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A Mother and Her Daughters: Jewish Teachers and the Fight against Apartheid

by Alan Wieder - 2007


Before 1999, there was little research on teachers and apartheid aside from some biographical sketches. “A Mother and Her Daughters” is part of an ongoing oral history project of teachers who fought apartheid. It is contextualized through the literature on Jews and apartheid in South Africa and joins the growing literature on teachers in the country.


The article describes and analyzes the lives of three Jewish women, a mother and two of her daughters, who as teachers challenged the apartheid regime in their communities and in their schools. The elder teacher taught in a Jewish day school and brought the issues of apartheid to Jewish studies, and her daughters taught in black schools during the struggle years. The lives of the three women portrayed are analyzed within the context of the political divide among Jewish South Africans during apartheid.

Setting and Participants:

“A Mother and Her Daughters” is part of an oral history project in South Africa with over 200 teachers from each of the apartheid government designated ethnic groups: Africans, coloureds, Indians, and whites.

Research Design:

I have spent the last six years working on an oral history project with teachers who fought apartheid. The first people that I interviewed were referred to me by university colleagues in South Africa. As the project continued, I spoke to teachers who often provided me with lists of other teachers. The methodological process is what ethnographers define as network sampling, or snowball sampling. As I have argued elsewhere, and with a sensitivity to issues of memory, culture, class, race, ethnicity, gender, and power and their relationship to oral history, I view my work as testimony as oral history. While most oral historians conduct research by identifying informants and conducting interviews, testimony as oral history recognizes that individuals need to speak—to testify and provide witness to their lives.


The women portrayed in the article joined many other South Africans on the ground to fight the apartheid regime. The lives of the Silbert women are important because they went against the norm of their own Jewish community, and white South Africa, to work for the end of apartheid and for a democratic South Africa. They went against the grain of most South African teachers and represent what scholar and politico I. B. Tabata called “teachers with the fighting spirit.” Marlene, Beth, and Patti Silbert combined pedagogy and politics to fight apartheid. Their stories are significant because with other “teachers with the fighting spirit,” they were part of derailing apartheid and facilitating the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994. In addition, individually and collectively, the stories of the Silbert women offer possibilities of education for democracy—in South Africa and throughout the world.

Marlene Silbert is the education director at the Holocaust Centre in Cape Town; her eldest daughter, Joleen, is a psychotherapist in Australia; and Beth and Patti, the middle and youngest daughters, are teachers, although they now stay home with young children. Marlene, Beth, and Patti all taught during apartheid times, and each of them, in their own individual ways and with different expertise, was part of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. While the literature on teachers and apartheid is not extensive, there is an emerging body of scholarship that examines the lives of teachers in the apartheid era. There is also a vibrant debate and growing literature on the political lives of Jewish South Africans. This article portrays the Silbert women within the above contexts. The article includes seven sections and a conclusion. We begin with sections on South African teachers during apartheid, Jews in South Africa, and oral history methodology. The contextual sections are followed by oral histories of Marlene, Beth, and Patti Silbert, and a conclusion analyzing their lives as Jewish teachers fighting apartheid. The stories of the Silbert women provide what I define as “testimony as oral history,” in this case, first-person accounts of three teachers’ struggles for democracy in South Africa. The lives of the Silbert women are significant because they portray the possibility of challenging oppression in spite of living within the complexities of being Jewish teachers in a totalitarian state.


When I arrived in South Africa in 1999, I was informed by the country’s leading educational historian, Peter Kallaway, that there was little scholarship on teachers and apartheid. Although there was some biographical and literary work on black and coloured teachers, there was little scholarly analysis. However, the political analysis in the writings of I. B. Tabata offer a Frantz Fanon-like lens on the breadth of apartheid-era teachers.1 Tabata mirrors Fanon’s work on colonialism and “slave mentality” in his writings on teachers. Throughout Black Skin/White Masks, Fanon addresses the psychological enslavement that is part of colonial and capitalist oppression.2 In an article titled “Boycott as Weapon of Struggle,” Tabata portrays “slave mentality” within the context of colonialism. He argues that some teachers became psychologically enslaved while others exhibited “the fighting spirit.”3 He addresses slave mentality throughout the 20th century as colonialism used non-Europeans to enslave their brethren through education. There were teachers during apartheid times who helped to solidify oppression and the rigid racial divisions. Dennis Ntombela recalled how some black teachers treated students.

Even those that had taught me who were now my colleagues held white people in high esteem. And at the same time held black people in very low esteem. And we were black and I couldn’t understand. Uh, they would say something like, you know, black people are noisy, black people are lazy, black people are careless. And all those negative things would be said at pupil assemblies in the mornings as school starts.4

The counterpoint for Tabata was teachers working to fight colonialism and then apartheid. Tabata’s “teachers with the fighting spirit” joined pedagogy and politics to fight the apartheid regime.

“We had to defend the children, make them understand what the rulers were trying to do, and why,” said Helen Kies. “And this meant providing political education as well. Our main lesson was We Are One Human Race. There Are No Superior, No Inferior, Races.” Jean September spoke about her work teaching history. “I was doing an alternative history with students. There was no way I was going to teach apartheid history . . . posters up on the wall and it's not your normal kind of posters that you have up. It's a lot of “Down With Gutter Education,” “The Apartheid History Curriculum Should Be Abolished.” Pam Hicks was a white teacher who taught at Livingstone. She recalled subverting the biology syllabus in the mid-eighties. “But whenever there was a chance I would use it against itself. Like the heavy emphasis on taxonomy. I would explain how science can by used for another agenda. The use of classification here, in Nazi Germany and other racist systems.” A second white teacher, Wendy Moult, spoke about her anti-apartheid responsibility in white schools. “And I often shut my door and spoke from my heart to the children because if their parents weren't doing it I actually needed to tell them what was going wrong. Because you see when you're in a cloistered environment like that, they don't realize.5

The Silbert women joined these progressive teachers to fight for a democratic South Africa. While Tabata’s portrayal of teachers shows extremes of enslavers and progressives, the reality is much more hybrid, with a continuum from conservative to radical. Among teachers who fought apartheid, the general label is progressive, and that is a continuum of liberal to radical. There is great complexity within the progressive teacher movement that fought the apartheid regime, just as there is within the South African Jewish community discussed in the next section.


