Hilda Bernstein

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Hilda Bernstein
Hilda bernstein.jpg
Lionel and Hilda Bernstein
BornHilda Schwarz
15 May 1915
London, United Kingdom
Died8 September 2006(2006-09-08) (aged 91)
Cape Town, South Africa
Nationality South African
Occupationauthor, artist
Known forAnit-apartheid activism

Hilda Bernstein (London, 15 May 1915 – 8 September 2006) was a British-born author, artist, and an activist against apartheid and for women's rights.

London Capital of the United Kingdom

London is the capital and largest city of both England and the United Kingdom. Standing on the River Thames in the south-east of England, at the head of its 50-mile (80 km) estuary leading to the North Sea, London has been a major settlement for two millennia. Londinium was founded by the Romans. The City of London, London's ancient core − an area of just 1.12 square miles (2.9 km2) and colloquially known as the Square Mile − retains boundaries that follow closely its medieval limits. The City of Westminster is also an Inner London borough holding city status. Greater London is governed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.

An author is the creator or originator of any written work such as a book or play, and is thus also a writer. More broadly defined, an author is "the person who originated or gave existence to anything" and whose authorship determines responsibility for what was created.

Artist person who creates, practises and/or demonstrates any art

An artist is a person engaged in an activity related to creating art, practicing the arts, or demonstrating an art. The common usage in both everyday speech and academic discourse is a practitioner in the visual arts only. The term is often used in the entertainment business, especially in a business context, for musicians and other performers. "Artiste" is a variant used in English only in this context; this use is becoming rare. Use of the term to describe writers, for example, is valid, but less common, and mostly restricted to contexts like criticism.


She was born Hilda Schwarz in London and emigrated to South Africa at the age of 18 years and became active in politics. She married fellow activist Lionel "Rusty" Bernstein in March 1941, and together they played prominent roles in the struggle to end Apartheid in South Africa. After her husband was tried and acquitted in the Rivonia Trial in 1964, government harassment forced them to flee to Botswana, an ordeal described in her 1967 book The World that was Ours , which was republished by Persephone Books in 2004. They lived in Britain for some years where she further established herself internationally as a speaker, writer, and artist. She returned with her husband to South Africa in 1994 for the South African election in which fellow activist Nelson Mandela was elected President. She died at the age of 91 in Cape Town, South Africa.

South Africa Republic in the southernmost part of Africa

South Africa, officially the Republic of South Africa (RSA), is the southernmost country in Africa. It is bounded to the south by 2,798 kilometres (1,739 mi) of coastline of Southern Africa stretching along the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans; to the north by the neighbouring countries of Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe; and to the east and northeast by Mozambique and Eswatini (Swaziland); and it surrounds the enclaved country of Lesotho. South Africa is the largest country in Southern Africa and the 25th-largest country in the world by land area and, with over 57 million people, is the world's 24th-most populous nation. It is the southernmost country on the mainland of the Old World or the Eastern Hemisphere. About 80 percent of South Africans are of Sub-Saharan African ancestry, divided among a variety of ethnic groups speaking different African languages, nine of which have official status. The remaining population consists of Africa's largest communities of European (White), Asian (Indian), and multiracial (Coloured) ancestry.

Politics refers to a set of activities associated with the governance of a country, or an area. It involves making decisions that apply to members of a group.

Lionel Bernstein South African activist

Lionel "Rusty" Bernstein was a South African anti-apartheid activist and political prisoner.

Early life

Bernstein was born in London to Russian-Jewish immigrants Simeon and Dora Schwarz. When she was ten her father, who was a lifelong Bolshevik and had been the Russian Trade Attaché to Britain, was recalled to the Soviet Union. He was not able to return to Britain, and after his death she quit school to work before emigrating to South Africa at the age of 18 to work in journalism.

Russia transcontinental country in Eastern Europe and Northern Asia

Russia, officially the Russian Federation, is a transcontinental country in Eastern Europe and North Asia. At 17,125,200 square kilometres (6,612,100 sq mi), Russia is by far or by a considerable margin the largest country in the world by area, covering more than one-eighth of the Earth's inhabited land area, and the ninth most populous, with about 146.77 million people as of 2019, including Crimea. About 77% of the population live in the western, European part of the country. Russia's capital, Moscow, is one of the largest cities in the world and the second largest city in Europe; other major cities include Saint Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg and Nizhny Novgorod. Extending across the entirety of Northern Asia and much of Eastern Europe, Russia spans eleven time zones and incorporates a wide range of environments and landforms. From northwest to southeast, Russia shares land borders with Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and North Korea. It shares maritime borders with Japan by the Sea of Okhotsk and the U.S. state of Alaska across the Bering Strait. However, Russia recognises two more countries that border it, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both of which are internationally recognized as parts of Georgia.

