Mary Burton
South African Women Activists Celebrated

Mary Burton is a political activist and human rights advocate that served as the president of the Black Sash during apartheid South Africa. Her contribution to the liberation struggle and attempts at reconciliation left an impact on the country. She is an inspiration for all South African women to always aspire for equality.

©Tracey Derrick

Black Sash Activist

Mary Burton was born in Argentina in 1940 and moved to Brazil at a young age. Burton married a South African man, and soon after moved to the country. When she arrived, she went through a huge culture shock, having to adapt to the apartheid system and its oppressive regulations.

She then started to provide food and other necessities in black communities. She became involved with the Black Sash organisation in 1965, a group of middle-class white women who used their privilege to help and support the marginalised groups, specifically women of colour, during the apartheid years. The organisation endured hardships but continued to thrive.

Burton was president of the Black Sash from 1986 to 1990. After the 1994 elections, Burton was elected to be one of the 17 people to sit on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC was set up by the Government of National Unity to help deal with the cases of abuse, violence, and crimes committed under apartheid South Africa.

Since then, Burton started the Register of Reconciliation for all the people who could not be heard by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to share their experiences.

In 2000, she helped launch the “Home for All Campaign”, a campaign that encourages nonpartisan white South Africans to contribute to reconciliation in an acknowledgment to the damage caused by apartheid. Burton currently serves as Deputy Chairperson of the Council of the University of Cape Town. In 2011, Mary Burton was awarded Civic Honours by the City of Cape Town for her leadership and contribution to the liberation struggle.