Born in Lithuania in 1924, Barsel came to South Africa when she was three years old. She dedicated her life to the struggle of the South African people from an early age, joining the Young Communist League at the age of 14. She played many roles within the movement, being a person who was willing and able to turn her hand, and heart, to any task. Both she and her husband, Hymie, were among the 15 accused in the infamous Bram Fischer trial. She was sentenced to three years’ hard labour, which she served at Barberton Women’s Prison.
She remained committed to informing the youth about the struggle for democracy and workers’ rights and was regularly seen in action at the headquarters of the Congress of South African Trade Unions in Johannesburg. Even at the age of 81, in 2006, she was blogging information about the long-defunct “Friends of the Soviet Union”. Barsel’s daughter Merle says it was the long train journeys that her parents took together in the 1940s when gathering support for this organisation that led to their long and happy marriage.
Mr Mandela sent a letter of condolence to the Barsel family which was read at the funeral in Johannesburg on Tuesday:
“Dear Merle and family
We have been deeply saddened by the loss of Comrade Esther. She dedicated her life to the struggle for justice in South Africa, and was a formidable and highly respected resource to the movement with which she was associated for so long.
She will be remembered as a great South African and a beloved comrade.
Please be assured of our support and solidarity during this difficult time.
N R Mandela”