Jewish South Africans are not a homogeneous community. They have different views on religion, politics, economics, and culture, and they had a full spectrum of positions on apartheid. Diversity among Jews in South Africa should not be a surprise because there is great breadth in Jewish people throughout the world. Tony Kushner and Alisa Solomon speak to the issue dramatically in the introduction of their book, Wrestling with Zion:

We believe that when the Jewish community is presented an image of itself as monolithic, bound up in a chain, mythified unanimity, when it is told to be wary of emet, of truth, that life-giving word, it grows strange to itself, alienated from an essential source of its political, philosophical, ethical, spiritual richness. 6

Although identity and ethnicity are beyond the scope of this article, it is important that we acknowledge the great diversity within each of the apartheid government’s designated ethnic groups. The breadth of Afrikaners, for example, is presented brilliantly in Andre Brink’s article that first appeared in National Geographic: “The Afrikaner is bursting out of his definitions of himself as well as those of others,” said the former editor of the Afrikaner newspaper, Rapport, Willem de Klerk.7 While Afrikaners are correctly associated with the National Party’s oppression and racism, it must be remembered that they also included people like Bram Fischer, the primary defense lawyer at the Rivonia Trial and a man who paid dearly for fighting the apartheid regime.8

So why should South African Jews be any different? Recent books like Allison Drew’s Discordant Comrades, Immanuel Suttner’s Cutting through the Mountain, and Milton Shain and Richard Mendelsohn’s Memories, Realities, and Dreams join Glenn Frankel’s Rivonia’s Children in a discussion of Jews in South Africa. Although these books describe an overrepresentation of Jews on the left, each book presents a geography of Jewish diversity. Jews immigrated to South Africa en masse from Eastern Europe in the early 20th century in a movement that corresponded with Jewish immigration to the United States. The history of Jews in South Africa includes anti-Semitism and marginalization, but it also includes social and economic mobility and resistance to apartheid. It can be said with no hesitation that many South African Jews benefited from the apartheid system, but many Jews fought apartheid. At the end of the day, the complicity versus communist debate is shallow; it is not an either-or.9

By 1911, there were over 46,000 Jews in South Africa. They escaped oppression and anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe and envisioned a better life in South Africa.10 Marlene Silbert’s family is representative. Her father came from Eastern Europe with his parents and sister early in the 20th century. Marlene also vividly remembers family tears during the Holocaust years as letters arrived about the fate of relatives who did not emigrate. For great numbers of Jewish immigrants, it was initially the best of worlds and the worst of worlds. Many Eastern European and Russian Jews met with the same derision that they faced in the United States. They were viewed as uneducated, uncultured, and dirty. Shopkeepers were publicly referred to as dishonest and manipulative. Wrong culture was attacked, and they were referred to pejoratively as “Peruvians.”11 Although there were ebbs and flows in anti-Semitism, the 1930s and 1940s were especially difficult as the “grey shirts” were active and vocal in the 1930s, and the National Party supported the Nazis in the 1940s.12 Milton Shain writes about a movement led by professors at Stellenbosch University to stop Jewish immigration: “Purified Nationalists were calling for the unequal treatment of Jews. These arguments were predicated upon Jewish ‘unassimilability’ and fears of Jewish power and domination. As a political programme they wanted to curtail Jewish professional activity, limit their involvement in certain occupations, and proscribe name-changing.”13

But this prejudice was not the controlling factor in Jewish life. I am reminded of my oral history project many years ago with early 20th-century Jewish immigrants in the United States. I often wondered if they were middle class in their heads and hearts before their wallets. So in spite of anti-Semitism, South African Jews climbed the economic ladder, found a better life for their children and grandchildren, and made a life as South Africans.14 It should also be noted that Zionism became a major cause for many South African Jews. Both upward mobility and Zionism were magnified in the 1950s after the coming to power of the National Party: the apartheid regime. Although it might be thought of in the context of philo-Semitism, Prime Minister Malan welcomed Jews as whites, and South African Jews continued their upwardly mobile journey.15

From the time Jews first arrived in South Africa, however, there was a leftist counterpoint that ran parallel to economic mobility and the journey to middle-class life and beyond. An extreme but illustrative example is the story of Rae Alexander, a well-known labor activist. She told Immanuel Suttner and Steven Robins that after arriving in South Africa as 16-year-old on November 6, 1929, she joined the Communist Party on November 11.16

James Campbell traces Jewish socialism from the shtetl of Eastern Europe to the South African Communist Party. Jews are overrepresented on the left throughout the 20th century in South Africa, and that was also the case in the struggle against apartheid. Although the Nationalist Party (NATS) had proclaimed Jews as white, they were quick to condemn white resistance as being Jewish. Prime Minister Vorster’s comment is representative: “Not all Jews are communists, but all communists are Jews.”17 Overrepresentation of Jewish resistance to apartheid is seldom debated, but the reality is that only a small percentage of Jewish South Africans overtly fought apartheid. Beginning with the Rivonia Trial and continuing until 1985, the Jewish Board of Deputies failed to condemn apartheid or support Jewish resistance. The party line was that Jewish South Africans were loyal and patriotic and that activists represented themselves, not the Jewish community.18 Although Jewish officialdom’s failure to speak out against apartheid might be understood under the kindest analysis as fear, or more harshly as greed, it can be said without hesitation, and no way as a presentist argument, that the official Jewish position was wrong.

Perhaps more surprising is the fact that Jews on the left, those who fought apartheid, were diverse in their resistance. At one extreme were the Rivonia defendants and their comrades, like Ruth First, Joe Slovo, Albie Sachs, Ronnie Kasrils, and others who went underground and became members of Umkhonto We Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the armed resistance of the African National Congress (ANC). On the other side were liberals, especially Helen Suzman, a parliamentarian who fought against apartheid from within the walls of government. Of course, the former were highly critical of Suzman, calling her and other liberals clean, armchair politicians who were not on the ground. Suzman, on the other hand, was skeptical of the radicals and believed that they were manipulating resistance toward communist ends. Yet, each side fought very hard against the apartheid regime. Frankel explains that radical Jews were living double lives as middle-class professionals by day and illegal resistance fighters by night. He also reminds us that they paid a great price—harassment, imprisonment, exile, and assassination in the case of Ruth First.19 Helen Suzman fought the Nationalist Party on bill after bill in Parliament, campaigned for humanizing the prison system, and lobbied for the release of Nelson Mandela and his comrades. For her efforts, she was constantly harassed by the NATS and was singled out and chastised by Vorster and other Nationalist leaders.20

Jews who fought apartheid also reflected differently on being Jewish. The topic is addressed directly in Cutting through the Mountain. Suttner’s oral histories portray Jewish activists like Albie Sachs and Paulene Podrey, who make connections to what they view as Jewish values—social justice, learning, solidarity with the underdog—and/or the Holocaust, and their active participation in the struggle against apartheid.21 But others, like Denis Goldberg and Joe Slovo, take a different position. They emphasize their roots as communistic and aethistic. So diversity is the rule when we speak not only about Jews in South Africa, but also more important, Jews who fought the apartheid regime. Both the Jewish radicals and liberals joined many others who fought against apartheid—laborers, educators, health workers, social workers, and others—and some lived to see the system fall. The Jews who joined the struggle on the ground mirror the diversity of their more famous Jewish comrades. Some are radicals, some are liberals, some are observant Jews, while others view themselves as atheist; sometimes all of the above exist in the same family. Marlene Silbert and her daughters, Beth and Patti, are beyond labels and do not fit into any specific representation of Jews against apartheid. Instead, they represent three women, obviously connected dearly to each other, who all made decisions to teach for democracy and freedom in apartheid South Africa.


