The 10th of August marked the second day of the virtual Women and the Armed Struggle Colloquium presented by the Political and International Studies Department at Rhodes University, in partnership with the Centre for Women and Gender Studies at Nelson Mandela University and the Historical Studies Department at the University of Cape Town.
The Colloquium was titled: S’obashaya Ngamtye: Women and 60 Years of the Armed Struggle. One of the main objectives of this colloquium, as stated by one of the panellists, Dr Uhuru Phalafala is “continuing conversations about how we can challenge the erasures of apartheid and colonialism in South Africa”. It aimed to share the history of South Africa about women and their struggles and experiences.
Day 2 of the Colloquium included the launch of two pieces of work detailing women’s experiences during the armed struggles of South Africa through poetry and prose. The first piece of work, Malibongwe (1981/2020), is an anthology of poems by women involved in the struggle in exile. The 2020 version is a republication of the original book published in 1981, edited by Ambassador Lindiwe Mabuza, a contributor under the pseudonym Sono Molefe. The replication of Malibongwe symbolises a small step in attending to the gaps that we have in the archives of South Africa’s history.
Malibongwe is made up of the voices of 19 women; it is multi-layered and multivocal and facilitated healing through poetry for these displaced women. Ambassador Mabuza’s drive to put this anthology together was initially to feed the morale and stimulate a connection to ‘the home’ for the contributors.
This anthology was a way to channel their anger and homesickness, as well as mobilise consciousness. The reoccurring themes are hope through the metaphor of dawn and the land (displacement) issue, which is still being faced by many today. The panel consisted of several of these contributors, including Ambassador Sankie Mthembi-Mahanyele, who wrote under the pseudonym Rebecca Matlou, Ambassador Mabuza who wrote under the pseudonym Sono Molefe and Jumaimah Modiagotle as Jumaimah Motaung.
Ambassador Mthembi-Mahanyele stated, “We need to be aware of the power of the lip and the power of the voice. We also need to be aware of how we can use this power.”
Malibongwe is a great example of the power of the voice and the narratives it creates and carries. She spoke about how critical this anthology and colloquium is for the process of healing that needs to take place, especially for the women of South Africa, whose stories were erased in history.
Women in Solitary: Inside the female resistance to apartheid (2020) was the second piece of work launched, which was written by journalist Shanthini Naidoo. This book and its research fell into her lap while completing her Master’s in Journalism and Media studies at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). Naidoo described this book as “a microcosm of women foot soldiers”. It follows the stories of four women, namely, Joyce Sikhakhane-Rankin, Shanthie Naidoo, Rita Ndzanga and Nondwe Mankahla, who refused to testify in the ‘Trial of 22’, which led to their solitary confinement. It shows how activism binds us as South Africans and especially as women living in South Africa. It shows the strength and resilience it took for the women to survive being tortured. Naidoo says she hopes that these stories can “counteract erasures and empower women to take strength from women whose stories came before us”.
It is grounded in the legacy of trauma, of mothers who were torn away from their children and the impact of this tearing away. Since we face an unhealed journey, Naidoo hopes that telling stories like these can facilitate healing and attend to tender areas of pain left festering.
This colloquium and book launch calls for us as South Africans to enrich our knowledge and document our history by spending time with those who were involved in the struggle. It calls for the laying of foundations for the next generation through intergenerational dialogue and archival work.
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