Black Sash stalwart leaves a legacy

Marion Greta Crawford died at her Orchards’ home and friends and families gathered at her house last Sunday to celebrate her life.

Resident Melody Emmett writes:

On 8 March, Marion Greta Crawford died at her Orchards’ home she and her husband paid just R 16 000 for in 1969. Friends gathered at the house on Sunday afternoon [11 March] to celebrate a life well-lived by a woman known for her intellectual curiosity, ethics, social conscience, dignity and courage.

Among her many contributions to South Africa as a member of the Black Sash and as a voluntary contributor to social justice in a spread of platforms, Marion Crawford will be remembered for her courageous one-woman, non-violent resistance to the iniquitous pass laws at the height of apartheid resistance in the mid-1980s.

“Very few people stand up to people in power. That’s how dictatorships go on and on. People don’t necessarily agree with what is happening but they just let it happen,” she said when I spoke to her in August 2017.

Paulinah Mkhanya, from the Rustenburg area, was employed to do domestic work for the Crawford family in 1984 – and is still working for the family. In 1985, Crawford was issued with a summons for hiring a black person outside the prescribed area. She refused to pay the fine and instead went to jail.

In her defence, she said the pass laws were one of the cornerstones of apartheid, to which she had been opposed all her adult life. “It results in untold hardship, social pathology, unemployment, poverty and starvation,” she told the court.

Finding herself in a situation where she was forced to choose between what is morally right and what is legal, Crawford said she was compelled to resist the law. “I have to live with myself and my conscience and my integrity,” she told the court, “and I can’t do both.”

The magistrate sentenced her to R100 or 10 days and she was taken down to the Prisoner’s Friend to pay the fine. She refused to pay and was led off to the cells to await the long journey to the infamous Sun City Prison [Johannesburg Prison].

Her dehumanising experience in prison intensified her resolve to resist the injustice of apartheid and any other form of injustice – and she was faithful to this pledge throughout her life. Crawford’s story was splashed over the front page of national newspapers. The family home and call-in radio programmes were inundated with telephone calls, primarily from supporters.

South Africans who had hitherto been silent, were touched by Crawford’s action, which catalysed a new consciousness, hope and courage in many South Africans who had previously felt disempowered by the weight of injustice perpetrated by the apartheid regime.

Details: Melody Emmett [email protected]

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