I have spent the last six years working on an oral history project with teachers who fought apartheid. The first people I interviewed were referred to me by university colleagues in South Africa. As the project continued, I spoke to teachers who often provided me with lists of other teachers. The methodological process is what ethnographers define as network sampling, or snowball sampling.22 As I have argued elsewhere, and in spite of a sensitivity to issues of memory, culture, class, race, ethnicity, gender, and power, and their relationship to oral history, I view my work as testimony as oral history. While most oral historians conduct research by identifying informants and conducting interviews, testimony as oral history recognizes that individuals need to speak—to testify and provide witness to their lives.23

Since 1999, I have interviewed over 200 South African teachers. In interviews, I ask few questions, although each interview begins by setting up a timeline that notes when each person began teaching, how old they were when they started, and what the motivation was to teach. Within the tradition of Studs Terkel, teachers speak freely and determine what is important. South African teachers told stories that I was excited to hear, and I actively listened to them speak; their stories were important. The South African teachers I worked with were eager to tell their stories, lives that are unique and diverse in spite of their commitments to the academic success of their students and the end of apartheid in South Africa. Each person remembers events differently; the stories they tell are autobiographical and bring both breadth and depth to the portrayal of teachers under apartheid. South African educators Peter Kallaway and Crain Soudien both write on the importance of South African teacher stories. Kallaway discussed my oral history project in his 2002 book Education under Apartheid.

Wieder allows these teachers to speak for themselves and to recreate the world of apartheid education for the teacher/educator . . . manages to demonstrate the tension and excitement as well as the very real dangers of the political and pedagogical challenges that presented themselves to Coloured schools in the 1980s and allows the readers to glimpse the realities of everyday life for activist educators.24

Soudien’s analysis speaks to the possibilities of depth and breath in oral history as testimony.

His subject, he argues, is deliberately choosing to present himself or herself in his or her own discursive language. What is important about this strategy, and it is important to emphasize how self-conscious it is, is its sensitivity to the subject. . . . He wants his subject to hold his or her own authorial voice.25

While the oral historian organizes interviews for people to speak about their lives, the witness constructs her story. South African teachers told their stories in the tradition of what Ronald Grele refers to as oral history as a narrative conversation,26 with the caveat that the teachers did almost all the talking. In South Africa, the power of testimony that was nurtured by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and then the active listening of teacher stories, helped create a trusting witness/oral historian relationship that facilitated teacher testimony. The stories of Marlene, Beth, and Patti Silbert join other teacher narratives and are descriptive, meaningful, passionate and important—stories that are counter to the public record.


When Marlene Silbert was offered the job as educational director of the Holocaust Centre in the new South Africa, she negotiated before taking the position. She wanted to extend the teachings of the Centre to school children and diverse communities throughout the Western Cape, the area that includes Cape Town and surrounding towns. One of her conditions was that apartheid education be included in Centre exhibits and educational programs:

“I said there is no way that we can teach the Holocaust when we know that many of the laws introduced during the apartheid era paralleled the laws that were introduced against the Jews in Nazi Germany. I said there is no way you can teach it unless you teach it within the context of apartheid.”27

Just after I interviewed Marlene and her daughters, I was told by Mandy Sanger—one of the most well-known progressive teachers in Cape Town, a founding member of the Western Cape Teachers Union (WECTU), and a woman who continues to fight for equality in South Africa—that Marlene Silbert was doing important work. Sanger paid a price for her activism during apartheid and is extremely political, even radical, and she does not give praise without great consideration.28 Rose Jackson and Pam Hicks, both veteran teachers who fought apartheid, gave similar praise for Beth Silbert’s teaching at Good Hope College, the teacher training college in the black township of Khayelitsha.29 And finally, another WECTU activist, Faeza Bardien,30 praised Patti Silbert’s energy, passion, and commitment to her students at Livingstone High School, a well-known coloured academic high school. So colleagues are aware of all three of the Silbert women’s work.

Interestingly, Marlene, Beth, and Patti all recall powerful racial incidents from childhood. Marlene spoke of her father, who was a lawyer. She remembers him telling her of a black man who had been charged with an offense he had not committed.

My father said, “The terrible part is this innocent man will be sent to prison. The policeman who arrested him will get a colleague to give evidence and they will commit perjury to get a conviction. I will defend the black man but can predict the outcome.” The young black guy was convicted and sent to prison and the injustice had a profound effect on me.31

Beth spoke of being with her mother and watching a black man being arrested by police. She remembers her mom explaining the racial divide. Finally, Patti’s memory is of the family gardener having to be hidden in the attic of their home when the police came to check passes: “And that to me is a very powerful memory and you know, as a child, experiencing the humiliation and the stripping away of dignity for this man as he was quickly taken from whatever he was doing and shunted into the attic.”32 Each of the Silbert women was affected by her environment. Marlene’s father spoke to her about the ills of apartheid, as did she and her husband, Maurice, to their daughters, and both generations acted on their lessons.


The philosophy that appears to inform Marlene Silbert’s life and her teaching corresponds with the condition that she imposed when she accepted her current position at the Holocaust Centre. During her long tenure as a teacher at Herzlia High School, Cape Town’s Jewish Day School, she believed that teaching Jewish studies meant informing her students of the horrors of apartheid; they were integrally connected. Throughout this section, we will portray Marlene Silbert’s life, work, and how she came to her view of Jewish studies and her current work at the Holocaust Centre.33

Born in the 1930s, Marlene Silbert was raised in Pretoria, where she went to a Jewish nursery school and a public primary school. She was sent to boarding school in Bloemfontein for her secondary education and does not have too many memories from childhood. She does remember her home being traditionally Jewish, with observation of the Sabbath and holidays, but there were no Jewish day schools in Pretoria, so she attended a public school. As far as Jewish life is concerned, the household in which she raised Joleen, Beth, and Patti was similar to her own. Besides the story told previously about her father and the black client, she also remembers her father having her read Nelson Mandela’s defense at his first treason trial. When people asked her what she would do when she grew up, she answered without hesitation, “I always remember as a child saying when I grow up I want to teach in an African township. I am going to be a teacher and teach in Attridgeville, a black township outside of Pretoria.”

After graduation, Marlene left Pretoria for the University of Cape Town (UCT) and has spent the rest of her life living in Cape Town, mostly in Sea Point, where there is a fairly large Jewish population. As a university student, she studied English, speech, drama, and speech therapy with the goal of teaching. But, as a member of the National Union of Students (NUSAS), the Student Representative Council (SRC), and the Student Jewish Association (SJA), her passion was politics. A story about a friendship with a coloured student says a great deal about Marlene Silbert and privilege in apartheid South Africa. Marlene had classes and often drank coffee with a man named Norman, who informed her of a Spanish dancer coming to perform in Cape Town. Marlene excitedly responded that they should definitely go and see the performance but needed to book early. “And he looked at me with his big brown eyes and he said, ‘Marlene, where do you come from?’ And I suddenly realized what I had said and the affect of the reality of this was so terrible. Needless to say I would not go either.” Marlene Silbert had energy, loved life, and the world was hers; she was privileged as a white South African. Norman, of course, reminded her of the racist reality in apartheid South Africa, but it would not be the last time that she was emotional about race in her country.

