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Katie van Schaijik

Sheena Duncan, RIP

May. 8, 2010, at 11:24am

The New York Times has an obituary portrait (hat tip Jen Rubin) of a courageous white woman, who did what she could to fight the vicious system of apartheid in South Africa.

Over decades of volunteer work — counseling thousands of black South Africans, plotting legal strategy, writing pamphlets, holding silent vigils and speaking out in churches and at universities — Mrs. Duncan moved far beyond the traditional sphere reserved for white women of her day.

She helped people whose families were being torn apart by laws that kept black workers in the cities to serve whites while exiling their kin to impoverished rural “bantustans,” or homelands. She invited those who sought her advice to sit on the same side of the desk with her as she pored over their identity documents, especially the books blacks were required to carry to prove they were authorized to be where they were. With no formal legal training, Mrs. Duncan became an authority on the notorious pass laws, which governed the movement of blacks. She sent people with a chance of successfully challenging them to the Legal Resources Center, a human rights organization that took on such cases with financial support from American foundations and South African corporations.

What a witness to human dignity!

The Sowetan, a daily newspaper that serves a black readership, wrote in its lead editorial on Thursday: “Our sorrows and fears lifted a little whenever her ample figure hove into view. She took up the cudgels and fought tirelessly, without profit or reward, against members of her own race who enslaved us.”

May she receive her eternal reward, and may her tribe on earth increase!


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