Table of contents(12 chapters)
The five play texts You Strike the Woman, You Strike the Rock (Phyllis Klotz, 1994), Glass House (Fatima Dike, 2002), Born in the RSA (Barney Simon, 1994), Has Anyone Seen Zandile? (Gcina Mhlophe, 1994), and So What’s New? (Fatima Dike, 1998) are introduced providing a brief insight into the strength of women as they struggle to make a living for their children in the face of extremely adverse political conditions, both in urban areas and in their households, as well as their suffering and grief for the loss of children caught up in the political struggle. Marginalised and struggling African women represented the most vulnerable members of the urban community. The reader is introduced to the voices within the play texts and how they represent both white and black South African women and how they on women’s lives from different backgrounds, classes and race thereby providing insight into their diversity of experiences and the censorial and penal repercussions women were forced to endure for contravening political Afrikaner ideology and statutory law.
This chapter is an overview of herstorical, political and theatrical developments in South Africa. It provides an overview of the background to the herstory of South Africa from 1912–1993.
Dates are included which have relevance to the herstory of South African Women; for example, 1912 was the year of the formation of the African National Congress (ANC); in 1913 Charlotte Maxeke led a march against pass laws for African women; the Native Land Act of 1913 stated that natives were no longer able to buy, sell or lease outside the stipulated reserves; the Influx Control and The Natives Urban Act of 1923 and amendments to the Act in 1937 had devastating consequences for African women as it severely restricted their movements from rural to urban areas. The year 1930 is important because this was when white South African women acquired the vote which gave political activists such as Helen Joseph and Helen Suzman a political voice. In 1948 the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) was formed. Political events from the 1970s through to 1993, demonstrate how the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), the African National Congress (ANC), other anti-apartheid organisations and the apartheid government realised the effectiveness of theatre as a political weapon
The play text, You Strike the Woman, You Strike the Rock, (Klotz, 1994) takes its title from a protest slogan ‘Wathint Abafazi’Wathint’. This slogan is associated with the Women’s Protest March in 1956, the largest mass gathering of women in South African herstory where women gathered to demonstrate peacefully against the imposition of pass laws on black South African women. The play recalls the story of the Women’s March and their courage as they fought against the imposition of the pass laws and is based on the lives of three women, Sdudla, Mampompo and Mambhele who sell chickens, vetkoek and oranges near a taxi rank in the squatter camp of Crossroads in Cape Town. Sdudla is the political activist who tries throughout the play to politicise both Mampompo and Mamphlele by making frequent references to the Women’s March and recalling the defiance and strength of the women who went on that March. What You Strike the Woman You Strike the Rock does is firstly to emphasise and explore the personal experiences, and perspectives of three women and, importantly, to represent a break from tradition, secondly to use consciousness-raising as a way for the women to talk about their experiences; to offer their testimony and, thirdly, to use the process as a bonding experience.
Glass House is a play about the relationship between two young women Phumla and Linda. According to Dike the play was specifically written to show the clashing of two cultures and how white people could not understand the pain of black people. Glass House provides testimony as to how women suffered physical and mental violence whilst in detention, and this play clearly highlights how, for women, becoming part of the struggle meant surviving the acts of aggression and detention by the security forces. In Glass House Dike exposes the agony and survival techniques of women who have had to endure periods in detention desperately struggling to cope in adverse conditions and, on their release from detention, having to contend with the suspicions of their community thinking that they were informers spying for the government.
There are seven main characters of which five are women: Sindiswa, Mia, Susan, Thenjiwe and Nicky. The other two characters, Glen and Zaccaria, represent males from very different socio-economic and political backgrounds. The character of Dumasani, a young boy, is referred to in the play. What makes the play especially significant is that of a cast of seven, five are women. Throughout the play the character of Glen, a spy for the apartheid government, reveals the manipulative and deceitful manner in which the members of the South African police force and political informers carried out their work. He forms relationships with people about whom he professes to care; however, his only concern is that they are able to provide information that will secure financial reward for his spying activities for the apartheid government. Born in the RSA offers the audience an interesting exchange of ideas and thoughts about the political, economic and social situation in apartheid South Africa. Through the exploration of narratives and improvisation a landscape of violence is thrown open. A landscape of violence, that is not only physical, but also psychological. The play presents a complex situation in which violence does not only come from one source but from various sources such as the government, the youth, the opposition parties, the comrades, the private domestic space, subversive activities and political organisations. Any opposition to government policies results in harsher and more extreme violence by the apartheid regime strengthening their oppressive forces.
