22 February 2016

Records of imprisonment - the Barbara Hogan story

On 21 October 1982 Barbara Hogan became the first white woman to be convicted of high treason in South Africa. She was sentenced to ten years in prison. Born and bred in the East Rand town of Benoni, she joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1977. On 22 September 1981 she was arrested after a report she had sent to the ANC’s headquarters was intercepted. Attached to this report was the so-called ‘Close Comrades list’ – the list compiled by Barbara Hogan for the ANC with names of people she worked with.

She was taken to John Vorster Square (JVS) where, in solitary confinement, she was interrogated and assaulted. She was moved to the Women’s Jail at the Johannesburg Fort in March 1982 and was part of the last group of prisoners to leave the Fort when it closed in 1983. She was then relocated to the new Johannesburg Prison in Diepkloof in 1983 and finally to Pretoria Central Prison where she was incarcerated until her release in 1990.

Barbara Hogan at an ex-prisoners' workshop at Constitution Hill, 2003. Photographer: Oscar Gutierrez. Archived in SAHA collection AL3295_D02In 2003 Barbara Hogan donated her prison records to the Constitution Hill Trust. SAHA, as custodian of the Constitution Hill Trust archive, has now processed the Barbara Hogan papers (H01.02) as part of the Constitution Hill Trust collection (AL3295). These papers reflect a harrowing, almost decade long chapter in Hogan’s life as a political prisoner and document her arrest, detention and imprisonment.

The collection consists of prison records, correspondence, prison narratives and newspaper clippings. Also included are copies of the report outlining her underground work for the ANC and the ‘Close Comrades list’ that led to Barbara Hogan’s arrest, as well as a group of documents presumably confiscated by the security police. Each of the documents bears a signature and the date 22/9/81, the date of her arrest.

The correspondence forms the bulk of the material and includes letters to and from Hogan’s family and friends. The letters to her family and friends from 1982 to 1989 trace her years of imprisonment. The letters not only reveal intimate accounts of prison life, but Hogan’s inner feelings and her struggle to remain positive amidst imprisonment often come to the fore. Her incredible sense of humour and the unwavering support from family and friends clearly assist in her surviving these difficult years.

Record of prison menu kept by Barbara Hogan. Archived as SAHA collection AL3295_H01.

Most intriguing are the meticulous hand-written records kept by Barbara Hogan of letters, birthday and Christmas cards sent and received and records of visitors from 1984 to 1989. At one point she also kept a record of prison menus for breakfast, lunch and supper and drafted a document 'Changes in Diet Scale'. The collection further includes a wealth of documents, such as: a journalist’s vivid account of his visit to Hogan at the Johannesburg Fort during the time of her trial; reports by Barbara Hogan and others to prison authorities addressing prisoner complaints; her prison release certificate; dated 9 February 1990 as well as an address by Hogan shortly after her release highlighting her involvement in the ANC and the role of the ANC in building a future South Africa.

Barbara Hogan’s detention and prison experiences are also contained in other SAHA collections, such as the 1981 Detainees Oral History Project collection (AL2933) and the Sunday Times Heritage Project (STHP) collection (AL3282). Her detention at John Vorster Square is well documented in the interactive DVD 'Between life and death: stories from John Vorster Square' which was developed as part of the STHP. Contents of this DVD are now featured on the Google Cultural Institute website.


See inventory for the Constitution Hill Trust collection (AL3295)

See inventory for the 1981 Detainees Oral History Project collection (AL2933)

See inventory for the Sunday Times Heritage Project collection (AL3282)

Visit the Between life and death: stories from John Vorster Square DVD page

Download a copy of 'Between life and death: stories from John Vorster Square - a guide for educators'

Visit the online exhibition on the Google Cultural Institute website