Professor Gertrude Fester
South African Women Activists Celebrated

© Tracey Derrick
Professor Gertrude Fester has devoted her life to educating women, children and young adults who were being persecuted by the government during the apartheid years. She remains a phenomenal role model for women across the country to strive for equality and her continuous resistance to patriarchy has become a well-known voice all over the world.

Educated Activist

Professor Gertrude Fester was born in Cape Town in 1952. In 1975, she started teaching at the high school level and continued a career in education for over 40 years. In the 1980’s she began fighting against the injustices of apartheid. During her career, Fester founded various women’s organisations, including the Gender Advocacy Programme and Women's Education & Artistic Voice Expression (WEAVE). Furthermore, she has served on the board of eight non-governmental organisations, all of which promote education and women’s rights.

Fester has endured the hardship of being tried for treason in the late 1980’s, under apartheid regulations. She was sentenced to two years in prison, where she spent 5 months in solitary confinement. Her enduring spirit, however, shone as she planned out a one-woman play in her head while in confinement called “Apartheid’s Closet: The Spirit cannot be caged”. This play was later performed in countries around the world, including in Cuba, Nicaragua, and China.

Fester’s publications have mostly focused on gender equality and the promotion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual rights. Fester fulfilled her mother’s dream for her to become an educated Black woman in South Africa. Her journey led her to become a founding member of multiple grassroots women’s organisations and a member of parliament from 1994 to 1999.

During her time serving in the Parliament, she was appointed as the Commissioner of the Gender Commission. Today, she continues to advocate for the welfare of women, specifically those who have been and are still marginalised.