Ann Colvin (17-9-2010)
By Marimuthu Subramoney
During the height of the resistance against the former
apartheid regime in the 1970s and 1980s, a number of middle- aged white women in Durban used to lend their support at
almost all the protest meetings and rallies. One such person
was the energetic, sprightly, spirited, passionate and
politically strong Ann Colvin, who used to at that time live in
St Thomas Road on the Berea.
She was, in addition to being associated with various social
and community organisations, an official of Black Sash; and
worked closely with the socio-religious anti-apartheid
organisation, Diakonia; Detainees Parents' Support
Committee; End Conscription Campaign(ECC); Support for
Conscientious Objectors; the Release Mandela Campaign; and
the Natal Indian Congress.
On Sunday, September 12 this exceptional and indomitable
fighter for justice died in her sleep at the ripe-old age of 88. A
large group of family, friends and former anti-apartheid
politicial activists held a simple service at the Botanical
Gardens Education Centre in the city on Friday(Sept 17) to
pay tribute to her.
Who was this little-known political activist? Sometime early
last year just before the general elections I had the privilege
of interviewing Ann Colvin at a time when she had just
completed her 86th birthday.
Born in Durban in March 1922, she came from a somewhat
privileged background. She and her twin sister attended the
Durban Girls College where she completed her matriculation.
In 1946 at the age of 24 she married a British pilot and
because of her husband's work she lived most of her married
life outside South Africa in England, Hong Kong, Lebanon and
In the late 1960s when her husband retired from British
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Airways, she returned to South Africa with her husband and
four young children - two boys and two girls - to settle in
Immediately on her return she became drawn to the anti- apartheid struggles because she and her children did not
experience the kind of racial prejudice that existed in South
Africa at that time.
"From the very first time when I landed and came back here I
was horrified by what I saw,
" she had said.
"I was not surprised not so much by seeing apartheid in
action but by the fact that white people accepted it. I couldn't
believe it. Some of these people were my peers, people I grew
up with. I couldn't believe that they could accept something
so totally unjust.
"So I told myself that I either join the anti-apartheid struggles
or leave the country."
The first organisation she joined was the Black Sash, an
organisation made up mainly of white women who provided
help to black people on labour matters and other social
issues. She was the chairperson of the Durban branch of
Black Sash for more than 20 years and also became closely
involved with, among other organisations, the Natal Indian
Congress, which at that time was one of the main above- board organisations leading the struggles against repression
"I went to all the meetings and didn't think that my skin
colour was a problem. We were all there fighting for non- racialism and speaking out against the injustices of the
apartheid regime. The people in the Natal Indian Congress
were a great bunch of people. I really admired them for what
they were doing and I was made one of them. There was no
such thing as skin colour."
But, she said, it was not all smooth sailing. The dreaded
security police of that era kept a close watch and they didn't
like seeing a white woman involved in the struggles with
African, Indian, and coloured people.
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"What really got their goats to put it crudely was the fact that
here we were whites, Indians, Africans and coloured people
protesting and working together. They couldn't believe that
we could be together. They didn't do anything overtly against
me but they let you know they were watching you."
Ann Colvin only voted for the first time in 1994. She and her
children could not find themselves voting previously in a
system that they totally abhorred.
"Words can't express it. It was absolutely incredible. I was
elated. I remember I never went to sleep that night. I worked
all night . It was terrific. It was wonderful wonderful time in
1994. It was very exciting to be part of it. Tiny tiny part of it."
Like many other political activits, All Colvin also missed
Nelson Mandela at this time of our political life.
"I missed Nelson Mandela after 1999 because of his
tremendous humanitarian and leadership qualities. I didn't
agree with Thabo Mbeki because of his stance on HIV-AIDs,
Gear, the arms deal and the internal squabbles. Yes my
feelings went from disappointment to despair to disgust."
Ann Colvin wants to see democracy strengthened in the
country and want to see strong political parties emerging.
"I think it is a sadness that in so many countries around the
world democracy has not worked,
" she had said.
"We demand our human rights but on the other side of the
coin is social responsibility."
She said despite being disappointed and disillusioned with
the current "goings on"
, she was still committed to the ideals
of non-racialism, an open society and a vibrant democracy
that she and other activists had fought for. ends -