Zandile is an autobiographical play about Mlophe’s childhood. It begins with her living with her Gogo (her grandmother) in Durban and then being forcefully removed to live with her mother, Lulama, in the Transkei. The play focuses on Zandile and her development as she becomes an adult woman as well as her awareness of the tensions between traditional and Western expectations, political conflicts and social pressures. Zandile, Gogo (Zandile’s grandmother), Lulama (Zandile’s mother), Bongi (Zandile’s imaginary friend) and Lindiwe (Zandile’s friend) are women whose lives are directly and indirectly affected by the rules of the apartheid regime. The play skews the emphasis away from the oppression of African men and provides a space for the women to tell their personal stories of struggle, identity, harassment, dreams, expectations and journeys. Throughout the play the men are mentioned, but are not seen. Zandile provides the reader with an insight into the lives of three generations of African women, and the impact of the political situation on their disparate reactions highlight the conflicting interpretations of the African woman’s role in theatre, at home, as an activist, and the woman’s duty – to her husband, family and the struggle.
So What’s New? is a play that centres on the lives of four female characters, Dee, her daughter Mercedes, Thandi and Pat. The play text provides a structural oppressive and gender specific framework exposing a social, political and economic background which demonstrates how African women used the informal sector in order to survive economically. It also provides a discussion about mothers and daughters and sexual activity. As the play progresses Mercedes talks to Thandi about the harm of selling illegal drugs to young people. The play centres on the impact of these relationships on the women and how they deal with their problems and fears. In this play African women’s experiences are not peripheral but are brought to the fore and celebrated with humour, pathos and admiration. Dike uses the play text to juxtapose two very different images of South Africa. One is the background of violence (perpetrated mainly by males) and the other is the lives of three women and one young girl centred round The Bold and The Beautiful, a soap opera (a feminine genre). Dike used the lives and stories of three women on which to base her play. All three women are independent and obsessed with the soap The Bold and The Beautiful. Dee’s daughter, Mercedes, is a schoolgirl who is politically aware and her boyfriend, Victor, is a political activist. These two characters provide the political background that underpins the fighting and the continuation of the struggle. By locating the play in a shebeen Dike is acknowledging the important role shebeens play in their communities.
During the apartheid era many women, such as Albertina Sisulu and Lilian Ngoyi to name only two, spent time in solitary confinement. Women were punished for taking part in political activities by being issued with banning orders or placed under house arrest. Women placed under banning orders were treated differently to men. At the Special Hearings which were organised by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) women were provided with an opportunity to talk about their experiences as women living under apartheid instead of talking about what had happened to someone in their family. The silencing of women continued even after the new government came to power. This is clearly illustrated in the negligible space allotted to the experiences of women’s oppression and human rights violations in the hearings before the TRC. My concern that an understanding and appreciation of the suffering, oppression, political activism and contribution by South African women during apartheid will be lost to future generations is shared by Annie Coombes’s statement in her book History After Apartheid: Visual Culture and Public Memory in a Democratic South Africa (2003).
The herstory of African women is one of sexualised forms of political violence which was used by the apartheid government to control women. African women were the ones who suffered the loss of sons, husbands, brothers and fathers, and who had to fend for themselves in the homelands or Bantustans. Ending women’s oppression was high on the agenda of the democratically elected government in 1994 and women’s groups lobbied consistently to ensure that gender equity was a priority. The violence in South Africa against women can be equated with a civil war on women’s bodies. There is saddening attitude of normalizing the violence committed against women and children. During the apartheid regime the dominant white group used violence to regulate the lives of African people and to remind them constantly of their subordinate status. This was not confined only to public and political spaces such as white and non-white signs on benches, beaches, shops and post offices but also penetrated private and domestic spaces. Black African men and women were subjected to conditions that perpetuated inequality, extreme disparities between the poor and the rich, violence in prisons and humiliating experiences of police harassment. Institutionalised racism led to feelings of inferiority and a lack of self-worth which contributed to acts to violence. The provision of a public space in which to voice women’s experiences of apartheid is essential as it is a contribution to a documentary record of the herstory of South Africa and to uncover the truth about the sacrifices that women have made. There is a crisis of violence against women – we need to seriously consider the dismantling of patriarchy. The concept of emancipation must involve societal transformation, women’s interests and gender interests in order to improve the status of women relative to that of men. The marginal role that women play in the occupational division of labour should be transformed to a central one. The struggle should now become a gender-conscious struggle for the new transformed South Africa.
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