/ 18 December 2014

Resilient in the Struggle

The Brits Hospital was recently completed.
The Brits Hospital was recently completed.


SADIE FORMAN (1929 – 2014)

Sadie Forman, one of the most unconventional, interesting and lovable fighters in the South African anti-apartheid movement, died on December?11, aged 85.

She spent the last years of her life in Britain, having moved there in 2007 on health grounds, after nearly a decade working as a volunteer in the library and archives at the University of Fort Hare. In 2012 she returned to receive an honorary doctorate.

She married Lionel Forman, perhaps one of the brightest stars in the South African anti-apartheid and communist movements, in 1952. He was one of the 156 men and women in the marathon treason trial that began in 1956. An advocate, historian, activist and prolific writer, he was just 32 when he died in 1959, five days after the birth of their third child, Sara.

Forman had to earn a living, she noted in her 2008 memoir Lionel Forman: A Life Too Short, but this was easier said than done. She was harassed by the police and served with a banning order that restricted her to a 1.6km radius of her home.

She was forbidden to enter “any factory premises or educational institutions”, but was eventually allowed to take a job as a proofreader, on condition she was housed in an enclosed office and only one worker at a time be allowed to enter it.

Denied a passport, Forman applied for an exit permit and left in 1969. With children Karl, Frank and Sara she set up home in London, qualified as a schoolteacher and gained a second degree (in psychology).

Fiercely nonsectarian, outspoken and with a keen mind, she was also a notoriously bad timekeeper, resulting in her many friends fondly referring to her as “the late Mrs Forman”.

She had a deserved reputation for speaking out against perceived injustices, even within the ANC to which she remained firmly attached, although she was increasingly and constructively critical of it and its leadership over the years.

She arrived at Fort Hare in 1996 and fell in love with the village of Alice; she became something of an Alice institution herself.

Even when her health and memory were failing, she did not want to leave. Finally prevailed upon by Sara, she reluctantly returned to the place of her exile.

A fellow activist and friend, Douglas Maquina, wrote (in isiXhosa) of Lionel Forman when he died that he was “a small man, but … as big as Table Mountain”. The words apply equally to Sadie Forman: a small woman, but certainly as big as Table Mountain.