As a student, Marlene’s political activity took various forms. Through NUSAS, she fought against excluding black students from the University of Cape Town. She worked in education and at the Windermere Night School teaching disadvantaged, educationally deprived adults. Marlene developed great respect for T. V. Davies, the principal and vice chancellor of the university, a great proponent of open, nonracial universities at a time when the apartheid government was threatening to close white universities to black students. She was influenced by some of the student activists: Albie Sachs, who is presently a Constitutional Court judge, and Adam Small, a coloured man who became a well-known writer and playwright.

Marlene Silbert was the head woman student at UCT in 1956 and graduated with a determination to teach speech therapy. She married in 1957, and marriage, family, teaching, and politics were her life. If anything, her politics accelerated after graduation, and her daughters grew up in a political, Jewish upper-middle-class home. In 1959, the Progressive Party formed as a liberal break-off from the United Party. For some years, Helen Suzman, mentioned above, was the only Progressive Party member in Parliament. Marlene Silbert became involved in the party and helped form a branch in Sea Point. She explained to me that she felt comfortable with the party’s nonsegregation and human rights platform. However, she had a problem with the Progressive Party only supporting limited franchise, whereas she was committed to a universal franchise for everyone over the age of 18. She also explained that although she had great respect for Albie Sachs, and full equality and redistribution of wealth also appealed to her, she just could not make the leap to communism like Sachs and others.34

Marlene organized election campaigns for the Progressive Party, but they were usually not very successful. Through her work in the party, she became involved with other people who questioned, monitored, and worked against the apartheid regime. One organization that became important for Marlene Silbert was the Repression Monitoring Group. Beginning in the 1960s, the apartheid government called “states of emergency” that allowed arrests and detainments without legal justification. The Repression Monitoring group kept track of arrests and arranged legal representation for people who could not afford lawyers. There were great disappointments, but the work continued: “Sometimes we located them in the morgue. They were killed. We would then contact our social workers and they would go to the parents to break the news—take them to the morgue.”

As more contacts were made, Marlene’s political activity escalated. She blended legal political work through the Progressive Party, teaching and doing underground work; for example, she and Maurice created what would be called by some a safe house for political fugitives and township people who were made homeless by the Group Areas Act.35 She explained that a political comrade would call with a story about a friend from schooldays visiting for a few days. People would be picked up, hidden, and then transported to the next safe house. This type of activity started in the late 1970s and continued throughout the 1980s. It was extremely dangerous, and the family was threatened. One incident occurred while she was working at the Progressive Party office. An extreme Afrikaner nationalist group called Scorpio was known to target activist, progressive, and even liberal individuals and organizations. Marlene was working in the evening with another woman and heard a noise at the door. She offhandedly said, “Scorpio go away” as she got up to open the door: “As I opened the door, I saw a man—the back of a man just going down the steps. And on the wall was a big hammer and sickle, with the words ‘Jew nigger lover.’ I have actually got that picture. ‘Jew nigger lover.’”

Marlene Silbert is referring to a photograph that appeared the next day in Die Burger, a national Afrikaner newspaper. Just minutes after the Scorpio incident, a reporter arrived at the Progressive Party office. The police showed concern and came to visit the Silberts at their home. Marlene welcomed them but was more than skeptical about their motive. She remembers thinking about the banned books on the shelves, all covered so that the titles were not visible. Uniformed officers were assigned to watch the house, and this lasted for about three months. The Silberts were actually just as afraid of their guards as they were of Scorpio. There were times when they were forced to mask political calls, and they never left their children home alone. Sometimes when Maurice Silbert was called out for emergency appointments, Marlene would receive crank calls (heavy breathing and the like). She cannot help but think that it was the police; they were the only ones who knew that Maurice Silbert had left. Finally, the police left, and political activity continued. Before addressing Marlene Silbert’s work as a teacher, a final example of political involvement portrays the Silberts’ commitment and the horror, mean-spiritedness, and sadness of apartheid.

During the 1970s and 1980s, informal settlements went up in townships throughout South Africa. Essentially squatter camps for rural people who come to cities to find work, the settlements are still a South African reality. Marlene Silbert spent time in the townships, and she read that the government was bulldozing camps regularly. It was winter, and she and Maurice decided that they could help:

We went out to Crossroads and we found all these people sitting round a fire. There was a slight drizzle but they had made a big fire to keep warm. They were covered by refuse bags to keep the rain off. I saw a man and a woman and two little children and the one child looked ill. I said to my husband, “You know, I think we should ask them if they would like to come and stay because at least you can look after the child—get the child fixed up, because that child was ill.” The woman was sitting without any shoes and I went to speak to them. I said, “Would you like to come and stay with us?” They were sitting next to another family—I think there were three children—there were four adults and about three kids, and that was about as much as we could fit. And they said they would be very happy.

The families stayed for a short time and were lured back to the township by news that the government was providing temporary housing for displaced people. The Silberts took them to the train station because the families did not want to be driven back to Crossroads. Marlene recalled reading a newspaper story in the following days that said the police had spread the temporary housing story and had actually put people on trucks and transported them back to rural areas!36

As she started raising her family and working politically, Marlene Silbert began her teaching as a speech therapist part time. She had time with her children before they entered school. Choosing a school was a bit of a dilemma because the Silberts wanted their daughters to have a Jewish education, yet believed that they should experience diversity, which would be less likely at the Jewish day school. Joleen, Beth, and Patti attended public school. Marlene Silbert told me that she hoped the public schools would be integrated in the 1960s; they were not. Her first work in schools was directly connected to apartheid policy and to Judaism. Upon coming to power, the apartheid government initiated Christian National Education (CNE), a program that emphasized patriotism and Christianity in the curriculum. Marlene was a member of the public relations committee of the Jewish Board of Deputies, and they were concerned about what CNE meant for Jewish children. At some schools, Jewish children stayed in Christian religious instruction classes, while in others, they were sent out of class; both realities were unacceptable. Marlene told the committee that there needed to be a cadre of volunteer teachers to teach Jewish education in the public schools. Of course, she was asked to construct a program. Initially, Marlene Silbert enticed a Jewish education teacher and local rabbi to provide classes for potential volunteer teachers and to help her develop a curriculum that included religious instruction and Jewish history. She piloted a program at Camps Bay Primary, the school her daughters attended, and initiated the program throughout the Western Cape Province. Marlene was offered a teaching position at Herzlia High School, the Jewish day school in Cape Town, in 1976. She spent the next 20 years as a teacher at Herzlia, and it too is a story of teaching against apartheid. Her description of her work at the Holocaust Centre is an appropriate definition of her teaching. “All my programs revolve around human rights—antiracism, prejudice, the role and responsibilities of individuals. Are we perpetrators of prejudice, racism, and intolerance? Are we bystanders or are we resisters?”

