Black Sash

February 25, 2020 Jaskiran Gakhal, Participedia Team
October 17, 2018 Scott Fletcher Bowlsby
September 16, 2017 Zikhona Sikota
May 3, 2016 Zikhona Sikota

The Black Sash is one of South Africa's longest serving NGOs in the field of human rights and political accountability. It's main actions include the empowerment of citizens and CBOs to monitor service provision and hold the government to account.

Mission and Purpose

The Blash Sash is a non-governmental organisation that aims to promote the realisation of human rights in South Africa. It monitors government progress in this regard, particularly to ensure access for the poor and vulnerable populations. Their mission is to work towards a South Africa where the constitution is upheld and human rights are recognized in law and respected in practice and the government is accountable and responsive to the people. 

Origins and Development

The organisation has a long history of working against injustice in the country. The Black Sash was established in 1955 by a small group of white middle-class women (who were predominantly English-speaking) when they formed an organization called The Women's Defence of the Constitution League. Founder members were Jean Sinclair, Ruth Foley, Elizabeth McLaren, Tertia Pybus, Jean Bosazza and Helen Newton-Thompson (among others). The organisation was formed as a protest to oppose the Senate Bill that aimed to remove coloureds from the common voter’s role as the women of Black Sash believed this action was against the ‘spirit' of the constitution. Though the organisation was established as means to highlight the unconstitutional actions taken by the apartheid government, it became a platform for liberal women to oppose the apartheid policies through protests, marches and vigils. The name Black Sash originated from the women’s use of black sashes as a symbol to mourn the death of the constitution. 

Organizational Structure, Membership, and Funding

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Specializations, Methods and Tools

The organisation currently works in three main areas, rights-based information, education and training, community monitoring, and advocacy in partnership. The Black Sash publishes historical archives and activities from their advice offices and fieldwork activities as part of their educational campaigns. Black Sash has advice offices across the country, including a helpline where the public can ask questions on any matter regarding human rights. Their activities include advocacy work, where they engage government on behalf of communities, as well as monitoring government action in terms of ensuring access to rights. Their first advice office was opened in Cape Town during apartheid in an effort to assist victims of apartheid legislation within lawful means. The organisation’s activities continue to help communities across South Africa.

One of the Black Sash's most effect methods of community empowerment has been their unique approach to community-based monitoring. Developed and piloted with Making All Voices Count and Code for South America, the Black Sash CBM model involves the formation of partnerships with both community-based organisations (CBOs) and government in order to strengthen the role of civil society in improving service delivery and holding public and private sectors to account.

Major Projects and Events

The Black Sash has been involved in a variety of projects, including: Community Monitoring and Advocacy, Reproductive Maternal and Child Health projects, and the Making All Voices Count community-based monitoring project to mention a few.

Community Monitoring and Advocacy

The Community Monitoring and Advocacy project was implemented by driven communities through civil society organisations, who supported and trained volunteers as monitors in the project. The project identified the South African Social Security Agency, Department of Health, Department of Home Affairs and municipalities for monitoring.

Reproductive Maternal and Child Health Project

The purpose of the Reproductive Maternal and Child Health project is to assist government in ensuring access to reproductive healthcare services and improve the quality of service particularly for the poor. The project aims to:

  • Support districts to oversee improvement of MNCH services.
  • Strengthen delivery of school health, ward-based primary health care, and obstetric and neonatal emergency services.
  • Improve demand and accountability for MNCH services.
  • Document and disseminate new knowledge to remove barriers to the uptake and access to MNCH services

Making All Voices Count Community-Based Monitoring

The Making All Voices Count project is part of a global initiative which aims to empower Community Based Organisations to take ownership of and participate actively in citizen-based monitoring of three government services in 20 service sites across South Africa. The aim of the project is to monitor the rendering of government services from the perspective of ordinary people in an effort to promote better service standards.  


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See Also

The Black Sash Model of Community Based Monitoring 

Black Sash Making All Voices Count Community-based Monitoring Project  

Making All Voices Count

Code for South America

Participatory Research on the Decommissioning of South African Social Servicesin Khayelitshain Robertsonin Delft 


External Links

Black Sash - About Us:

South African History Online - Black Sash:

Black Sash - Community-Based Monitoring:

Black Sash - Reproductive and Maternal Child Health Services:

Black Sash - Making All Voices Count: