A history of  the Natal Midlands region of the Black Sash
Mary Kleinenberg and Christopher Merrett

Black Sash book cover

Occasional Publications imprint
The Natal Society Foundation.


Nelson Mandela called the Black Sash, founded in May 1955 to contest legislation that removed coloured South Africans from the common voters’ roll in the Cape, the ‘conscience of white South Africa’. Adopting a radical critique of the national condition, Sash maintained high-profile protest against iniquitous apartheid legislation through the darkest hours of recent South African history. It also ran advice offices that assisted those disempowered by racist legislation and used the information gathered to support its political campaigns. This book chronicles the history of the Natal Midlands branch based in Pietermaritzburg.  

What was the relevance and legacy of the Black Sash, the women’s antiapartheid organisation, and what did this mean to its members? This book looks specifically at the Natal Midlands (Pietermaritzburg) region and the distinctiveness of its contribution. Like other regions it supported the liberation struggle through public protest and educational campaigns aimed at exposing iniquitous apartheid legislation. In a police state this required considerable determination and courage. During the darkest hours Natal Midlands Sash kept alive hope for universal civil rights in a democratic South Africa. The Pietermaritzburg Advice Office became one of the country’s busiest, specialising in old age pension and disability grant issues. Knowledge painstakingly gathered about life for black South Africans was fed back into Sash’s political and information campaigns while Natal Midlands produced several significant publications. One of the smaller branches, it punched above its weight. Whether Sash was a political pressure group of women, or a women’s organisation challenging patriarchy, it generated lively debate. Environmental issues were also accorded a high priority. Fifteen interviews show that involvement in Sash was a life-enhancing experience for many members who have looked back with pride and honour at their part in the anti-apartheid movement from 1955 to 1994.


Mary Kleinenberg

Mary Kleinenberg

Christopher Merrett

Christopher Merrett


Mary Kleinenberg was born and educated in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia). She lived in Malawi and England before settling in Pietermaritzburg in the seventies. Appalled by a political system that excluded most of the population and consistently committed crimes against humanity she volunteered in the Pietermaritzburg Advice Office and became a member of Black Sash, eventually chairing the Natal Midlands region and Advice Office committee. She remains a trustee of the Black Sash Trust; and is an advocate of women’s rights, being a founder member of Pietermaritzburg Rape Crisis.

Christopher Merrett was born in Britain, grew up in the West Indies and has lived in South Africa for the past four decades. His career took him from academic librarian to university administrator, then journalism and now freelance editing and indexing. He was involved in non-racial cricket and detainee support work in 1980s and much of his writing covers human rights issues, especially censorship. He has a PhD in History from the University of Cape Town and is currently engaged in researching aspects of the recent history and politics of Pietermaritzburg.


Book Details


  The Natal Society Foundation
Publication date:
  16th May 2015
  Hard-cover with dust jacket, thread-sewn, 
round back, with black and white head-bands
  300 pp, illustrated with photographs
  18 cm × 24.5 cm × 2 cm
Selling price:
Editor and index compiler:
  Christopher Merrett
Design and lay-out:
  Jo Marwick
Printed and bound by:

Interpak Books, Pietermaritzburg


You can download the entire book (a 3 Megabyte PDF file) free of charge here