Hélène Passtoors, a Belgian national was born in the Netherlands (from a Belgian-Dutch family) on 9 August 1942. She immersed herself in the struggles of people other than her own for the cause of peace, freedom equality and justice. At the time of her involvement in the South African liberation struggle, she held dual nationality, Belgian and Dutch. Following a subsequent Dutch change in law, against dual nationality, Passtoors retained her Belgian nationality. Passtoors currently resides in Belgium.

Passtoors was living in Mozambique and teaching at the Eduardo Mondlane University when she was recruited into Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), special operations, by the late Joe Slovo in 1981.

Between 1981 and 1985, she participated in highly secretive special operations under the immediate command of Slovo, with Oliver Tambo as the Commander of Special Operations.

She performed reconnaissance and communications missions throughout South Africa, looking for potential targets, among other things, the strategic coal export/oil import lines, South Africa Defence Force and police targets, and a Renamo training base in Limpopo.

Based first in Maputo, then Swaziland and finally Johannesburg, she transported weapons, established arms caches and delivered funds and other necessities. While being enrolled at the University of Witwatersrand for her PhD, she continued with reconnaissance and liaison tasks, and set up communications for units that were to be settled inside the country.

Passtoors was involved in actual operations. She was highly regarded in the military structures of the ANC, which operated under extremely difficult conditions.

In June 1985, she was arrested and kept for eight months in solitary confinement in John Vorster Square, where she was severely tortured and poisoned during the interrogations, to the point where she became epileptic.

In May 1986, she was convicted of treason and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment. In 1989, she was released, following negotiations between the Belgian and South African Governments. The Belgian Government stood by her during her imprisonment and even assisted Passtoors to communicate with her children during her incarceration.

While in prison in South Africa, she was bestowed with the European Woman of the Year Award in 1988.
Thereafter, she worked for the ANC office in Brussels and focused on international solidarity against apartheid. She was also involved in preparing the African National Congress (ANC) language policy.

In the post-1994 period, Passtoors worked as journalist, edited two political journals and wrote three books. She later applied for amnesty to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the role she played in the bombings.

Hèlène sacrificed her life and her children for the struggle for freedom in South Africa, and endured enormous suffering for the people of this country. She epitomised true international solidarity to the oppressed masses of South Africa and it is for this reason that she occupies a distinct and special role in the historical memory of this country.
On 27 April 2011, the State President, Jacob G Zuma honoured Hélène Passtoors with the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo for her contribution to the  underground work of MK and her spirit of internationalism and friendship she showed for the people of South Africa.


Anon, (2011), Presentation Of National Orders, Hélène Passtoors , from The Presidency, [online] Available at www.thepresidency.gov.za  [Accessed 26 May 2011]|Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Committee On Amnesty Proclamation Under Section 20 Of The Promotion Of National Unity And Reconciliation Act, 1995 (Act No. 34 Of 1995), Government Gazette Vol. 444, No. 23328, 14 June 2002 Regulation Gazette, No. 7374 No. R. 41, 2002  [online] Available at www.polity.org.za  [Accessed 26 May 2011]

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