08 August 2016

Pillars of our archive - celebrating women in the SAHA archive

In celebration of 60 years of National Women's Day in South Africa, SAHA looks at some of the rich collections created by, or featuring the voices of, remarkable women in its archive. Each of these women played a significant role in forwarding and documenting struggles for justice in South Africa. It is a privilege and honour to pay homage to great women.



As the custodian of a wide range of UDF archival materials, the voices of the women of the UDF run rthrough SAHA's collections.

Women played a central role in the structures of the UDF as well as in the day-to-day campaigns that the UDF became involved in, including the UDF's Million Signatures Campaign.  

Albertina Sisulu was elected as one of the three co-presidents, even though she was in jail at the time of the election.

 Visit the SAHA virtual exhibition on the UDF



IDAF Poster. Date Unknown. Caption:Remember all our women in campaigns, remember all our women in jails, remember all our women in their fighting years...


Esther Barsel

Born in Lithuania, Esther Barsel dedicated her life to the struggle of the South African people from an early age, joining the Young Communist League at the age of 14. She played many roles within the movement, being a person who was willing and able to turn her hand, and heart, to any task. Both she and her husband, Hymie, were among the 15 accused in the infamous Bram Fischer trial. She was sentenced to three years’ hard labour, which she served at Barberton Women’s Prison.  The whole nation mourned her death in 2008, including former President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Her collection of correspondence archived in the Constitution Hill collection (AL3295) at SAHA consists of letters written by Barsel to her husband Hymie and her daughters Merle and Linda during her incarceration in the Johannesburg Women’s Jail in 1984 and the Barberton Women’s Prison from 1985 to 1986.

JODAC poster. Date unknown: Caption: Dorothy Nyembe Barbara Hogan Thandi Modise ...... : Women political prisoners : what are their conditions!Barbara Hogan

Born in Benoni South Africa, Barbara Hogan joined the African National Congress (ANC) shortly after the 1976 Uprisings. Her responsibilities in the then underground movement were to mobilise the white political left, participate in public political campaigning and supply the ANC underground in Botswana with information about trade union and community activity in South Africa.  

She was detained in 1982, and after being interrogated, ill-treated and held in solitary confinement for a year, she was found guilty of high treason and sentenced to 10 years in jail. She was released in 1990 and has continued to play a pivotal role in the ANC.

Materials covering the operations of the Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vaal Region (PWV) ANC branch for the period 1990-1194 are contained in the Barbara Hogan collection (AL3013) at SAHA.

In 2003 Barbara Hogan donated her prison records to the Constitution Hill Trust. SAHA, as custodian of the Constitution Hill Trust archive, archived the Barbara Hogan papers (H01.02) as part of the Constitution Hill 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.

Visit the Barbara Hogan collection AL3013


Drawing by Fatima Meer on women detainees. Archived in the Constitution Hill Collection at SAHAThe stories of detention from other brave women activists who were held in detention, alongside Hogan and Barsel, in the Women's Jail in which SAHA's offices are now located also appear in the Constitution Hill collection (AL3295), including the correspondence of Violet and Sheila Weinberg and the artwork of Fatima Meer

The voices of women who were detained at the notorious John Vorster Square, including Baby Tyawa, Joyce Dipale, Barbara Hogan, Helene Passtoors, Catherine Hunter, and Elizabeth Floyd also feature in the SAHA / Sunday Times Heritage Project, as part of the development of the interactive DVD, "Between Life and Death" stories from John Vorster Square."

Visit the Constitution Hill Trust collection AL3295





Reflecting SAHA's commitment to justice and accountability in South Africa, SAHA has actively collected archival materials relating to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), in many instances from women who worked within the Commission itself.

AL2924 :: The Sally Sealey TRC Collection 
AL3093 :: The Wendy Watson Collection
AL3115 :: The Jane Argall Collection
AL3116 :: The Janet Cherry Collection
AL3117 :: The Laura Pollecutt Collection
AL3119 :: The Sheila Meintjies and Beth Goldblatt Collection
AL3120 :: The Fiona Ross Collection
AL3135 :: The Gertrude Fester Collection

Read Women of Truth: Profiling women in the TRC to learn about the women in the TRC

Visit the SAHA / SABC Truth Commission Special Report website to watch women in action at the TRC.


Julie Frederikse

Born in Washington DC, worked as a journalist covering southern Africa for the US Public Broadcasting System's National Public Radio, BBC Africa, CBC and Radio Nederland-based in South Africa and Zimbabwe. She has also written a couple of books one being 'The unbreakable thread: non-racialism in South Africa". Frederikse's collection consists of audiotapes, CDs, and transcripts of the oral interviews she and other people conducted over the period 1979-1990. During this period she interviewed over 100 liberation struggle veterans, including many women such as Cheryl Carolus, Dorothy Nyembe, Frene Ginwala, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Ray Alexander, Esther Barsel, Sheena Duncan, Helen Joseph, Fatima Meer, to name a few. 

Visit the Julie Frederikse collection (AL2460)

Gille de Vlieg

Born in England, an activist and once Afrapix photographer, Gille de Vlieg's collection consists of black and white digital images which, in part, document South Africa's tempestuous political history of the 1980's.  De Vlieg’s images speak of contrast. She would capture a tranquil moment of living life in a seemingly serene rural setting the one moment, only to be followed by a disturbing image of brutality in the same setting a moment later – still always beautifully framed and captured. However, it is the way she captures people and their emotions that is remarkable. These are images that evoke an emotional response, even many years later.  

The repetition of certain themes in her images through the years, such as forced removals, mass funerals, and political protests further strengthens her body of work as a record of the turbulent political past. Capturing gender and lifestyle issues, such as women embroidering, making batik patterns on cloth, pottery, and basket-making remain an important part of her work throughout the eighties. Her body of work also includes photographs of Harare street scenes in Zimbabwe, and numerous lifestyle images of people (including the Herero and Himba people) living in Namibia.

Visit the Gille de Vlieg Photographic collection (AL3274)