Jewish South African Actress Makes a Haven for Black Kids

Actress Helen Heldenmuth, a prominent figure among South African Jewish women, has turned her home in the upscale suburb of Glenhazel into a refuge for black children fleeing violence in the nearby black township of Alexandra.

According to some witnesses, Alexandra has come to resemble war-torn Beirut. Since the overwhelming pro-reform vote on March 17, rival black groups have been battling in the streets.

Some attribute the outbreak to a sinister right-wing “third force,” while others say it is part of a power struggle for a stake in the new South Africa.

Whatever the case may be, Alexandra is, as someone quipped ironically, just “a stone’s throw” from Johannesburg’s fashionable northern suburbs, where the Jewish community is concentrated.

With white public schools now open to all races, black parents seeking refuge for their children have turned to their white neighbors.

Several Jewish residents have opened their doors to black mothers and children fleeing the township.

Heldenmuth, who conducts drama classes in her home, has turned it into a haven for her black pupils, their mothers and grandmothers.

She did this even while the apartheid laws were in effect and often found herself in court on charges of illegally harboring blacks.

She unofficially adopted Sizie and Amanda Modise, daughters of her black housekeeper, Sophie Modise. They live with Heldenmuth legally now and attend non-racial white schools.

Heldenmuth represents South African Jewish women in a new religious group called Women for Positive Action, which lobbies for racial peace.

The group has met with President F.W. de Klerk and with Nelson Mandela, president of the African National Congress.

NEXT STORY