Sheena Duncan

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Biographical information

Synopsis:

Teacher, politcal activist and leader of the women's organisation Black Sash.

First name: 
Sheena
Last name: 
Duncan
Date of birth: 
07-December-1932
Location of birth: 
Johannesburg, South Africa
Date of death: 
04-May-2010
Location of death: 
Johannesburg, South Africa

Sheena Duncan was born in Johannesburg on 7th of December in 1932 and was the eldest of the five children in her family. She was educated at the Roedean School in Johannesburg, and in 1953 she went abroad to study domestic science at the Edinburgh College of Domestic Science. After she qualified as a domestic science teacher, she moved to Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) and she lived there for eight years. On her return to South Africa, she worked as a Home Economics Officer in the Social Welfare Department of the Johannesburg City Council. Her mother, Jean Sinclair, was one of the founders of Black Sash movement, in 1955, and its National President for fourteen years. Sheena joined the movement in 1963 to fight the political causes of suffering, especially those brought about by the pass laws. Always working in a voluntary capacity, she held various offices in the Black Sash movement, including regional chairman, editor of Sash magazine, and National President.

The Black Sash was known for the demonstrations and night vigils they held outside Parliament in protest of government legislation. She wrote many articles and published booklets and pamphlets that were meant to help enlighten people about what was going on in South Africa with regards to Pass Laws and forced removals.In the 1970s, Sheena joined the Anglican Church’s Challenge Group that was aimed at ending racism within the church. She was a member of the Church's Provincial Synod and represented the Anglican Church on the South African Council of Churches (SACC) Justice and Reconciliation Division. She was titled with the position of Honorary Life President of the SACC, and chair and patron of Gun Free South Africa. She also lectured frequently in South Africa and in other countries and attended many international conferences.

In 1975 ,When Duncan succeded her mother as Black Sash president, membership was just over a thousand, but the 1976 Soweto uprising brought many young women into the organization, expanding its legal advice offices and later its advocacy efforts on behalf of the victims of forced removals. She became a powerful public speaker and prolific writer,both in the media and in Black Sash and church publications. A committed Christian,she sought to give practical effect to her religious beliefs as well as to confront the reality that injustice in SA was fundamentally political.She publizised  the death of detainees,campaigned against the death penalty,and beratad big business for its complicity in the system.

President of Black Sash from 1975-78 and 1982-86,Duncan was also a vice-president of the SACC between 1987 and 1993,and serve on numerous boards and committes to promote human rights,activate church institutions and popularize Gandhian civil disobedience.She worked with the United Democratic Front,testified for the defense in the Delmas trial and,with other church leaders,was arrested for protesting police shootings in Uitenhage in 1985. She never attended a university,she was a recipient of hononary degees from the universities of Cape Town,the Witwatersrand and Natal. Duncan received the Order of the Baobab in 2006, “for her excellent contribution to the struggle for a non-sexist, just and democratic South Africa”.Sheena Duncan passed away peacefully, at her home in Johannesburg in the early hours of the morning on 04 May 2010. Duncan leaves two daughters and two grandchildren.A biography of Duncan by Annemarie Hendrikz was published in 2015.


References:
• Black Sash crusader Sheena Duncan dies [Online]. Available at: www.defenceweb.co.za [accessed 13 May 2010]
• Tributes to our Patron, Sheena Duncan [Online]. Available at: www.blacksash.org.za [accessed 13 May 2010]Gail M. Gerhart, Teresa Barnes, Antony Bugg-Levine, Thomas Karis, Nimrod Mkele .From Protest to Challenge 4-Political Profiles (1882-1990) http://www.jacana.co.za/component/virtuemart/?keyword=from+protest+to+ch... (last accessed 07 November 2018)

Last updated : 07-Nov-2018

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

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