Member of the ANC, SACP and MK, member of NUSAS, secretary of the United Women’s Organisation of the Western Cape (UWO).
Lives of Courage
Jennifer Schreiner (known as Jenny) was born in Pietermaritzburg, Natal in 1958 to G.D.L and Else Schreiner. Else was a founder member of the Liberal Party of South Africa, the Black Sash and National President of the National Council of Women in Natal between 1983 and 1986. As Chairwoman of the Natal Midlands Women’s Coalition between 1992 and 1994, she coordinated regional work towards the Women’s Charter for Effective Equality. Professor G.D.L. Schreiner was Vice-President of the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg from 1976 to 1987. Schreiner was one of four children with siblings Oliver, Deneys and Barbara.
Schreiner attended Epworth High School, a private school in Pietermaritzburg. In 1978, Schreiner began studying at the University of Cape Town (UCT). While at UCT she became active in the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS). In March 1978, Schreiner’s brother Oliver was killed by a hit-and-run driver in the streets of Cambridge where he was studying a postgraduate law degree.
In 1979, Schreiner joined the African National Congress (ANC). At the launch of the United Women’s Organisation of the Western Cape (UWO) in April 1981, Schreiner became involved in its activities. She was later elected as secretary. She described the organisation as one which tried to balance “trade union accountability and short-term accountability in, and the payment of, subscriptions by standing structure” (Schreiner in Hassim, n.d.: 59).
Schreiner graduated with a BA Honours Degree in African Studies from UCT. Soon after graduating, she joined the South African Communist Party (SACP) and participated in its anti apartheid underground activities. In 1985, Schreiner began a Masters degree in Sociology at UCT, which she completed in 1987.
On 16 September 1987, Schreiner’s flat in Marie Court, Wynberg in Cape Town was stormed and raided by the Security Police. Schreiner, along with thirteen others, were detained under Section 29 of the Internal Security Act. In a letter to her family, smuggled out of Parow Police Station on 6 December 1987, Schreiner wrote:
“At this stage, what I want to say to you is this – never in my life have I done anything in an ill-considered and adventurous way – and this is thanks to you and the way I was brought up to act responsibly and to take life seriously. The reality of our land is a harsh one and so harsh decisions have to be taken. You brought me up to act on my beliefs, and to oppose injustice, and this has been my guide throughout. I am aware that the paths of action that each of you and I would choose would differ in a variety of ways, and some of you are in for a big surprise. My experience over the last couple of months has done nothing to change my commitment, and were I to be out tomorrow, I would continue with the same work.”(Schreiner, 2000: 12-13)
Her experiences in detention and the trial that followed formed the basis of the book Time Stretching Fear written by her mother, Else. In the book, Schreiner describes her breaking point, after weeks of various forms of torture, as being when she agreed to make a statement which she wrote. After this, Schreiner attempted suicide on 6 January 1988.
In preparation of the end of her six-month detention under Section 29, Schreiner was moved to Pollsmoor Prison on 22 February 1988. The group which was arrested along with Schreiner became known as the ‘Yengeni 14’ (as Tony Yengeni was accused no. 1) and their trail began in March 1989. In November 1990, with Justice Minister Coetsee having released the new guidelines for the release of prisoners, the trialists applied for indemnity. On 9 November Schreiner was granted bail. On 18 February 1991 the court adjourned to 8 April to allow the lawyers to prepare final arguments. However, on 19 March 1991, the remaining six of the ‘Yengeni 14’ were granted amnesty.
After being released in 1991, Schreiner continued to live in Cape Town working for the SACP. Soon after, she moved to Johannesburg where she worked in Nelson Mandela’s office at Luthuli House. Schreiner’s and her partner Anthony Stevens had two sons, Nikita and Raul, who were born in January 1992 and 1998 respectively.
In 1994, under the newly elected democratic government, Schreiner moved back to Cape Town to became a Member of Parliament for the ANC. She resigned in 1997 to take up a senior position in the public service. During her time in Parliament, she served on the Joint Standing Committee on Defence, the Safety and Security Portfolio Committee and the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence. She also chaired the Constitutional Assembly Sub-Theme Committee which dealt with the security and intelligence structures of government.
In 2002, Schreiner was appointed as Chief Deputy Commissioner: Functional Services in the Department of Correctional Services. While holding this government position, she was also working towards obtaining a Masters degree in Security Studies. Under the government shuffle that took place after President Jacob Zuma took office, Schreiner was appointed as the Chief Deputy Commissioner: Operations and Management Support.
• Goldblatt, B. and Meintjes, S., 1996. “The 1960s” in Gender and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: A Submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission [online], Available at www.justice.gov.za [Accessed 2 August 2012]
• Ministry of Correctional Services, (2002), “Statement on the appointment of senior management in the Department of Correctional Services” from the South African Government Information, [online]. Available at www.info.gov.za[Accessed 2 August 2012]
• Schreiner, O.C. 1979. “Shareholder's Derivative Action - A Comparative Study of Procedures” in South African Law Journal, 96 (203)
• Hassim, S. n.d. The limits of popular democracy: women’s organizations, feminism and the UDF [online]. Available at www.history.ukzn.ac.za [Accessed 2 August 2012]
• Schreiner, E. (2000), Time Stretching Fear: The Detention and Solitary Confinement of 14 Anti-Apartheid Trialists, 1987-1991. (Cape Town: Robben Island Museum)