ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Making History and Shaping Feminism

Perspectives of Indian-origin South African Black Women

A historically grounded account of South African feminists, who were the products of an apartheid, colonial, and largely patriarchal society, is discussed, with a focus on personal narrative. The voices of seven South African Indian struggle icons—Phyllis Naidoo, Poomoney Moodley, Ela Gandhi, Judge Navanethem Pillay, Amina Cachalia, Rajes Pillay and Munniamah Naidoo—who dispelled the prescriptive role of women as understood in the country and among the Indian community are highlighted. They were the game changers who made history and shaped interpretations of feminism in South Africa.

This paper is based on my experiences in gathering histories that had been scattered through the apartheid years. I came of age at the height of South Africa’s freedom struggle and, today, I am a successful executive, a diplomat, an academic, an Africanist, a feminist, an activist (former and present), a mother, grandmother, and a wife. But this was not meant to be part of my life’s plan. The same is true for thousands of South African women who were not only products of an apartheid, colonial, and largely patriarchal society, but who also subverted traditional norms of femininity. How did these women become game changers, and how did race, class, and gender shape their struggles and their contribution to the country?

This paper is about women who were part of the struggle against apartheid. Many authors have written about feminisms in South Africa (Gouws 2008; Govinden 2008; Hassim 2002); here I draw upon a part of that unfolding her story. From 1994, after my return to South Africa and at the invitation of the late former President Nelson Mandela, I directed many special projects for the President and for the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa. The more notable ones included the repatriation of ANC documents held in safe custody in 33 countries, the preparation of liberation records for use by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa, the management of President, Mandela’s records and personal correspondence held by the apartheid-era security police, secret projects for the President and the development, implementation and management of oral history projects devoted to the resistance struggle by ANC activists and others.1 The latter
included the ANC–University of Connecticut oral history project (1999–2002) and the University of Durban–Westville Voices of Resistance Project. A further involvement in oral histories was related to my doctoral degree from 2002–08. These projects and the accompanying research exposed the voices of ­almost 1,200 South African activists and freedom fighters as well as anti-apartheid activists and exiles from 10 countries. Among these were the narratives of 505 women, including 105 South African Indian women. These voices spanned a ­variety of sources from high profile to illiterate and poverty-stricken women who had nothing else but their commitment to social justice to give to the fight for freedom from apartheid. This experience has led me to reflect on South African women’s legacy.

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Updated On : 26th Apr, 2019
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