Ruth Gosschalk was born on 27 July 1929 in Muizenburg, Cape Town. She was one of four children. Her parents were immigrants from Eastern Europe. Gosschalk’s mother was a member of the philanthropic Union of Jewish Women, and her father worked as a market agent.

In 1946 Gosschalk worked with the Zionist Socialist youth organisation called the Hashomer Hatzir; an organisation that advocated for the settlement on Kibbtzim (communal forms) in Israel. That experience in Israel resulted in her loss of interest in the beliefs of Zionism.  She returned to the Cape after spending a year in Israel. Gosschalk then trained as a nursery teacher. During this period she became involved with the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA - later renamed the South African Communist Party - SACP) and became politicised. Consequently, she was arrested for helping to put up CPSA posters before the 1948 election.

In 1952, after her first marriage, Gosschalk went to settle in London. In London she worked as a teacher and for the Democratic South Africa League. Unfortunately, her marriage ended, and subsequent to that she met Bernard Gosschalk, who was a student of architecture in London. With Bernard, Mary Turok and Duma Nokwe, Gosschalk attended the International Youth Festival in Romania in 1953. She returned to the Cape in 1953, the same year in which she married Bernard. They had four children together, Marion, Alan, Susan and Brian.

The Gosschalk’s were asked to help in the revival of the Congress of Democrats (COD) in the Cape region. Ruth Gosschalk was elected as the regional secretary of the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW), and played an important role in the organisation. In 1961 she addressed delegates at the Women’s Day celebrations in Cape Town where she challenged the Mayor to resign from the Pistol Club, which she joined after Nelson Mandela and the National Action Council called for a stay -at -home campaign.

As a result of her political activities, Gosschalk was detained by the police in 1960. Then in 1964 she was banned for five years. She was detained again in 1966. That year, she successfully filed an interdict against the South African police for detaining and torturing her husband. As a result of police harassment, Ruth and her husband left the country for exile in London in 1968. They finally settled in Manchester, where Ruth Gosschalk worked as an advisory educationist.

Gosschalk did not return to South Africa and died of Leukemia on 11 June 1994.


Helen Scanlon, (2007), Representations and Reality; Portraits of women’s lives in the Western Cape 1948-1976, (Cape Town, HSRC).

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