Radical Objects: My Mother’s Saucepan

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image of debbie epstein's mother's saucepanBy Debbie Epstein

This is a photo of my mother’s saucepan, I grew up in South Africa. In 1956 156 people, members of the opposition movement (the African National Congress and associated organisations) were arrested and put on trial for treason. Those arrested included Albert Luthuli, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Helen Joseph, Ahmed (Kathy) Kathrada, Ben Turok, Lionel (Rusty) Bernstein, Z K Matthews, Ruth First, and many other luminaries of the struggle against apartheid. The prisoners were held in prison in Johannesburg and bussed to Pretoria each day for a trial that lasted five years before all charges against all accused were finally quashed, the old Pretoria synagogue having been converted into a court room.

The state made no provision for feeding the prisoners at lunch time so a group of white, liberal women from Pretoria, including my mother, Polly Epstein, made a rota according to which they would arrive at the old synagogue at lunch time with food for the prisoners. My mother used to pick me up from school sometimes, which finished at lunch time, to accompany her to the synagogue both to help serve the lunches and because she thought, rightly, that it would be educational for me.

This saucepan together with some other large ones from my mother and the other women involved, held the large stews that tended to be the lunch menu. When my parents left South Africa in 1963, two of these saucepans came with them. I’ve chosen to photograph the larger of the two, with the name ‘Epstein’ written down the side as this is the one from which I remember offering food to the prisoners.