Hettie McCleod was born on 27 June 1922 in Goodwood, Cape Town, Cape Province (now Western Cape). She was the youngest of five children (three girls and two boys) and was raised by her mother, as her father had left the family when the children were small. Hettie attended Wesley Primary School and later Wesley Training College where she qualified as a teacher in 1942. She taught for three years, but gradually became more interested in politics.
In 1945, she joined the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) and started to work full-time as a Party organiser. The following year, she was involved in campaigning for Harry Snitcher in the election. Once the election was over, she helped form a Food Committee with fellow-CPSA activist John Morley Turner and became its secretary. She went on to become secretary of The Guardian Christmas Club and was active in the Cape Factory Workers’ Committee and the Cape Housewives’ League as well.
In 1950, Hettie was listed under the Suppression of Communism Act and forced out of teaching because of her political activity. She subsequently found employment as a supervisor in a sock factory. After the formation of Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) in 1954, she became its treasurer until her banning later that year. She also played a role in a number of organisations, including the Franchise Action Program and the South African Coloured People’s Organisation (SACPO) after its formation in 1955.
Hettie was married to fellow-CPSA member Reginald September, whom she divorced, but then remarried. In October 1963, she went into exile to join Reginald in Swaziland. She was forced to leave her children behind in South Africa and was reunited with them in the United Kingdom only in 1965. As Reginald was working full-time for the African National Congress (ANC), Hettie became the main breadwinner. Among other jobs, she worked for the Defence and Aid Fund as an office organiser. The couple returned to South Africa in 1990, where Hettie died in 1997.
- Scanlon, H. 2007. “Representation and reality: Portraits of Women’s Lives in the Western Cape 1948-1976”. HSRC Press: Cape Town.