Margaret Nash was born at Milford-on-Sea in England on 1 March 1929. In 1931, her family moved to South Africa and settled in Durban, Natal (now kwaZulu-Natal), where Nash later matriculated. At the young age of 16 she enrolled at Rhodes University for a teaching degree and later started working as a teacher. She would later, in 1975, also obtained a PhD in Theology at the University of Cape Town.
In 1960, Nash joined the Liberal Party of South Africa (LPSA). She was a member of various anti-Apartheid organisations, among which the Black Sash (member of the National Executive committee) and the Christian Institute. She was also involved in the Anglican Board of Social Responsibility and the South African Council of Churches.
Nash was driven by a combination of her formidable intellect and her Christian faith. She was often described as tenacious, unrelenting and fearless - character traits that served her well when she went against powerful political figures during the height of apartheid in South Africa. Her devotion to Christianity didn’t prevent her from criticising South Africa’s churches for not taking a more active role in the anti-apartheid struggle.
She devoted most of her time to writing reports on living conditions of people under Apartheid South Africa. The best known of these was published in 1980 and concerned the government’s policy of forced removals, particularly in and around Cape Town. Her report was presented to the United Nations, Europe and Britain in 1984 shortly ahead of a tour by South Africa’s then President, P W Botha. It caused international outrage and was a great embarrassment for the South African government, contributing to the end of forced removals soon after. Her report mentioned that she had calculated the number of people who had been forcefully removed out of their homes to be between 2.5 and 3 million.
After South Africa achieved democracy in 1994, Nash redirected her energies to campaign for a gun-free South Africa. The campaign was launched during the country’s transitional stage, when violence was escalating. It was a fitting time for a campaign that strived for peace.
Nash lived a life of simplicity in Claremont - her motto was ‘to live simply so that others can simply live’. She died on 2 August 2011 at the age of 84 and is survived by her sister Eleanor Nash, a former professor of psychiatry at Groote Schuur Hospital.
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