HESTER JOSEPH - ONE OF THE BACKROOM PERSONS WHO PLAYED AN INTEGRAL ROLE IN THE STRUGGLES BY THE BLACK CONSCIOUSNESS MOVEMENT IN THE 1970s and 1980s
( HESTER JOSEPH IN THE 1970s)
INTRO: One of the back room persons who was an integral part of the black consciousness struggles in the 1970s and 1980s was Hester Joseph of Durban. Mrs Joseph – a former manager of the Diakonia Centre - did not allow the oppressive situation and the intimidation and harassment by the ruthless security police at that time to cow her down. In this week's feature on struggle heroes and heroines - Subry Govender profiles the life of Hester Joseph - who came from a very conservative background...... .
Hester Joseph, who was born into a working class family in the Overport area of Durban in July 1950, became embroiled in the world of black consciousness in the early 1970s when she started work at the United Congregational Church at 86 Beatrice Street in Durban. At that time 86 Beatrice Street was the headquarters of the South African Students Organisation(SASO) and other black consciousness organisations. Here, while still in her teens, she came into contact with activists such as the late Steve Biko, the late Strini Moodley, Mandla Langa, Sam Moodley, Asha Rambally, Daphne Khoza, and the late Ben Langa.
(HESTER JOSEPH WITH THREE OF HER GRAND-CHILDREN AT HER HOME IN RED HILL, DURBAN)At this time another doyen of the struggle, the late Dr Beyers Naude, had started the SPROCAS group to politicise the white community and discussions were taking place to establish something similar within the black community.
One of the activists at that time, Bennie Khoapa, was given this task and he initiated the Black Community Prorgammes (or BCP).
“Benny Khoapa was appointed the Executive Director of the BCP and I was appointed the executive secretary. Hycinth Bhengu was the chairperson. SASO also had its offices there with people such as Asha, Steve Biko, Sam, Strini, Vino and Saths Cooper, Daphne Koza, Dawn Goodley, Ben Langa, Mandla Langa, and Mamphela Ramphele.
“All these people helped me to shape my life and to become active in the struggles against the racist political situation at that time,” she told me in an interview.
“I mean the thing that appealed to me about the Black Community Programmes at that time was that it was still involved with the church and came into contact with people like Dr Beyers Naude. “Little did I realise that I would be drawn into this fantastic community of people who were wanting to conscientise black people and that excited me.
“Comrade Steve used to be absolutely wonderful. He was very gentle in explaining that we all have to work together to overcome the evils of apartheid. And this is what I began to feel. I soon felt that I found my niche with this group of people.”
Her entry into black consciousness came after she began to question the issue of racism that prevailed in the compartmentalised communities that existed at that time. Her early life was confined to the small coloured community in the Overport area and her parents and her four sisters did not mix freely with other racial groups.
(HESTER JOSEPH WITH SAM MOODLEY ON HER 50TH BIRTHDAY)
“A lady was employed to come and help us in the house and I remember a time when my mother discouraged us from chatting to her and talking to her about her family,” she recalled.
“She told us that she was here to work and that she needed to work and go home. And I think that’s where it actually started and I began to question why should it be like that. And of course my meeting with Strini and Sam and others at 86 Beatrice Street further opened my eyes to the kind of society we were living in at that time. It was a natural progress from then on because I suddenly found people that I could talk to about the political situation in the country.”
At this time in the early 1970s the dreaded security police kept a close watch on those entering and leaving 86 Beatrice Street. She remembers how on September 1974 when black consciousness leaders were attacked and arrested when they held the pro-Frelimo rally at the famous Currie’s Fountain soccer stadium.
(Hester Joseph and her husband, Harold Joseph, in their early years in the 1970s)
“After they arrested a number of our people at Currie’s Fountain, they descended at our offices in droves and arrested a number of BC leaders. They showed no mercy to the people on this day.
“It was only after the Frelimo rally that nine leaders of the BC movement - Saths Cooper, Terror Lekota, Aubrey Mokoape, Strini Moodley, Muntu Myeza, Vincent Nkomo, Pandelani Nefolovhodwe, Zitulele Cindi and Gilbert Sedibe were charged with terrorism and sentenced to Robben Island.”
Hester Joseph was with the Black Community Programmes until it was banned in 1977 along with 18 other organisations.
“I remember clearly that on the day the security police carried out sweeps throughout the country in October 1977, I was alerted that a car was waiting for me outside our home.
“The security policemen informed me that they were taking me to our offices at the Congregational Church building because SASO, BPC, Union of Black Journalists (UBJ) and 16 other organisations had been outlawed.
“When we arrived at our offices, the security policemen turned the place upside down. They literally trashed the place. They cleaned up the office of all our documents and took them all to their offices,” she said.
She said the security police also raided their offices in Johannesburg, in the Eastern Cape and at the Zanempilo Clinic in the Eastern Cape.
After the banning of BPC and the other organisations, Hester Jospeh joined the Diakonia Council of Churches where she joined a group of people who were passionate about promoting social justice through religion. Some of the people she worked with were Bishop Rubin Phillip and Paddy Kearney.
She later joined the Ecumenical Trust, which also propogated the struggles against racism and minority rule.
After a break of a few years, Hester Joseph returned to Diakonia and became the manager of the Diakonia Centre.
When the country went to the polls in April 1994, Hester Joseph was one of those who was first in the line.
“There was real excitement in 1994 especially because Nelson Mandela who was such an icon was free and leading us all to freedom. So yes I voted for the ANC in 1994 but the years after that I did not vote.”
Today, 23 years into the new democracy, Hester Jospeh believes that while the new government has achieved a great deal, there's still much more to do, especially in the efforts to improve the quality of life of the poor, marginalised and the forgotten.
“Politicians today don't have the same principles as the activists of the past. A large group of people I worked with never owned a car while they worked for justice, freedom and equal opportunities for everyone. I think one needs to lead by example.”
Although Hester Joseph retired from Diakonia two years ago in July 2015, she is still involved in the social field as a Trustee of the Denis Hurley Centre in Durban.
Hester Joseph’s involvement during the struggles as a back-room person is best captured by Dr Mamphele Ramphele in her autobiography, “A Life”. Referring to Hester Joseph she wrote:
“The success of new ventures often rests with sound administrative capacity – a factor which many radical movements ignore at their peril. Ms Hester Fortune, a beautiful and and self-confident woman who was executive secretary of the Black Community Programmes at 86 Beatrice Street in Durban, which became a hive of activity, attracting welcome and unwelcome visitors who wanted a piece of the action. Hester had the sophistication to keep a necessary balance in the office, avoiding complete openness and lack of discipline, whilst creating a welcoming, supportive environment where serious work was possible.” Ends - firstname.lastname@example.org July 12 2017