Molly Blackburn

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Biographical information

Molly Blackburn


South African political activist.

First name: 
Last name: 
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South Africa
Date of death: 
Location of death: 
South Africa

Molly Blackburn was born in 1930.  She was the daughter of Elgar Bellhouse who was at one time the chairperson of the Progressive Party (PP) in Port Elizabeth (PE). Blackburn was brought up with liberal ideas, and became aware of the problems facing South African black communities such as poverty, violence and political injustice and the anger this caused through her involvement in the Black Sash. In 1981 she won a provincial seat for the Progressive Federal Party (PFP) in the Cape Provincial council, where she represented Port Elizabeth. She was critical of this body as it focused only on white issues.

In 1982 a Black Sash Advice Office opened in PE. Blackburn rejoined the Black Sash, which she had left as a result of its inactivity, to campaign for justice and the upliftment of black communities in South Africa.

Blackburn got the reputation of being caring and understanding, and was soon being approached by black groups who sought her assistance. In 1983, she was asked by Matthew Goniwe to officially inquire about rent restructuring in the Lingelihle township near Cradock. She, together with Di Bishop, brought the problem to the attention of the councils, and they highlighted the changing situation and growing resentment of the people in these areas. Together they also, with the support of PFP members in parliament, convinced the National Party government to enquire into the police shootings at Langa on 21 March 1985. This turned out to be one of the most important investigations since the investigation into the 1976 Soweto revolt.

Blackburn started to be seen as a troublemaker, not just by members of the National Party but also by some liberals. She started to receive death threats and was arrested a couple of times.

In 1985, while driving back to PE from Oudshoorn, Blackburn, her sister, Di Bishop and her Brian Bishop were all involved in an accident. Blackburn and Brian Bishop were killed. Her funeral was attended by about 20 000 people - a sign of her close relationship with the black communities where she worked. She received tributes from both local and international sources.

• E.J. Verwey (ed), 1995. New dictionary of South African biography, Volume 1. Pretoria. HRSC.pp. 21-23
• UCT honours Molly Blackburn. The Herald [Online]. Available: [accessed 07 July 2010]

Last updated : 28-May-2018

This article was produced for South African History Online on 17-Feb-2011