A fierce non-sectarian and advocate for racial equality and women’s rights, Sadie Forman (nee Kreel) was born in 1929. Her father, Bunim Idel Krill, a Yiddish poet and writer, emigrated from Lithuania to South Africa in 1913.
In 1952, Forman married Lionel Forman, a young fellow activist, advocate, historian, and prolific writer, who was extremely active in the anti-apartheid and communist movements. Four years later, he would become one of the 156 men and women accused in the Treason Trial that began in 1956. During this trying time, Forman provided essential support to Lionel, whose failing health led to his untimely death in 1959 at just 32 – five days after the birth of their third child, Sara – on the operating table of heart transplant pioneer Christiaan Barnard.
Widowed with three young children, Foreman was forced to get a job to support herself and her children. However, the apartheid police did not make this easy for her. She endured continuous harassment and was eventually served with a banning order which restricted her to a 1.6km radius of her home and forbade her from entering any educational institution or factory premises.
Eventually, Forman was allowed to take a job as a proof reader after Len Lee-Warden, a fellow activist and print shop owner, offered her the job. Although the police relented, this was on the condition that she would be placed in an enclosed office and only one worker at a time would be allowed to enter her office. Any breach of these conditions would see her facing a prison term.
Over time, the stress started to become unbearable, compounded by the news that her friend, Babla Saloojee, had died after ‘falling’ from the seventh-floor window of a Special Branch interrogation room in Johannesburg, Transvaal Province (now Gauteng). This, coupled with having no money, compelled Forman to start thinking about following in the footsteps of other political families who had gone into exile.
After her passport application was denied, Forman then applied for an exit permit, which entitled her to leave the country, provided that she would never return. She sold the cottage that she and her late husband had bought years earlier in Camps Bay, Cape Province (now Western Cape), but started to have second thoughts. Feeling like leaving would be her abandoning her many comrades and friends who could not afford to leave the country, she changed her mind and applied to stay in the country and to live elsewhere as she could no longer afford to live in Camps Bay. After much back and forth with the Special Branch, she was finally permitted to look for a house outside of her restricted area and moved to Wynberg, Western Cape.
The harassment continued, however, followed by a new regulation that stipulated that all proof readers had to pass a compositor’s examination by the end of 1969. This required work on the factory floor, which she could not do as a banned person. Furthermore, the time requirements made it impossible for her to qualify. This was the final blow, as it meant that she would lose her source of income and her chances of finding other employment anywhere in the country would be very challenging. With very few options, Forman again applied for an exit permit and was told that if she did not leave this time, she would not get another permit. Thus, she left South Africa in 1969 together with her children Karl, Frank, and Sara, and moved to London, England, where she qualified as a primary school teacher. Later, she obtained a second degree, in psychology.
A member of the African National Congress Women’s League (ANCWL) and staunch campaigner on human (and especially women’s) rights, Forman opened her home to exiles passing through England.
She was not afraid to speak her mind and built a strong reputation for speaking out against injustices, even within the African National Congress (ANC), to which she remained firmly attached even as she grew increasingly critical of it and its leadership over the years.
Forman finally returned from exile to take up a position at the University of Fort Hare, having arrived at Fort Hare in 1996 after retiring as a school teacher in England. Working as a volunteer in the library on the ANC’s archives, Forman held this position for nearly a decade before she relocated back to England due to her deteriorating health in 2007. Even though she did not want to leave, she reluctantly returned to the place she spent many years in exile at the request of her daughter, spending the remaining years of her life there.
Forman wrote a memoir in 2008 entitled, Lionel Forman: A Life Too Short. In 2012, she returned briefly to South Africa to receive an honorary doctorate in humanities from Fort Hare.
Sadie Forman died on 11 December 2014 at the age of 85. Although small in stature, her character and contribution to the liberation struggle was anything but.
- Bell, T. (2014). Farewell to a loveable revolutionary. [online]. Available at: https://www.groundup.org.za/article/farewell-lovable-revolutionary_2563/. (Accessed on 16 March 2021)
- Mail & Guardian. (2014). Resilient in the struggle. [online]. Available at: https://mg.co.za/article/2014-12-18-resilient-in-the-struggle/. (Accessed on 16 March 2021)
- Seligman. (n.d). Bunim Idel Krill 1889-. [online]. Available at: http://www.seligman.org.il/webtrees/individual.php?pid=I5127&ged=Seligman%20Joffe%20Yachad%20Swartzman%20Gillis%20Sandman%20Lederman%20Fleishman.GED. (Accessed on 18 March 2021)