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Hélène Passtoors (1942 - )

The Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo in

Hélène Passtoors (1942 - ) Awarded for:
Her excellent contribution to the struggle for liberation, democracy and human rights, and for waging a concerted struggle against racial oppression as an African National Congress (ANC) activist and operative in South Africa, including engagement in underground work.

Profile of Helene Passtoors

Ms Hélène Passtoors, a Belgian by birth, represents a rare pedigree of people who immersed themselves in the struggles of people other than her own and sacrificed her life for the cause of peace, freedom equality and justice. Ms Passtoors was living in Mozambique and teaching at the Eduardo Mondlane University when she was recruited Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) special operations by the late Mr Joe Slovo in 1981.

Between 1981 and 1985, she participated in highly secretive special operations under the immediate command of Mr Slovo, with Mr Oliver Tambo as the Commander of Special Operations.

She did mainly reconnaissance and communications missions throughout South Africa, looking for potential targets, among other things, the strategic coal export/oil import lines, South Africa Defence Force and police targets, and a Renamo training base in Limpopo.

Based first in Maputo, then Swaziland and finally Johannesburg, she transported weapons and established arms caches, and delivered funds and other necessities. While being enrolled at the University of Witwatersrand for her PhD, she continued with reconnaissance and liaison tasks, and set up communications for units that were to be settled inside the country.

Ms Passtoors was involved in actual operations. She was highly regarded in the military structures of the ANC, which operated under extremely difficult conditions.

In June 1985, she was arrested and kept for eight months in solitary confinement in John Vorster Square, where she was severely tortured and poisoned during the interrogations, to the point where she became epileptic. In May 1986, she was convicted of treason and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. In 1989, she was released, following the negotiations between the Belgian and South African governments.

Thereafter, she worked for the ANC office in Brussels and focused on international solidarity against apartheid. She was also involved in preparing the ANC’s language policy. In the post-1994 period, Ms Passtoors worked as journalist, edited two political journals and wrote three books. She later applied for amnesty to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the role she played in the bombings. While in prison in South Africa, she was bestowed with the European Woman of the Year Award in 1988. Hèlène sacrificed her life and her children for the struggle for freedom in South Africa, and endured enormous suffering for the people of this country.

Indeed she epitomised true international solidarity to the oppressed masses and it is for this reason that she occupies a distinct and special role in the historical memory of this country.

We are exceptionally proud to honour Ms Hélène Passtoors with the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo for her contribution to the underground work of MK and her spirit of internationalism and friendship she showed for the people of South Africa.