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Professor Gertrude Fester

Professor Gertrude FesterProfessor Fester was an anti-apartheid activist. She obtained her PhD at the London School of Economics in 2007. As an activist, Fester was a founding member of many women’s organisations, including the Gender Advocacy Programme and Women's Education & Artistic Voice Expression (WEAVE). She served on the board of eight non-governmental organisations, all of which promoted education and women’s rights. She has held some positions in over thirty organisations altogether. She has been teaching and lecturing for almost forty years, starting in a high school in 1975. Today, she continues to give guest lectures in universities all over the world, including the University of Washington at Saint Louis, USA, Rutgers University in New Jersey, USA, and Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

Fester spent her entire life, much of it under the stresses of apartheid, educating women and children and young adults who were being persecuted by their government. Her many publications focus on gender equality and the promotion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual rights. She has now also joined the Precolonial Catalytic Historiography project at CAS with a focus on land and women.

As a member of the African National Congress (ANC), Fester was charged for treason in 1988 and went to prison for two years where she spent 5 months in solitary confinement. It was during this time of incarceration that she wrote a one-woman play, Apartheid’s Closet: The Spirit cannot be Caged. This play was composed and recorded inside Fester’s head because under solitary confinement, she was not allowed to have writing materials. The play was later performed in countries around the world, including in Cuba, Nicaragua, and China.

After serving a term in parliament, Fester was appointed as a Commissioner on Gender Equality. Her most recent post was as Professor in Sociology at Sol Plaatje University. Prior to this, she was professor and deputy director for the Centre for Gender, Culture and Development (CGCD) in Kigali Institute of Education in Rwanda.

  • Adapted from: South African History Online
  • Photo: SAHO