Marlene Silbert began teaching at Herzlia in 1976 and continued throughout the struggle years. She truly believed that the horrors of apartheid needed to be dealt with through Jewish studies. She continually worked to open her students to diversity and bring breadth to the school. For example, the quest for freedom in the story of Passover was discussed within the context of apartheid. Throughout the years, there were colleagues, parents, and board members who were critical of her work, but there were more of the same people who supported Marlene’s teaching. Two years after coming to Herzlia, she challenged the principal, someone she admired, over plans to celebrate Republic Day.37 The principal allowed her to organize an alternative program, the first of many, and Marlene arranged for religious leaders from a full spectrum of denominations to address the students. At that point, Herzlia, like a small number of private schools, enrolled black children. Although this was formally illegal, the government turned a blind eye to the law at private schools while at the same time enforcing it vigorously at public institutions. The Republic Day celebration at Herzlia concluded with a black student reading Nkosi sikel’ iAfrika, which was, at the time, the anthem of the African National Congress and is presently the national anthem of South Africa.

That same year, Marlene enhanced a Herzlia program that collected food for poor children. She wanted to make it more real, so she invited children from the school where the food went to come and meet students at Herzlia. This type of exchange became part of her work throughout her time at the school. In the 1980s, she began taking high school students into the townships to deliver food and meet people. She wanted them to see how people lived and to see the streets, which were often unpaved, and the homes, which were often shanties. Most important, she wanted her students to know poor people as real human beings. The exchange was one of the programs that were challenged by some members of the school committee who went to the principal. “You have a teacher teaching Jewish studies and Jewish history and she shall be nameless—she is politicizing the children and we believe that this is not in our interests.” According to Marlene, the principal was again supportive: “She shall be nameless is a very good teacher. She is doing more for our kids than I can tell you and I will have no witch-hunt against any of my teachers. I am satisfied with the work she is doing and I have no wish to continue this conversation.”

Marlene Silbert promoted diversity programs at Herzlia throughout the struggle years, through the election of Nelson Mandela, until she retired from the school in 1997. She defied existing limitations, bringing Muslims to discuss Zionism, people with AIDS to meet with students, and more. She completed a Jewish history textbook for senior students as a final act of teaching at the school. But as already noted, retirement is not really retirement for Marlene Silbert. She continues her mission of teaching as the education director at the Holocaust Centre and has created partnerships with schools, teachers, and other community organizations throughout the city. School children, law enforcement officers, social workers, South African citizens, and tourists learn from the programs that Marlene Silbert and her colleagues present, programs that address the corresponding issues of the Holocaust and apartheid.

Marlene Silbert spoke about all three of her daughters but was careful not to speak for them. She told me a story that represents herself as teacher, politico, and mother. During the struggle years, there were many funerals in South African townships. Often the funerals were for political activists who had been murdered by the apartheid regime. At the time, political meetings and demonstrations were illegal, unless, of course, they were supportive of the government. Township funerals were political events, but they were somewhat more insulated from government harassment than public meetings. Joleen, Beth, and Patti regularly attended township funerals.

And my kids used to spend weekends—every weekend—going to a funeral. I used to shiver all day when they were there. And after about the third funeral, I said, “You know, why not go to the beach?” And they looked at me and they started laughing and they said, “Mom, where do we get it from?”


Beth Silbert38 was born in 1960 and was raised in Sea Point, a predominantly middle-class neighborhood. She thinks of both of her parents as community minded, her father as a respected general practitioner, and her mother as a more political person. She has memories of her parents sheltering the people from Crossroads, of silent political protests in the central business district, and of Progressive Party political gatherings where she had fun with other children. She also recalls hating going to the orthodox shul.39 “I used to say to my mom—use the word force. She forced me to go to shul. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t like it. I didn’t enjoy it.” Beth Silbert’s attitude changed when she was 11 and her parents allowed her and her sisters to attend the reform synagogue. Special services were held for children and she enjoyed going, became involved in the choir, and made friends with other children. Beth views her upbringing as observant in the sense that the family belonged to the synagogue, lit candles on the Sabbath, observed religious holidays (she called them festivals) like Purim and Passover, and kept loosely kosher at home. Interestingly, she remembers at a young age questioning her mother about contradictions. Why could they eat shrimp in restaurants but not at home?

Beth Silbert is thankful, however, that her parents enrolled her in public school rather than Herzlia. As a teenager, she stereotyped the Jewish kids who went to Herzlia. “The girls are all Kugels and it is not me. I didn’t want to have anything to do with them.” Beth attended both Camps Bay Primary and Camps Bay High School. She mentioned two teachers, the art teacher, Joleen Durrant, and an English teacher, Tessa Fairbairn. Tessa Fairbairn previously taught at Livingstone High School, the school where Patti Silbert taught, and is a well-known and respected South African educator. Beth Silbert was not political in high school but does remember her mother talking about Soweto, pass laws, and other issues at home. She also made a point to say that she did not join other Jewish children at the typical summer camps, although that is somewhat contradicted because she did go to Natal in northeastern South Africa as an art counselor with a teenage friend. In 1978, she graduated from high school, and the following year, she enrolled at the University of Cape Town in fine arts.

Fine arts was not a good experience for Beth Silbert. She transferred to the bachelor of arts degree her second year, but she needed time to heal from her first-year experience. As she continued her degree, she began volunteering in a creche, an early childhood center, and she loved the work, being with the children. Beth decided that she wanted to be a preprimary teacher. Thus, upon graduating from the University of Cape Town she enrolled in a one-year postgraduate program at Barkley College. In South Africa, preprimary teacher training is at colleges of education, not universities. Beth loved everything about her year learning to be a teacher. She notes that most of her classmates, except for one woman who graduated from UCT, had graduated from three-year college of education programs and were conservative. At that time, the 1980s, colleges, like public schools, were totally segregated, and most of Beth’s classmates had lived very sheltered lives. In any case, she loved what she was doing, adored the children during teaching practice, and graduated ready to teach.

Beth Silbert wanted to teach in a poor school, possibly in the Cape Flats, a lower socioeconomic coloured area. Did this have something to do with her mother, with her upbringing? Interestingly, her mother made a different suggestion, and Beth began her career teaching at one of the schools in the Jewish preprimary system. Marlene Silbert was friends with the director of the Association of Hebrew Pre-Primary Schools, who advised Beth that she might want to begin her teaching career in a school that provided a good support system. Beth’s first teaching position was at the association’s school in Claremont, an upper-middle-class community, where she taught for three years. Beth enjoyed the children and her job, although her colleagues, save two women, were not politically aware or involved. The period from 1984 through 1986, when Beth taught in Claremont, was a very intense time in South Africa. There were constant government “states of emergency” and a great deal of resistance to apartheid. Yet, the school was insulated:

I remember being very aware of the narrowness of the teachers in the school where I was. I remember all that was going on around us—literally flames. We just never spoke about it. Teachers were only concerned with their little group of children and I found that extremely frustrating. I started to feel very alienated and very disconnected and I thought this is not right.

