31 years ago today, Jen Davis hosted a baby shower for me in her NYC apartment – it turned out to be the day before my son was born. She hosted many other South Africans in that apartment, from the UDF and other organisations involved in the struggle against apartheid.
A South African exile, she was one of the key figures in the anti-apartheid movement in the United States and with the late Dumisani Khumalo, drove the sanctions legislation that to a large extent closed down apartheid SA from 1986.
A year ago, I spent a few days with her, when I visited her in Washington DC, still the same gentle, wise, funny, humble, committed person and good friend. Yesterday we lost her – she passed away surrounded by friends and family and her longtime partner in the home of Stephanie Julia Urdang, surrounded by generosity and love. May she rest in peace. She will be deeply missed by so many from all corners of the world.
Jen made me very welcome when I came to spend a year in the US, on leave from Mozambique. I enjoyed her warm hospitality and the pleasure of staying at her place in New York.
She introduced me to CHISA (the Committee for Health in Southern Africa), A groundbreaking health conference in Maputo folIowed, a testament to Jen’s networking and mobilizing abilities. I much appreciated her support during the difficult years of Rebecca Reiss’s terminal illness. She seemed to always be there, even in California.
I was lucky to spend time with Jen and Stephanie Urdang in Washington two years ago. Her warmth and wisdom still shone through. Thank you, Jen, for teaching me about US anti-apartheid work and for your friendship.
Dr Julie Cliff
Universidade Eduardo Mondlane
Such an inspiring activist — she was so central to the anti-apartheid movement in the US, but she always kept the focus on the issues, and on building the movement, rather than on herself.
Those of us who were involved in student divestment efforts from around the country always saw her as the pillar we could rely on — we looked to her for advice, support and guidance, and she was always there for us.
Hamba kahle, comrade.
We will always remember.
How does one say ‘good-bye’ to a friend/”sister”
and comrade like Jennifer?
It is not possible when one has known someone so well and
shared so much with such a person. All of us know that “Jen” was
someone very talented, very special, very committed. Her qualities were passed
on to her children, Sandra and Mark, probably onwards to her grandchildren.
Like Amilcar, like Samora, like Graca and Madiba, Jen was my teacher.
How much more valuable than multiple classrooms across the country were those hours we spent in Jen’s living room listening and learning from one guest or another with Jen constantly asking the key questions.
What a lesson in “anti- racism” and “race
relations” Jen provided when she would stand barely over the podium of
some crowded Harlem Church and painstakingly describe the role the Federation
of South African Women in South Africa’s resistance struggle of the 1960’s.
With her smile and the determined tilt of her head, she exemplified a too-rare
leadership style that believed there was nothing too small or too big for the
leader to take up.
Oh how we will miss you, Camarada !!
Prexy Nesbitt, Making the Road
Jen was a great hero of mine right from those early days of the gritty but rewarding Southern African liberation-support struggle in North America.
While I haven’t been in touch with her for a number of years, I will miss her principled presence which has also helped to inspire my own on-going commitment to the struggle to liberate Southern Africa (… and also North America), as I’m sure she has inspired the so many of the treasured comrades.
Victory certainly isn’t yet “certa” of course but that it “continuas” is our shared premise I’m sure – so this note, along with all my love and in solidarity with you all – John Saul
We always had very good contacts and worked well and coordinated together during the solidarity committee phase, she in ACOA in the US, and me in the Committee for Freedom in Mozambique, Angola and Guine in the UK.
It was a pleasure to get to know such a nice, thoughtful, hardworking, creative person, a strategic campaigner who understood the importance of the Southern African perspective in the context of the liberation struggle. I really only understood later about the landmark nature of her work in the USA, she was a real “monumento historico” and must be remembered as such.
I´m just sorry that I never went back to the US for 30+ years after my first visit when Sam Barnes was doing her year off studying in Boston and I stayed for a bit with Jen in NY, and that she hardly came to Mozambique in later days – I only remember her visit after South Africa Independence (as we called it), when she stayed with me some of the time, and maybe one other brief appearance – so unfortunately we did fall more or less out of touch.
I´m very glad to know that she was well accompanied by family and such very old friends right to the end. She will be missed by friends, colleagues and admirers around the world. We need more people like her.
South African Broadcasting Corporation report about Jennifer Davis, who died on October 15, 2019. Davis is described as a fearless, courageous and dedicated woman who supported freedom in South Africa. The video report includes an interview with Donna Katzin, who during apartheid worked at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) and after apartheid became the Executive Director of Shared Interest.
This week I lost another one of my pillars.
Jennifer Davis passed away on Wednesday and I am at a loss for words.
Jennifer gave me the first job of what would become my career as the Research and Human Right Director of the Africa Fund and the American Committee on Africa in 1988.
Jennifer was the most principled person I have had the luck of working with. Even as she worked toward larger strategic goals — and fighting for Africa’s liberation and ending Apartheid were indeed long bitter struggles — she always paid attention to how something was done so that the principle was not lost, that that those on the front line were heard and empowered and that a movement was built along the way.
Jennifer was diminutive and slight. She suffered debilitating migraines and dreaded the spotlight and yet she generated such respect from her peers that she became a leading Sangoma for progressive solidarity groups and activists focused on Africa. When she was awarded the Order of the Companions of O. R. Tambo by the South African Government in 2009 among the surviving anti-apartheid era activists the question was why it took so long.
But that does not capture all that Jennifer was. She was the historian who would come up with an obscure reference about an African leader or a colonial practice she was the one who had the cheeky sense of humor would pop up in the middle of a discussion of politics and grassroot mobilization.
Jennifer was a mentor and a dear friend and always remained the head of a family of eclectic people who bonded over working at a small organization devoted to struggle for justice and freedom in Africa A principle she exemplified in her everyday life.
I hope to see her again to reflect on political transformation in Africa and the United States and make sure she knows what a rich legacy she has left behind.
There is a quote from the antiapartheid struggle that best captures her strength
“Now you have touched the women,
You have struck a rock (You have dislodged a boulder!)
You will be crushed!”
Jennifer Davis was a rock
Rest in Power
Yesterday my friend Jennifer Davis passed away.
She was surrounded by family and close friends. Jen was a true hero to me: Stalwart fighter against apartheid, defender of human rights. As director of The American Committee on Africa and The Africa Fund, she had significant impact on the direction of the anti-apartheid divestment campaign and as such was honored by the South African government for her contribution to the downfall of the apartheid regime.
But now I mourn her as one of my closest friends since 1967. HAMBA KAHLE my dearest friend, comrade, colleague. You are sorely missed.
My deepest condolences to you all.
Jennifer was such a dedicated fighter for social justice. Her commitment to our struggle for freedom in SA reflected a lifetime of service to those who were brutalized by apartheid. And she continued her service long after we won democracy in 1994. Jennifer’s facility for organizing disparate reams of information and conducting research on the unglamorous but absolutely critical economic ties between the U.S. and South Africa–research that was used by journalists, African liberation leaders, legislators and anti-apartheid activists–was perhaps her distinctive gift to the anti-colonial and anti-apartheid movements as was her anti-imperialist focus.
Her role is memorialized in my forthcoming biography of George Houser and the role played by the ACOA in the anti-colonial struggle. Ubuntu: George M. Houser and the Struggle for Peace and Freedom on Two Continents is scheduled for a fall 2020 publication by the Ohio University Press.