Women Who Inspire: The Forgotten Histories of South African Women

When searching for the focus of this article, I decided to go no further than looking into my degree, history. The format is slightly different as I will give an insight into a group for women rather than just one. I would like to shine a light on two groups of South African women who fought against apartheid, but have had little recognition as historians have only recently begun to look at the significant political roles of women within apartheid context.

I have read interviews of 10 of these squatter women to understand more about their stories and impact. The two particular groups of women I will discuss are: The Women’s Power Group and a female theatre group. These women were potent in anti-apartheid resistance in their own ways, making significant changes within local contexts. The women lived in township settlements of Crossroads in Cape Town, an area in which 100,000 Africans were named by the state as ‘illegals’ during the 1970s and 1980s. These people were often forced to leave their homes by violence, resulting in them becoming squatters and moving to settlements away from the cities. Due to the fact that women were not allowed passes or able to be formally employed, they bore the brunt of these repressive state policies. Notably, Crossroads was the first informal settlement to be able to stop the apartheid regime from removing it, largely because of the impact of these women’s resistance. Crossroads gained legal status in 1976 and by 1978 was the only squatter camp to not have been demolished by the government.

Mama Yanta, Mbobosi, Mene, Bara, Makhondweni and Dasi were members of a group which created a theatre production in the 1970s named Imfuduso (Exodus) about the injustices of being forced to leave Cape Town because of a lack of tenure rights. Their production outlined their dissatisfaction and made it public, especially as they were able to tour around South Africa showing the play. This was a particularly significant way in which the women gained mass support for tenure rights. Mene states the play was a ‘weapon’ through which they were able to communicate with other countries about the violent realities of the apartheid state.

Mama Ngoozi and Shugu also describe their work in the Women’s Power Group which organised a sit-in protest against the government’s failure to provide enough money for adequate housing.

The women who protested against the apartheid state faced violence and persecution from the state as a response. Their bravery and integrity should be recognised and praised. For example, Mama Lutango’s house was demolished because of her involvement in Imfuduso. I think we often tend to overlook everyday female inspiration, the women who don’t necessarily get the recognition they deserve. It is our responsibility to give them this.

As Hamse says in her interview: ‘women have a spirit of resolving problems’, and this courage and determination is certainly something to celebrate.

Link to interviews: https://0-www-aluka-org.lib.exeter.ac.uk/struggles/collection/BENSON