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Hilda Bernstein (15/05/1915 – 08/09/2006)

Hilda Bernstein

Recently the world has lost one of its outstanding defendants of human rights, peace and social justice for all.

Hilda Bernstein was also a writer, a journalist and an artist who put her talents in the service of human liberty.

She was born in London-England. Her father Simeon Schwartz was a socialist who left his wife Dora and his three daughters for good in 1925 to return to the Soviet Union.

In 1933, Hilda emigrated to South Africa were she witnessed the brutality of the apartheid regime. By 1940, while Europe and the whole world were in turmoil by the acts of the monster created by imperialism, fascism, she left the South African Labour Party and joined the South African Communist Party; the only organization with no racial segregation.

In1941, she met Lionel (Rusty) Bernstein through shared political involvement, and they were married.

In 1956, she was one of the founders of the Federation of South African Women (a multi-racial women’s organization); some of its members later became outstanding leaders of the African National Congress (ANC). Hilda also was one of the founders of the South African Peace Council and was its national secretary until being banned. During her long political activities she was detained, banned from attending organizations, meetings, writing and publishing, but she continued political work clandestinely.

In 1963, her husband was arrested at Rivonia and charged together with Nelson Mandela and others. He was acquitted, rearrested, recharged, and then released on bail. Soon after his release, Hilda fled from home as the police came to arrest her. She and Rusty left their children behind, crossed the frontier on foot to Botswana, ultimately arriving in London.

Hilda continued to be active in different anti-apartheid and peace movements and struggled for social justice for the whole world.

With the dismantlement of apartheid, she returned to South Africa and lived there until her death at the age of 91.

Some of her famous works are:

  • The World that was ours

  • The Terrorism of Torture

  • For their Triumphs and for their Tears

  • Steve Biko

  • Death is Part of the Process

  • The Trial of Nelson Mandela

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