Hazel Marshall 2011

During her first year at school, just after the end of the last World War, Hazel Smith became blind and her parents enrolled her at the School for the Blind in Worcester. A serious pupil, Hazel showed significant leadership skills and took a special interest in the debating society. It was clear then that she would grow from strength to strength in her achievements but few could have predicted the contribution that Hazel would make to the South African National Council for the Blind and to many other organisations involved with blind and disabled people.

Hazel was the first woman to receive a bursary for the study of physiotherapy at the Royal National Institute for the Blind in London where she was an ambassador for our blindness sector. Upon her return to South Africa, Hazel joined an established physiotherapy practice - a vocation which she practised with unsurpassed empathy. Hazel excelled in her profession and is now a life member of the Society of Physiotherapy of South Africa. 

She has been a member of the Council's National Executive for 39 years since 1970, during which time she also served as Vice-Chair. She was part of the South African Blind Workers Organisation (now Blind South Africa) first as an ordinary member, then as a member of its National Executive Committee, later as its Vice-President and finally as its President. Hazel was on the Board of the South African Library for the Blind for some 30 years, and was also a member of the Board of the Khanyisa School for about 10 years. She has been the Chair of the Nkosinathi Foundation for many years - a position that has exposed her to the abject poverty of thousands of blind people which has fired her determination to continue her work for a better life for those living with blindness.

Hazel saw empowerment as the key to ensure that the lives of visually impaired people were meaningful and productive. To this end, she developed a Committee of Consumers within Council, as it was her firm conviction that services could not be offered effectively to visually impaired people unless their views were fully taken into account.  Her belief in information as power drove her to ensure that visually impaired people had access to information through braille and other means. In fact, shortly after she matriculated, she began teaching braille to blind people in Port Elizabeth and continues to do so to this day. For Hazel, voting represents an exercise of power and she dedicated much of her time to devising a system in which visually impaired people could vote effectively and in secret.

She has always championed non-racialism, based on her belief in ubuntu and her firm conviction that all human beings are equal. To this end, she co-founded the Associated Blind of South Africa - a non-racial structure aimed at developing non-racialism in the blindness sector during the 1980s - an unfashionable time for people to flirt with non-racial ideas!  In 2009, Hazel was awarded the RW Bowen medal for lifelong meritorious service by the SA National Council for the Blind and was also awarded a position as honorary Vice-President allowing her to continue working for the Council.

She was married to Ken Marshall who sadly passed away a few years after their marriage.

For her contribution to the blindness and disability sectors - enriched by her passionate commitment, boundless courage, commendable grit and a fervent sense of purpose, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University is honoured to present Hazel Marshall with the Council Prestige Award.