Yetta Barenblatt

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Yetta Barenblatt was born on 24 September 1913, in Dublin, Ireland, to Basna and Solomon Malamed of Lithuanian origin. In 1925, a friend encouraged her to come to South Africa with the promise of employment. However, due to her circumstances, further education was not possible and Barenblatt was forced to seek employment at a retail store.

In 1929, she joined a trade union and soon became a skilled union negotiator, assisting council workers to unite in their disputes with their municipality. Barenblatt later became the secretary of a trade union organization in East London in the 1940s, and a member of the East London Workers’ Civic League.

Barenblatt then took over as Secretary of the Congress of Democrats (CoD) from Rica Hodgson, when Hodgson was banned in 1954. In this position she worked tirelessly to prepare for the Congress of the People in June 1955.
On 5 December 1956, Barenblatt was arrested on charges of treason, and held at the Fort in Johannesburg.  After several unsuccessful bail applications, she was granted bail on 21 December. However, charges against her were only withdrawn in December 1957.

Barenblatt continued her involvement in political affairs after the Treason Trial and was detained in Johannesburg during the 1960 State of Emergency, along with 20 other white female detainees. During this time, Barenblatt went on a hunger strike for eight days. She was only released from prison on 23 July 1960.

Two years after her release from prison, Barenblatt was banned for five years on 31 July 1962.  Five years later, in 1967, she was banned again and restricted to the magisterial area of Johannesburg. Barenblatt was married to Morris Barenblatt, a communist, war veteran and a member of the Jewish Workers Club, which fought for better conditions for Jewish workers. Morris was also banned in 1962.

At the end of World War II, Yetta and Morris joined, and worked with, the Springbok Legion, which was an ex-servicemen’s organization. The two of them also worked for the Friends of the Soviet Union. Yetta Barenblatt died in 1999 and was buried in a traditional Jewish funeral