Beth Silbert became more political at this time. With two colleagues, she joined Education for an Aware South Africa (EDASA), the white leftist teacher organization that partnered with the Western Cape Teachers Union (WECTU), and the Democratic Teachers Union (DETU), the coloured and black organizations at the time.40 They organized an awareness program throughout the Association schools and encouraged other teachers to join EDASA, but there was little success. At the same time, Beth became interested in pedagogy. Her frustration with the lack of political awareness among her colleagues was exacerbated when she began to question some of the aspects of the way children were taught in other classes at the school. Both factors led her to think about getting involved in teacher training. She knew that she did not want to teach at Barkley House, so she approached the teacher training college in Athlone, a coloured district, about a faculty position. Beth Silbert was not offered a position in Athlone but was hired to teach at Good Hope College, a teacher training institution that opened in 1987 in Khayelitsha, a black township on the east side of Cape Town. She taught at Good Hope College through the late 1980s and the 1990s, except for a short time when she worked at the University of the Western Cape.

Although Good Hope College was in a black township and was an institution that educated black teachers, there were complexities and contradictions. Like other institutions that were started by the apartheid regime, the college was led by the Broederbond, a powerful, somewhat elite Afrikaner organization.41 Most of the faculty members were white Afrikaners, and it is difficult to understand their motivations and reasons for being at a black school. When Beth Silbert began working at the college, there were only a few first-language English speakers on the faculty,42 but there were a number of people who were politically involved and also viewed teaching as a blending of pedagogy and politics.

Beth Silbert was part of a small group of political teachers who worked together professing progressive teaching and antiapartheid politics. It was often quite frustrating because the critical mass of the faculty neither questioned nor resisted apartheid. It was also difficult at times because of the volatility on the streets, especially in the late struggle years leading up to the first democratic election in 1994. Beth has clear memories of being escorted to the school in caravan fashion by supportive members of the community who were worried about the teachers’ safety. What is interesting, however, is that she does not recall conservative teachers at the school condemning her or her colleagues for their teachings or activism. In fact, she respected and felt respected by the rector even though he was probably active in the Broederbond. Because Good Hope College was new when Beth Silbert arrived, she and two colleagues were given a free hand in developing the preprimary curriculum. Her memories include elation, because they had the opportunity to organize progressive teacher training and because of her love for her students, but sadness and frustration over the poverty and disparity in the community.

It was incredibly rich, and incredibly frustrating and maddening, and I loved it and I hated it. I loved being with the students. I loved going into the school. It was totally depressing going into the schools—it was always a very interesting experience I suppose. I mean the reality, the terrible, terrible appalling reality of the schools just hit every time. It was terribly depressing and of course inspiring, just motivating to really kind of make a change and do something. So it became a very meaningful experience for me, and very rich, and it was wonderful also dealing with the students. We spoke about the teaching of children, what sort of environments are best for their development. The opportunity to actually discuss it with the students and provide experiences for them that would be important, necessary ones for them to be able to take into their teaching. It felt very meaningful and we very purposeful as well, because it felt like I was making some kind of contribution.

Beth Silbert spoke with passion about her continuing relationships with students from Good Hope College. It took strength and confidence for her to address the teaching of the general education course with her colleagues and the rector. Her courage is magnified when you note that the textbook and the course were written by Afrikaners and promoted an apartheid view of the world. Beth condemned the book because it was filled with regressive pedagogical practices, psychological stereotypes, and racism. The rector allowed her to become one of the instructors for the course, and she was able to totally revise the class. Eventually, Beth Silbert became the department head.

There were difficulties, however, at the college. The student population changed, and there appeared to be more students who were not serious about becoming teachers. There were also more fights with the Education Department even though, or maybe because, the first democratic election was approaching. Beth Silbert became very involved in protesting the department’s imposition of a program called the Skills and Techniques Project, which targeted young black children. Students were to be tracked into this program, rather than arts and humanities, at a very young age in order to develop technical skills for the good of society. Beth and one of her colleagues viewed the program as discriminating against black children and also believed that it was pedagogically unsound. They researched the program and wrote letters to the Education Department. The department sent back angry replies, and Beth and her colleague approached both a journalist and parliamentarian. Eventually the program was terminated.

After apartheid fell and Nelson Mandela was elected president in 1994, Good Hope College was combined with a distance education program and a previously coloured teacher training college in Kuils River, a suburb northeast of Cape Town. Although Beth Silbert thinks of her work at Good Hope as meaningful and rewarding, she began to tire of the in-house struggles and left a few years after the college merged to give birth. She also thinks about her Jewish faith differently than she did as a teenager and then a young teacher. Although she was married at Rhodes Memorial43 rather than in a temple, she and her husband did incorporate Jewish customs into the ceremony. Her daughter attends a Jewish play school, and Beth celebrates the Sabbath each Friday night at her parent’s home along with Marlene, Maurice, and Patti and her family.


Patti Silbert 44 was born three years after Beth in 1963. She too remembers her mother as very political and her father as liberal. She speaks of Maurice Silbert’s small-town upbringing in an Afrikaner town called Paarl, and she has clear memories of her mother not backing off from political confrontations with friends, and arguing for the African National Congress. Besides the memory of hiding the family gardener related previously, Patti also recalls people coming from the townships. Her childhood recollections of Judaism are different than those of her sister partially because she did not have to endure the first synagogue. Patti Silbert spoke of the importance of Sabbath dinners as both a child and an adult:

It was always family plus extras. It is a wonderful thing and I just feel so grateful to my parents. It was one thing that helped me to identify with my Jewishness. We would go there on Friday nights and we still do. Now we take my three children. We feel together as a family and cemented and focused and it is very special.

Unlike Beth, Patti joined Habonim, the Jewish socialist Zionist youth group, and attended their summer camps with Jewish teenagers from throughout the country. Patti’s involvement was social rather than political or religious. Like her sister, she is forever grateful that her parents chose to enroll her in public school.

The other thing that I really appreciated about our upbringing is that mom, despite her involvement with Herzlia, did not make us go to Herzlia. So all three of us went to government schools and I think that because of not going to Herzlia my mind has always been so much more open.

Patti Silbert doesn’t have distinct memories from Camps Bay Primary, but she does remember, like her mother, knowing that she wanted to be a teacher. In the same attic where the family hid the gardener, Patti and her friend Rochelle played teacher, going so far as making desks out of boxes and using dolls as students.

