A short biography of Marjorie Jobson

Claske Dijkema, October 2009

Marjorie Jobson is national director of the South African civil society organisation Khulumani Support Group. Her integrity and preoccupation with the search for means for the powerless to claim public space is inspiring. Below a description how she became involved with Khulumani. Her political activism started during apartheid as a prominent member of Black Sash.

Marjorie Jobson is a medical doctor with a specialisation in anaesthesiology. Her mother was a founding member of the Black Sash. Her medical practice was always associated with human rights advocacy work.

Her involvement with Khulumani came about through her involvement in the Pretoria Black Sash which she co-chaired between around 1986 to 1991. Pretoria Black Sash had been infiltrated by women who were working for the security police of the South African government, during apartheid. Some members of its executive committee were locked up and deported. Some members had their homes and motor cars petrol-bombed and their homes searched.

Black Sash was targeted quite late in the struggle, so it was saved from a lot of the terrible consequences other organisations have faced. This was because Black Sash was an organisation of white women and there seemed to be a reluctance to ‘attack’ white women. This provided a particular political space that was somewhat protected at the time.

When the infiltration of the organisation happened around 1986-87-88 and there were consequences like detention and deportation for some members, the organisation became decimated. People were terribly afraid. Only a very small group of activists remained involved. One of the projects Pretoria Black Sash took on was to run the Black Sash Campaign to End the Death Penalty. At that time, South Africa was executing the third largest number of people in the world after China and Saudi Arabia. Many of the people on death row were there for political reasons. So six Black Sash members took on the campaign and managed through a fellow Black Sash member who had been defence lawyer for the Upington 14, to provide these political prisoners on death row with our names and contact details. Individual prisoners had to apply for certain people to visit them so they had to know our identities to request that we visit them as their friends, even though we had never met them before. Each of us had to sign an affidavit that we would never provide information to the media about our visits. The apartheid government did not want the world to know what was going on on death row. We organised that one of the group visited the jail each day so that we could find out who had received their notice of execution for seven days later. The organisation, Lawyers for Human Rights, dedicated a full time attorney to help us and he started to pull trial records on everybody who had received a notice of execution. We tried to prove that the individuals on death row had not received a fair trial. We were able to bring many successful stays of execution applications until de Klerk declared in 1989 that it was evident it was not a fair process and he instituted a moratorium on the death penalty.

I became known to these political prisoners on death row and Duma Kumalo, one of the Sharpeville 6 who had been sentenced to death on the basis of the principle of “common purpose”, approached me in 1997 to be on the Board of Khulumani Support Group. What is unique about Khulumani is that it is a victim’s movement for human rights and social justice, founded by victims themselves, not by any transitional justice organisation.