiII not keep quiet quiet. She will keep fighting for a better South Africa.