A Guide to Glenwood Street Names: Davenport/Helen Joseph Road

Glenwood’s streets reflect the character of the neighbourhood- stately and historic, yet inviting and inclusive. These characteristics are also embodied by the names of its streets, which, through various cycles of change have reflected the ways in which Glenwood, Durban, and indeed South Africa as a whole have transformed throughout their histories.
Ignoring the controversies that have accompanied the renaming processes, the Glenwood Collective will, over the following weeks, examine the names of our streets, both old and new. With the help of historian and Glenwoodian Dr. Annie Devenish, we will explore the individuals and families honoured on Glenwood’s street signs and assess their influence on local and national history.
These summaries are far from complete biographies, and we encourage you to pursue your own reading on the subject.

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Davenport/Helen Joseph Road

 

Davenport Road, ground zero for Glenwood’s escalating burgers vs grilled chicken standoff, was, like Manning and other roads in the area, named for original settlers who lived nearby. In this instance, the Davenport family, who helped clear the original road which bared their name.

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Helen Beatrice Joseph (née Fennel), for whom the road is now named, was born in 1905 in Sussex, England. Driven by an innate desire to see the sun she moved first to India and eventually to Durban where she started worked as a teacher and married local dentist Billie Joseph. During the Second World War Joseph served in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force as an information and welfare officer. During her time in Durban, and especially after moving to Johannesburg following her divorce, she became increasingly radicalised by the brutality and injustice of the apartheid state. In response she became one founding members of the Congress of Democrats, and was one of the leaders who read out the clauses of the Freedom Charter at the Congress of the People in Kliptown in 1955. She played a pivotal role along with Lillian Ngoyi in the formation of the Federation of South African Women and with the organisation’s leadership, spearheaded a march of 20,000 women to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against pass laws on August 9, 1956. This day is still celebrated as South Africa’s Women’s Day.

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Women’s March 1956. From left to right: Rahima Moosa, Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph and Sophia Williams. Credit to @MbuyiseniNdlozi for the pic.

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Following the march Joseph was arrested on a charge of high treason in December 1956, then banned in 1957. The treason trial dragged on for four years and she was acquitted in 1961. During the early 1960s the ANC asked Joseph to work on their welfare committee, formed to aid the increasing number of ANC members in exile. Joseph wrote an account, named Tomorrow’s Sun, of her visits to those in living in exile. A close friend to many apartheid icons, she cared for the children of those imprisoned or forced into exile, including Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Bram Fischer

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Helen Joseph. Photo credit to the Mail & Guardian.

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In spite of her acquittal, on 13 October 1962, Helen became the first person to be placed under house arrest in her Johannesburg home under the Sabotage Act that had just been introduced by the apartheid government. She narrowly escaped death more than once, surviving bullets shot through her bedroom and a bomb wired to her front gate. After Joseph underwent surgery for cancer, the apartheid government did not renew her house arrest. She continued to speak out against apartheid, addressing student meetings. Her last banning order was only lifted in 1985, when she was 80 years old.

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Helen at home in Johannesburg. Photo credit to sahistory.org.za

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During and after her period of house arrest those involved in the anti-apartheid struggle had an open invitation to visit her home. All comrades brought food, and at noon everyone raised their glasses to those on Robben Island, a ritual the Robben Islanders were aware of. On December 25, 1992, Joseph was taken to hospital and the venue moved to 11 Plantation Road, The Gardens. By this time all of the political prisoners had been released from Robben Island, and those present in Johannesburg on the 25th congregated at 11 Plantation Road, raising their glasses to Helen in tribute. She passed away the following day.

 

 

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