Soviet Union 1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia

The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a socialist state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centres were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometres east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometres north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.

Journalism refers to the production and distribution of reports on recent events. The word journalism applies to the occupation, as well as citizen journalists using methods of gathering information and using literary techniques. Journalistic media include print, television, radio, Internet, and, in the past, newsreels.

Activism in South Africa

In response to the rise of fascism in Europe, she became involved with the Labour Party. This party, however, did not share her growing concern with apartheid and she left it to join the South African Communist Party, the only South African party with no racial segregation. She demonstrated her speaking and organizing skills on the party's district committee and national executive committee.

Fascism Form of radical, right-wing, authoritarian ultranationalism

Fascism is a form of radical, right-wing, authoritarian ultranationalism, characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, and strong regimentation of society and of the economy, which came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe. The first fascist movements emerged in Italy during World War I before it spread to other European countries. Opposed to liberalism, Marxism, and anarchism, fascism is placed on the far-right within the traditional left–right spectrum.

The Labour Party, was a South African political party formed in March 1910 in the newly created Union of South Africa following discussions between trade unions and the Independent Labour Party of Transvaal, was a professedly democratic socialist party representing the interests of the white working class.

Apartheid system of racial segregation enforced through legislation in South Africa

Apartheid was a system of institutionalised racial segregation that existed in South Africa from 1948 until the early 1990s. Apartheid was characterised by an authoritarian political culture based on baasskap, which encouraged state repression of Black African, Coloured, and Asian South Africans for the benefit of the nation's minority white population. The economic legacy and social effects of apartheid continue to the present day.

Through her political activities she met Lionel "Rusty" Bernstein, whom she married in March 1941.

In 1943 she was elected to the city council of Johannesburg by a then all-white electorate, the only member of the Communist Party to do so. She used this position for three years as a platform for publicizing the injustices of apartheid.

Johannesburg Place in Gauteng, South Africa

Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa and one of the 50 largest urban areas in the world. It is the provincial capital and largest city of Gauteng, which is the wealthiest province in South Africa. While Johannesburg is not one of South Africa's three capital cities, it is the seat of the Constitutional Court. The city is located in the mineral-rich Witwatersrand range of hills and is the centre of large-scale gold and diamond trade.

In the 1950s she became more focused on organizing with women. She was a founding member of the multi-racial Federation of South African Women [1] in 1956, and she was one of the organizers of the Women's March to Pretoria. [2] Her writings were appearing regularly in periodicals in South Africa and other nations in Africa and Europe.

As early as 1946 the South African government began its attempts to limit her activities and minimize her political influence. In that year she was convicted of assisting an illegal strike of black mineworkers. In 1953 the government banned her membership in a list of organizations, and in 1958 extended this ban to prohibit her from writing or publishing. In 1960 she was detained during the state of emergency declared after the Sharpeville massacre. She was therefore required to go underground with her political work.

In 1963 her husband Rusty was one of 19 African National Congress leaders arrested at Johannesburg suburb of Rivonia. Rusty was acquitted at the Rivonia Trial, but was soon rearrested and released on bail to house arrest. Hilda Bernstein fled from their home as the police were on the way to arrest her. They fled to Botswana, crossing the border on foot.

Life in exile

In exile, the Bernsteins eventually settled in Britain where they continued to work in support of the African National Congress. She also dedicated her written and oral communication skills to the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the British peace movement. Her writings and speaking engagements were numerous in Europe, the United States, and Canada.

She wrote several books, including The World That was Ours which documented their flight from South Africa. She also dedicated more time to her art, which appeared in several shows and became part of many public and private collections. Her artwork has also been used in many publications for the Anti-Apartheid Movement.

Return to South Africa

Rusty and Hilda Bernstein returned to South Africa in 1994 to participate in the South African election which was the first democratic election where all races were allowed to vote, and see the end of apartheid and their fellow ANC member Nelson Mandela become president.

In 1998, both Rusty and Hilda were awarded honorary degrees from the University of Natal for their role in helping to bring democracy to South Africa. Rusty died at their home in 2002.

In 2004 she was awarded the Luthuli Silver Award for her "contribution to the attainment of gender equality and a free and democratic society" in South Africa. She died from heart failure at the age of 91 at her home in Cape Town, South Africa. She was survived by their four children: Toni, Patrick, Frances, and Keith Bernstein.

In March 2011, the country of Gambia issued a postage stamp in her honor, naming her as one of the Legendary Heroes of Africa.

Published works

See also


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  1. "Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) | South African History Online". Sahistory.org.za. Retrieved 2012-08-18.
  2. "The 1956 Women's March, Pretoria, 9 August | South African History Online". Sahistory.org.za. 1953-01-04. Retrieved 2012-08-18.