Pauline Podbrey

Posted by Jeeva on

People category:

Biographical information


Member of  the CPSA, Secretary of the African Commercial Distributive Worker’s Union, author of White Girl in Search of the Party

First name: 
Last name: 
Podbrey (Podbrez)
Location of birth: 

Pauline Podbrey was born as Pauline Podbrez in Lithuania. She arrived with her family in Durban in 1933 at the age of eleven, although her father had come to South Africa a few years previously. Podbrey’s father was involved with an influential group of socialists, including Eddie Roux, and this impacted on the life of Podbrey. She used to listen to meetings from the balcony and learned about the political situation and discrimination in South Africa. She decided to devote her life to the Communist Party at this time. At the age of fourteen she attended her first Party meeting, but as her father encouraged her to concentrate on her education, she did not get involved until the age of seventeen.

In 1939 at the age of sixteen, Pauline left school and moved to Johannesburg. There she found a job and joined two Communist study groups - the Communist Youth League run by Max Joffe and the Labour League of Youth run by Hilda Bernstein. She was prevented from joining the party, because she was forced to return to Durban after six months to help her mother run the shop and thus could not complete her apprenticeship period in the party.

In Durban, Podbrey started her apprenticeship period again. Here she was able to join the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) and some of its organisations. During the mid-1930s the CPSA was not very strong. At the end of the 1930s, with World War II starting in Europe, militancy and awareness was reawakened. Soon after that the party began to grow and unions were formed all over the country. Podbrey became secretary of the African Commercial Distributive Worker’s Union.

In the 1940s, when she was very involved with trade unions, Podbrey met H.A. Naidoo. Naidoo was a prominent Indian trade unionist working with the Natal Sugar Workers’ Union and about twenty-five other unions. He was also a CPSA leader. Naidoo and Podbrey moved to Cape Town in 1950 and later got married, though they initially had some problems to overcome because Podbrey was Jewish and Naidoo was a Hindu. They had two children together in Cape Town, and a third in Budapest.

The changes in South Africa after 1948 caused Podbrey and her family to leave South Africa in 1951. The legislation that prompted their move was the Suppression of Communism Act and the Mixed Marriages Act. The family moved to England, and from there to Budapest, Hungary, where the British Communist Party had found work for them at the Budapest Radio. In Hungary, they both became disillusioned with Stalinism and the Soviet Union. They left the Communist Party in 1954 and decided to return to London. Here Podbrey had to find work and raise a family under difficult conditions, as Naidoo had become very depressed after leaving the Communist Party. He passed away in 1970.

Podbrey wrote an autobiography, White Girl in Search of the Party. She decided to return to South Africa after the unbanning of the African National Congress in 1990 and is currently living in Cape Town with her new husband, Terry Callaghan.

Last updated : 11-Aug-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 27-Sep-2011