Helen Kies

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Biographical information


Member of the NEUM and TLSA, Editor of the Educational Journal, teacher political activist, political detainee, member of the Harold Cressy Alumni Society. 

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Athlone, Cape Flats
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Helen Kies (née Abrahams) was born around 1926 in Athlone in Cape Town. Despite a very poor childhood, her father ensured that she received an education. Kies attended Trafalgar High School where she matriculated. She then enrolled at University of Cape Town where studied where she completed her B.A. in 1947. Kies began her teaching career at Athlone High School in 1948, the same year the National Party (NP) came into power. From an early age, Kies knew that she wanted to become a teacher, thus this fulfilled her childhood dream.

In 1949, she married Benjamin Kies, a teacher at Trafalgar High who was also prominent activist. In 1956, her husband was dismissed from teaching for life because of his involvement in the Teachers League of South Africa (TLSA) and other political activities. His firing prompted Helen to return to teaching after a four year break, and in 1957 she began teaching at Harold Cressy High School. Ben Kies was banned under the recently promulgated “Suppression of Communism Act” in 1959, meaning he also had to step down from his role as editor of the TLSA. That same year Mrs Kies took over as editor of the Educational Journal, which sought to analyze and expose the work of the apartheid government’s new educational policies. 

She refereed to this time and her involvement in the TLSA as her “political education.” She became an active member of the TLSA and Non European Unity Movement (NEUM). When the apartheid government established separate departments of education for different races, the TLSA strengthened its counter-attack efforts through powerful Parent-Teacher-Student organizations and the efforts of the Educational Journal.  She also had assisted with editing tasks at The Torch newspaper, also edited by Ben Kies, until it too was banned in the 1960s.  As a teacher she provided political education to young people passing through Harold Cressy High school.

In 1985 Mrs Kies retired from teaching. However, the apartheid government dreaded her influence and few weeks before her retirement, Helen Kies was detained in Pollsmoor Prison for a month. She was accused of involvement in the school’s participation in the school boycotts.  While in detention she was separated from other activists. Her application for retirement was approved in 1986, ending thirty years of teaching at Harold Cressy High School. She is still actively editing the Educational Journal, and lives in Bo-Kaap. Throughout her teaching career, Helen focused not just on teaching school material, but also on providing the children with a political education. 

• Wieder, Alan. Voices from Cape Town Classrooms: Histories of Teachers Who Fought Apartheid. Peter Lang Publishing, New York, USA, 2003.
• Galant, R., The Life and Times of Helen Kies, from Academia Edu, [online], Available at www.academia.edu[Accessed 07 August 2013]

Last updated : 17-May-2018

This article was produced by South African History Online on 07-Aug-2013

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