Patti Silbert followed both of her sisters to Camps Bay High School, where many of her memories are social. Two teachers, Bernie Segal and Dave Screen, had an impact, and her own political consciousness began in a small way during final two years at the school. Most of her high school memories are of drama, however, and political activism would not become an important part of her life until her final years as a student at the University of Cape Town. She was turned down by the drama department at UCT and although that was a traumatic experience, she did enroll in the university in 1982. Patti Silbert’s life included attending lectures at UCT, teaching drama classes at Claremont Primary School, and an active social life. She recalls that her scene on campus was the Leslie Union rather than the Jagger Library. But she did well in her classes and was asked to study for an honors degree in religious studies. Patti concentrated on Indian and Eastern religions, but she also began to read political literature and attend local meetings of the United Democratic Front (UDF).45

While reflecting, Patti Silbert compared herself with her mother Marlene in terms of total involvement—of entering whatever you are doing with great passion. After friends took her to the initial UDF meeting, she quickly became active in the Mowbray Youth Committee. It was here where she met her future husband, a well-known activist named Andrew Brown. She eventually moved to the Women’s Committee and spent a great deal of time in meetings, hanging posters, attending demonstrations, and holding teach-ins around events like Sharpesville and Soweto.46 Under the umbrella of the UDF, there were meetings with township committees and the work was underground—clandestine. Police visited Patti Silbert’s flat, confiscated books, made her aware that they knew her boyfriend and her parents, and put some fear in her. That said, she lived with Andrew Brown as he was put on trial for his activism, and at the same time completed her teaching diploma. Her parents were very supportive, although she remembers being a bit apprehensive when she first introduced them to her future husband, but her reflections say more about herself than Andrew or Marlene:

When I introduced Andrew to my parents—with his long, scrawny, hair—and I was absolutely terrified because he was so anti-Zionist. Whereas my mom, political as she was, was still a Zionist. I thought, “Oh my God, this is going to be a disaster.” Don’t let them start talking about Zionism. In the meantime, and this is what I respect most about Andrew, and that I learnt so much about him, that he was just so okay with everything. He had no need to prove himself on any level, and this was the biggest lesson I learnt about him. And about myself. Because I was so quick to get into conflict and confrontation. God forbid anybody used the word kaffir. I would freak out. And Andrew despite his unbelievable commitment—more so than any of us, because he put his life on the line—he knew when to let go. But they got on really, really well.

As we have already noted, Patti Silbert was a student in teacher training as she became politically conscious. She did her teaching practice in Khayelitsha, the black township where her sister eventually taught. This experience created further political awareness because students in the townships had taken to the streets to protest apartheid. Upon graduation, she did not immediately find a job and ended up teaching aerobics. Activism, teaching in the townships, and teaching aerobics—human beings are complex. “So there I was with all the political stuff happening, teaching aerobics. It was just so not okay.” The irony is even greater because like her sister, Patti Silbert was committed to teaching in black or coloured schools. She made calls every day, and finally a position came available at Livingstone High, a school with a longtime reputation for both pedagogy and politics. The school had been a Unity Movement47 bastion, but there were a few other teachers at the school who belonged to the United Democratic Front. Patti was overwhelmed at first, with over 40 students in her classes and the school mantra being “we do not allow our students to go out into the streets to protest.” Often there were faculty meetings to make decisions about political events, and she and only a few of her colleagues would vote for action. It was quite intimidating because most of the faculty were older, and Patti was impressed by them because they were bright and articulate people. Interestingly, they supported her as a teacher. “They were really behind me. Not politically, but just in terms as me as a teacher. They could see that my heart was in teaching.” Patti helped revive the drama program at the school and produced plays with her students that brought drama alive at the school. She taught at Livingstone for three years, continued to be active in UDF. At one point, along with her colleague Faeza Bardien, Patti took Livingstone students to a protest where they all ended up being detained at the Claremont police station for six hours. Although she was never arrested, her partner, friends, and comrades were, and she was told to curtail her political activities by school inspectors.48 So she loved teaching and she loved her students, but her teaching, politics (including Andrew’s trial), and the instability of her position burnt her out. 49

Patti Silbert is reflective about both her politics and teaching during apartheid. She does not think of them in terms of Jewish values but connects her values and actions to the influence of her mother, who has combined pedagogy and politics throughout her adult life. Like her sister Beth, Patti Silbert is not a clone of Marlene Silbert, but her mother’s influence is clearly evident.


Studs Terkel introduces his new book, Hope Dies Last, with a plea for activism. He defines activist with a small a and says,

It can be in the writing of a letter to the editor or to your congressperson; it can be in taking part in a local action or a national one or, for that matter, a worldwide one; it can be in attending a rally or marching in a parade; it can be in any form, freely expressing your grievance or your hope.50

Marlene, Beth, and Patti Silbert meet this definition and more. The Silbert women joined pedagogy and politics to fight the apartheid regime, and their stories put forward a global model of education for democracy. Frantz Fanon, I. B. Tabata, and many of the Silberts’ South African teaching comrades both tell and show the contrast between slave teaching and progressive teaching under an oppressive regime. Marlene Silbert taught Jewish students to question apartheid as she was defying government laws at home, Beth Silbert directly challenged the apartheid regime at Good Hope College, and Patti Silbert took high school students to the streets to protest racism and apartheid. Marlene’s, Beth’s, and Patti’s lives are significant because they model the possibilities of teachers challenging oppression and teaching progressively. They offer a model for teachers to live and profess democracy and to teach egalitarian and antiracist values wherever they live in the world.

While each of the women is secure in her South African Jewish identity, I find it hard to argue that it was their Judaism that motivated them to fight the apartheid regime. We know that Beth and Patti were greatly influenced by their mother, but what started Marlene Silbert on her journey of pedagogy and politics in apartheid South Africa? There is no question that during her university years, she began to act on a strong belief in social justice.51 If Marlene Silbert has the Jewish values listed earlier—social justice, learning, solidarity with the underdog—maybe they did lead her to her work as a political teacher. But did Bram Fischer, an Afrikaner, have the same values? And are these values also taught by every religion and faith in South Africa? In addition, how does one explain the many Jews who remained on the sidelines, privileged by their positions as whites? And finally, how does it explain the Jewish Board of Deputies proclaiming its patriotism and condemning resistance until 1985?

Yet, none of these questions discounts the legacy of the Yiddish socialist organizations in South Africa early in the 20th century or the liberal activism of someone like Helen Suzman in Parliament. Marlene Silbert’s activism was affected by both traditions, and most of her work fighting apartheid was within the context of Jewish education—including her current position at the Holocaust Centre. She greatly influenced her daughters, but their activist choices were also representative of a younger generation, choosing to work in black schools and affiliating with more radical organizations. All three women joined many other South Africans on the ground to fight the apartheid regime. The lives of the Silbert women are important because they went against the norm of their own Jewish community, and white South Africa, to work for the end of apartheid and for a democratic South Africa. They went against the grain of most South African teachers and represent what scholar and politico I. B. Tabata called, “teachers with the fighting spirit.” Marlene, Beth, and Patti Silbert combined pedagogy and politics to fight apartheid. Their stories are significant because with other “teachers with the fighting spirit,” they were part of derailing apartheid and facilitating the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994. In addition, individually and collectively, the stories of the Silbert women extend Studs Terkel’s invitation to activism and offer possibilities of education for democracy—in South Africa and throughout the world.


