About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Bernstein, Hilda

Hilda Bernstein was born in London in 1915. She was educated at State schools and had no higher education. She relocated to South Africa in 1932 where she worked in advertising agencies and later in publishing and journalism. In South Africa she became active in organisations associated with the struggle for national liberation. She was a member of the South African Labour Party League of Youth until 1940. After her stint in the Labour Party, she became a member of the South African Communist Party. Hilda became a Johannesburg City Councillor from 1943 to 1946 - the only Communist to be elected to public office on a 'whites only' vote.

Hilda was a founding member of the Federation of South African Women - the first non-racial women's organisation in South Africa. She was one of the organisers of the women's march to the union buildings that took place on the 9th of August 1956. She was also a founder of the South African Peace Council and its national secretary until the organisation's banning. While she was a contributor on South African affairs to periodicals in Africa, Britain, USA, Europe she established long standing associations with the ANC, particularly through the ANC Women's League.

In 1946 Hilda was charged with sedition arising out of a mineworkers' strike. In 1953 she was banned by Ministerial decree from 26 organisations and all meetings, including bans on writing and being published. In 1960, she was detained under the State of Emergency without charge following the Sharpeville shootings. In 1964 after the Rivonia trial, she escaped from home as police came to make an arrest and managed to cross the frontier on foot to Botswana. Ultimately she arrived in London where she worked as a free-lance journalist; and started a new career as an artist and print-maker.

While in exile, she was a member of the External Mission, and of the Women's section of the ANC. She was also an active member and regular speaker on behalf of ANC and Anti-Apartheid Movement in Britain. She toured extensively in Europe, Canada and USA on behalf of the ANC and the Women's League.

Her publication list includes: The World that was Ours; The Terrorism of Torture; For Their Triumphs and for Their Tears; Steve Biko; Death is Part of the Process. Some of her more famous publications include: The Rift - the Exile Experience of South Africans and The Trials of Nelson Mandela (in Italian). She has also exhibited etchings, drawings and paintings in galleries in London, the USA and countries of Africa. Her work has been used as book jackets, book illustrations, as posters and as cards for the AAM. Hilda has retired from political activity but still works as a writer and artist.

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