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Womandla, The Women That Defeated Apartheid

An ode to the sheroes

BY Stephanie Kapfunde

Apr 21, 2022, 08:56 AM

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Think of the Struggle, the faces that automatically beams into your head as you sift through your brain's high-school history depository. Chances are, none of them are women.

The role of women in any African Liberation story seems to be super downplayed. And that's just the thing, the Women in this context are seldom referred to as counterparts but more as... add-ons. Auxillary pieces to a bigger picture starring the men that made the real things happen. Take Zimbabwe for example, despite the legendary Guerilla warfare stories told by most war veterans, it is women like the former first female Vice-President Joice Mujuru who were constantly disavowed and called a sham. Never have I ever witnessed in my adult life, the war stories of her male equivalents this passionately renounced. Never mind how stranger than fiction these folklore-like stories would sound.  But, I digress. Let me bring it back to why I called your attention in the first place. 

Why Apartheid Sucked 

In Mzansi, the story of Apartheid will probably grab a medal or two at the colonialization Olympics if Africa had any. For nearly a century it was perfectly okay and eventually legal to racially segregate everything. From neighbourhoods, schools, marriage, religion, businesses and, to what I thought was really petty, benches and parks too. Even though Apartheid ended over 30 years ago; you might already know that its effects are still very evident in present-day South Africa economically, socially and yes, even mentally. A study by Joyce Hickson & Susan Kriegler dated as far back as 1991 titled 'Childshock: The effects of apartheid on the mental health of South Africa's children', highlights the devastation and trauma experienced by Black Children who grow up or are raised by a divided society. 

Sharpville Still Echoes 

March the 21st annually marks the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination based on the memorial of the Sharpville Massacre in 1960. That was when the police-force under the Apartheid regime opened fire on protesting students killing 69. Yeah, that, actually happened and naturally, it catalysed a series of events including alerting the international community to the horrors of Apartheid. It took a solid 34 more years before Apartheid fell.

Today we'll celebrate the women who were at the helm of the freedom we have today because in the words of Jacqueline Dérens, the author of "The Women of South Africa - A Story of Resistance"
"Black women suffered because they were women, they struggled because they were Black, they struggled."

War Against the Dompass 

When in 1913 the South African Union tried to ensure that women in the Bloemfontein area had to carry passes like their Black male counterparts. Thousands of women took to the streets and did so consistently for three years until the government conceded. In the lead was Charlotte Maxexe, the first Black South African Woman to attain a degree. Charlotte earned her posthumous title of Mother of Black South African Freedom for a reason. She once again led the largest protest in the history of South Africa with 20,000 women against the Pass Law of 1952. Despite this feat, the women didn't win against the system. Regardless, their massive womandla moment is immortalized today by the celebration of Women's Day on the 9th of August every year. 

Breaking Into the Boy's Club 

Because of the highly patriarchal way of life any pre-independence political organizations with Black South African interests had at heart, most had a very clear 'no girls allowed' policy. Nevermind women were already making powerful political statements on their own. Hmmph! Anyway, the ANC literally only made this adjustment in 1943 but the women's league was only a thing 5 years later just in time for the legal implementation of Apartheid in 1948. The very first ANC Women's League President was a 45-year-old dress-maker by day and anti-apartheid trailblazer by night named Ida Mtwana.  

The Wives That Did The Most 

One must never forget the standardized chauvinistic ideal of the Black South African woman which was to be the one-dimensional baby-making-machine and useful wife. This sheroes list would certainly be incomplete without the wives of the most celebrated men of the struggle.  Whether it was Albertina Sisulu who in between jail time and life imprisonment managed to lead a political party from behind bars and sit as a founding member for women's political interest groups like the Federation of South African Women. Or the most infamous of the wives would be Mama Winnie Madikizela Mandela who was the first Black qualified Social Welfare Worker with telling research on Black Health issues notched to her belt. Since her time in activism she was the subject of massively brutal attacks that saw her retaliate in often heavy-handed ways that have been so openly discussed and criticised. Despite the attempts at smear campaigns and yeah even slut-shaming, Winnie Mandela's legacy has been far from marred. She is still one of the most notable women associated with the South African Black Struggle. which has marred her legacy.

O'ksalayo, no matter the erasure, the struggle whose success we enjoy freedoms from wouldn't have been possible without women. And that's a fact. Behold an ode to the heroes of then and now. 
Amandla Ngawethu!