1 I. B. Tabata, Education for barbarism (London: Prometheus, 1959).

2 Frantz Fanon, Black Skin/White Masks (New York: Grove Press, 1967).

3 Linda Chisholm, “Education, Politics and Organisation: The Educational Traditions and Legacies of the Non-European Unity Movement 1943–86,” Transformation 15 (1991): 6.

4 Alan Wieder, Voices from Cape Town Classrooms: Oral Histories of Teachers Who Fought Apartheid (New York: Peter Lange, 2003), 4.

5 Ibid., 7.

6 Tony Kushner and Alisa Solomon, Wrestling with Zion (New York: Grove, 2003), 9.

7 Andre Brink, Reinventing a Continent (Cambridge, MA: Zoland Books, 1998), 73.

8 See Stephen Clingman, Bram Fischer: Afrikaner Revolutionary (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998).

9 The complicity versus communist false debate is addressed by James Campbell, “Beyond the Pale: Jewish Immigration and the South African Left,” in Memories, Realities and Dreams: Aspects of the South African Jewish Experience, ed. Milton Shain and Richard Mendelsohn (Johannesburg/Cape Town: Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2003), 96–162.

10 Milton Shain and Richard Mendelsohn, Memories, Realities and Dreams: Aspects of the South African Jewish Experience (Johannesburg/Cape Town: Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2003), 8.

11 Milton Shain, “If It Was So Good, Why Was It So Bad? The Memories and Realities of Antisemitism in South Africa, Past and Present,” in Memories, Realities and Dreams, 80, 81.

12 Ibid., 77, 78.

13 Ibid., 85.

14 Campbell, “Beyond the Pale,” 108.

15 Shain and Mendelsohn, Memories, Realities and Dreams, 10, 11.

16 Immanuel Suttner, Cutting through the Mountain: Interviews with South African Jewish Activists (Johannesburg: Penguin, 1997), 24.

17 Campbell, “Beyond the Pale,” 148.

18 Glenn Frankel, “The Road to Rivonia: Jewish Radicals and the Cost of Conscience in White South Africa,” in Memories, Realities and Dreams, 190.

19 Ibid., 189.

20 Glenn Frankel, Rivonia’s Children (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999), 323.

21 For a discussion of Jewish values theory, see Gideon Shimoni, “Accounting for Jewish Radicals in Apartheid South Africa,” in Memories, Realities and Dreams, 164.

22 See Stephen Schensul, Jean Schensul, and Margaret. LeCompte, Essential Ethnographic Methods (Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press, 1999).

23 See Richard Perks and Alistair Thomson, The Oral History Reader (London & New York: Routledge, 1988); Alan Wieder, “Testimony as Oral History: Lessons from South Africa,” Educational Researcher (August/September 2004): 23–28.

24 Peter Kallaway. Education under Apartheid (New York: Peter Lang, 2003) 23.

25 Crain Soudien, “Using Oral History to Reconstruct Teacher Voice,” Journal of Education Policy 19, no. 2 (2004): 229–36.

26 Ronald Grele. Envelopes of Sound: The Art of Oral History (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985).

27 Author’s interview with Marlene Silbert, 2003.

28 For an oral history of Mandy Sanger, see Wieder, Voices from Cape Town Classrooms, 150–58.

29 For oral histories of Rose Jackson and Pam Hicks, see Wieder, Voices from Cape Town Classrooms, 87–95, 103–109.

30 Author’s interview with Faeza Bardien, 2003.

31 Author’s interview with Marlene Silbert, 2003.

32 Author’s interview with Patti Silbert, 2003.

33 All quotes in this section are from the author’s interview with Marlene Silbert, 2003.

34 Albie Sachs’s father, Solly Sachs, was a labor leader and member of the Communist Party. See Allison Drew, Discordant Comrades (Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2000)

35 The Group Areas Act (1950) was one of many oppressive apartheid laws. Nonwhite people were removed from their homes and forced to resettle in areas far from the city and their places of employment. See John Western, Outcast Cape Town (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).

36 Ibid.

37 South Africa became in republic in 1962. All public schools were required to have a flag ceremony each year, and many private schools did the same.

38 All quotes in this section are from the author’s interview with Beth Silbert, 2003.

39 Shul is the more traditional term for synagogue or temple.

40 WECTU was not a strictly coloured organization, and it included white teachers who taught in coloured schools.

41 Beth Silbert is uncomfortable making any assertions about the college and the Broederbond. It is the author’s assertion taken from interviews with other teachers at the college.

42 Most of the faculty spoke Afrikaans, while the students spoke Xhosa and English.

43 The Rhodes Memorial is a memorial to Cecil Rhodes in Cape Town.

44 All quotes in this section are from the author’s interview with Patti Silbert, 2003.

45 The United Democratic Front was formed as an organization to bring together diverse groups opposed to the apartheid government. See Tom Lodge and Bill Nasson, All, Here, and Now: Black Politics in South Africa in the 1980s (Cape Town: David Philip, 1991).

46 In 1960, South African police slaughtered 67 people who were protesting pass laws in Sharpesville, a black township. The Soweto Uprising also involved a police massacre of children protesting Afrikaans as the language of instruction in government schools.

47 The Unity Movement is often referred to as a Trotskyist organization. During the struggle years, many activists referred to Unity Movement people as “armchair politicians” because they advised students that activism was often action for the sake of action.

48 During apartheid, subject school inspectors visited coloured schools to observe teachers and quite clearly make sure there was no antiapartheid pedagogy or activism.

49 White teachers in coloured schools were required to renew their contracts yearly, then every six months during the 1980s and 1990s.

50 Studs Terkel, Hope Dies Last (New York: The New Press, 2003), xvii.

51 Shimoni, “Accounting for Jewish Radicals,” 163–186.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 109 Number 5, 2007, p. 1235-1260
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12894, Date Accessed: 5/20/2022 11:36:32 PM

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About the Author
  • Alan Wieder
    University of South Carolina
    E-mail Author
    ALAN WIEDER is a professor in the Department of Educational Studies at the University of South Carolina and is also on the faculty of the University of the Western Cape in South Africa. Since 1999, he has been involved in an oral history project with teachers who fought apartheid. Recent publications include Voices from Cape Town Classrooms: Oral Histories of Teachers Who Fought Apartheid (Peter Lang, University of the Western Cape, 2003); “Testimony as Oral History: Lessons from South Africa” in Educational Researcher (August/September 2004); and “Nonracialism as an Educational and World View: Lessons from South African Teachers,” Cornell Law Review (January 2005).
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