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2 Campaigners Against Apartheid Die in Head-on Car Crash in South Africa

December 30, 1985|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Two of South Africa's most prominent opponents of apartheid were killed in a weekend automobile accident, police reported Sunday.

Officers said that Molly Blackburn, 55, who for many blacks symbolized the willingness of some whites to fight with them for justice and equality, and Brian Bishop, 50, a Cape Town lawyer, died in a head-on collision about 75 miles west of Port Elizabeth. The accident occurred Saturday night, and the driver of the second vehicle also was killed, the report said.

Blackburn was a member of the Cape of Good Hope provincial council from the liberal white opposition Progressive Federal Party, and Bishop was the vice chairman of Cape Town's Civil Rights League.

Bishop's wife, Di, another Progressive Federal member of the Cape provincial council, and Blackburn's sister, Judy Chalmers, were injured in the collision. Chalmers, of Port Elizabeth, was an official of Black Sash, a group of liberal women who monitor civil rights.

Got Death Threats

Blackburn and the Bishops have received frequent death threats because of their civil rights activities, but Dr. Gavin Blackburn said Sunday that he accepts the police report that his wife's death was an accident.

Nevertheless, rumors immediately began circulating in the Port Elizabeth region of eastern Cape province that right-wing death squads, blamed by blacks for numerous unsolved murders and disappearances of their leaders, were responsible for the accident.

Blackburn and the Bishops were apparently returning from investigating racial unrest around Oudtshoorn, between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, when the accident occurred.

Blackburn, mother of seven, was a familiar figure in the troubled black ghetto townships of Cape province as she campaigned against apartheid during the past two decades. She became one of the few whites here to earn the full, unqualified trust of blacks.

Her activities, however, brought considerable criticism from whites, along with threats and obscene telephone calls. She was arrested several times under the country's security laws but was convicted only once, for entering a black township without a government permit, and received a suspended sentence.

"I have a sense of outrage at what is happening to people who in many circumstances are defenseless," she said in a recent interview. "I can't stand bullies, and I don't like people being fobbed off with second-rate justice. What I want is a fair deal for all the people of our country."

The daughter of a Port Elizabeth lawyer, Blackburn studied psychology and geography at South Africa's Rhodes University, taught school briefly in England, lived for a decade in Antwerp, Belgium, with her first husband, a lawyer, and after a divorce returned to Port Elizabeth in 1963, marrying Gavin Blackburn, a well-to-do physician there, four years later.

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