Jennifer Davis (1933 - )
The Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo in
Profile of Jennifer Davis
Jennifer Davis was born in Johannesburg in 1933. She obtained a BA degree in 1954 from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and subsequently assumed positions as secretary to the Industrial Council for the Military Industry, lecturer to external students of the London School of Economics in South Africa, high school teacher and graduate assistant at Wits from 1955 to 1966.
Davis was a committed anti-apartheid student activist at university, which earned her the status of persona non-grata in the 1960s. She was continually pestered by the security forces and later threatened with house arrest. The subsequent concerted pressure forced her into exile in New York, United States of America (USA), from 1966, where her dedicated efforts served not only the South African cause, but helped the plight of the African continent as a whole.
In 1967, Davis joined the staff of the American Committee on Africa/The Africa Fund, the oldest US anti-apartheid and pro-African democracy organisation. As research director and executive director from 1981 to 2000, Davis spearheaded sustained efforts to establish programmes, which eventually succeeded in persuading the USA to impose economic sanctions on apartheid South Africa.
Through extensive research and publishing about the US policy, particularly towards Africa, Davis was frequently requested to testify and present before both Houses of the US Congress, the United Nations, state legislatures, city councils, civic organisations, university governing boards and student bodies – thereby highlighting the plight of the African continent and South Africa to the world.
She and Dumisani Khumalo (the current South African Ambassador to the UN), then projects director of the American Committee on Africa, forged networks and alliances, campaigning for the USA’s termination of economic support for apartheid South Africa.
Through their relentless efforts and those of the organisations which they mobilised, the USA later obliged and ceased its economic support for South Africa. From 1967 on, Davis visited and maintained close relations with various leaders, organisations and activists throughout Africa, helping to change the negative image that prevailed about these leaders in the world.
With her staff, she developed an extensive publication programme, which drove their human rights, policy, advocacy and education projects, all campaigning for support to African independence, and economic and social justice. These included newsletters, targeted action alerts, educational briefings, pamphlets and special reports, many of which Davis wrote and edited.
Davis is a passionate researcher and writer, and published a significant number of articles on US policy towards Africa, strongly advocating support to African countries.
Davis’ efforts paid off when her dream of a liberated South Africa materialised and her greatest honour was to serve as an election observer in Empangeni, KwaZulu-Natal, in 1994 and to be invited as a special guest of former President Nelson Mandela to the presidential inauguration the same year.
Since leaving the American Committee on Africa and the Africa Fund in 2000, Davis has worked as a consultant on US-Africa policy, and serves on the boards of several US organisations working to advance economic and political justice for Africa. These include Shared Interest, the Association of Concerned African Scholars and the Washington Office on Africa.
Her other special assignments include being a delegate during the International Commission of Inquiry into the Crimes of the Racist and Apartheid Regimes in South Africa, Luanda, Angola, in 1981. Davis also presented on The Appropriateness of Continuing International Sanctions against South Africa at the 84th meeting of the American Society of International Law.
Davis has served this country diligently throughout her life through the anti-apartheid solidarity movement and post-1994 with various support programmes to black people. These include drafting and delivering various papers for the US church organisations on Africa, advocating the cancellation of the debt of poor countries and raising awareness about HIV & AIDS and the plight of women.
Jennifer Davis could have chosen to be silent about the injustices that were unfolding but instead she made her voice heard and put herself in danger of being exiled. Davis is planning to return to South Africa after many years of unassuming and dignified contribution to this country. Her commitment to this country and the continent continues.