Jennifer Schreiner (known as Jenny) was born in Johannesburg, Transvaal (now Gauteng) in 1956 to G.D.L. Deneys and Else Schreiner.
Else and Deneys were active members of the Liberal Party of South Africa (LPSA). Deneys did not join any political party after the LPSA was banned as he would not join an exclusively white organisation. Deneys Schreiner, Professor in Inorganic Chemistry, was appointed Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg (now the university of KwaZulu-Natal-UKZN) from 1976 to 1987. Else was a founder member of the Liberal Party of South Africa, the Black Sash and National President of the National Council of Women in Natal between 1983 and 1986. As Chairwoman of the Natal Midlands Women’s Coalition between 1992 and 1994, she coordinated regional work towards the Women’s Charter for Effective Equality.
Jenny Schreiner grew up in Pietermaritzburg, Natal (now kwaZulu-Natal), as the third of four children, with siblings Oliver (late), Deneys and Barbara. She attended Epworth High School, a private school in Pietermaritzburg, and went to university in Pietermaritzburg in 1974, where she became active in the Student Representative Council (SRC), National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), Wages Commission and Communities Commission. In 1977, Schreiner changed from science subjects to the humanities, moving to study at the University of Cape Town (UCT). In March 1978, Schreiner’s brother Oliver was killed by a hit-and-run driver in the streets of Cambridge where he was studying a postgraduate law degree.
In 1979 Schreiner was recruited into and joined the African National Congress (ANC). Schreiner was active in organising the launch of the United Women’s Organisation of the Western Cape (UWO) across the Western Cape in April 1981. Schreiner became involved in its activities and was later elected as Assistant Secretary.
She described the organisation as one which tried to balance “trade union accountability and short-term accountability in, and the payment of, subscriptions by standing structure” (Schreiner in Hassim, n.d.: 59).
In 1982, Schreiner graduated with a BA Honours Degree in African Studies from UCT, and in 1987 was awarded a Master of Arts in Sociology also by UCT. Her thesis focussed on the organisation of working women into the FCWU/AFCWU, the liberation movement and the Woman Question”.
Schreiner was recruited into uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), served on the ANC Regional Political Military Council and was recruited into the South African Communist Party (SACP) participating in the underground of the national liberation struggle. On 16 September 1987, Schreiner’s flat in Marie Court, Wynberg, Cape Town was raided by the Security Police. Schreiner, along with thirteen others, were detained under Section 29 of the Internal Security Act. Her experiences in detention and the trial that followed formed the basis of the book `Time Stretching Fear’ written by her mother, Else.
On 16 September 1987, Schreiner’s flat in Marie Court, Wynberg in Cape Town was stormed and raided by the Security Police. Schreiner, along with thirteen others, were detained under Section 29 of the Internal Security Act.
In a letter to her family, smuggled out of Parow Police Station on 6 December 1987, Schreiner wrote:
“At this stage, what I want to say to you is this – never in my life have I done anything in an ill-considered and adventurous way – and this is thanks to you and the way I was brought up to act responsibly and to take life seriously. The reality of our land is a harsh one and so harsh decisions have to be taken. You brought me up to act on my beliefs and to oppose injustice, and this has been my guide throughout. I am aware that the paths of action that each of you and I would choose would differ in a variety of ways, and some of you are in for a big surprise. My experience over the last couple of months has done nothing to change my commitment and was I to be out tomorrow, I would continue with the same work.”(Schreiner, 2000: 12-13)
Her experiences in detention and the trial that followed formed the basis of the book Time Stretching Fear written by her mother, Else. In the book, Schreiner describes her breaking point, after weeks of various forms of torture, as being when she agreed to make a statement which she wrote. After this, Schreiner attempted suicide on 6 January 1988.
In preparation of the end of her six-month detention under Section 29, Schreiner was moved to Pollsmoor Prison on 22 February 1988. The group which was arrested along with Schreiner became known as the ‘Yengeni 14’ (as Tony Yengeni was accused no. 1) and their trial began in March 1989. In November 1990, with Justice Minister Coetsee having released the new guidelines for the release of prisoners, the trialists applied for indemnity. On 9 November, Schreiner and Yengeni, the last of the trialists to remain in prison, were granted bail. On 18 February 1991, the court adjourned to 8 April to allow the lawyers to prepare final arguments. However, on 19 March 1991, the remaining six of the ‘Yengeni 14’ were granted amnesty.
On 9 November Schreiner was granted bail. On 18 February 1991 the court adjourned to 8 April to allow the lawyers to prepare final arguments. However, on 19 March 1991, the remaining six of the ‘Yengeni 14’ were granted amnesty.
After the trial was stopped in 1991, Schreiner continued to live in Cape Town, working for the SACP. She was elected to the SACP Central Committee at the SACP Congress held at NASREC (Johannesburg) in December 1991. In 1992, she moved to Johannesburg where she worked in Nelson Mandela’s office at Luthuli House. Schreiner and her partner Anthony Stevens had two sons, Nikita and Raul, who were born in January 1992 and May 1997 respectively.
In 1994, under the newly elected democratic government, Schreiner moved back to Cape Town to became a Member of Parliament for the ANC. During her time in Parliament, she served on the Joint Standing Committee on Defence, the Safety and Security Portfolio Committee and the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence. She also chaired the Constitutional Assembly Sub-Theme Committee which dealt with the security and intelligence structures of government. She resigned in 1997 to take up a senior position in the National Intelligence Coordinating Committee (NICOC).
Her Master's dissertation focused on rape as a human security issue, with specific reference to South Africa. In 2006, Schreiner was transferred to the post of Chief Deputy Commissioner: Operations and Management Support in Correctional Services. Her father, Deneys died at the age of 85 on Freedom Day, 27 April 2008. In DCS restructuring she was appointed to head the Branch of Central Services, and in 2006 she was transferred to the post of Chief Deputy Commissioner: Operations and Management Support. In 2009/10 she served as Acting National Commissioner of Correctional services for a period of 10 months.
In 2011, Schreiner was appointed as Director General of the Economic Development Department, and in 2015 transferred to finish her 5-year contract as DG of the Department of Women. In November 2017 at the end of her contract, Schreiner retired from the public service. She is currently working in the Head Office of the SACP as a full-time Central Committee member, and has recently been appointed to the Board of two State-Owned Entities, Broadband Infraco for a 3 year term, and to the Public Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) Interim Board. Her mother, Else Schreiner still lives in Pietermaritzburg at the age of 95.
Venter, S. n.d., “People to remember” in Exploring our National Days: Freedom Day 27 April. South Africa: Jacana Press|
Goldblatt, B. and Meintjes, S., 1996. “The 1960s” in Gender and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: A Submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission [online], Available at www.justice.gov.za [Accessed 2 August 2012]|
Ministry of Correctional Services, (2002), “Statement on the appointment of senior management in the Department of Correctional Services” from the South African Government Information, [online]. Available at www.info.gov.za[Accessed 2 August 2012]|
Schreiner, O.C. 1979. “Shareholder's Derivative Action - A Comparative Study of Procedures” in South African Law Journal, 96 (203)|
Hassim, S. n.d. The limits of popular democracy: women’s organizations, feminism and the UDF [online]. Available at www.history.ukzn.ac.za [Accessed 2 August 2012]|
Schreiner, E. (2000), Time Stretching Fear: The Detention and Solitary Confinement of 14 Anti-Apartheid Trialists, 1987-1991. (Cape Town: Robben Island Museum)