Academic journal article Hecate

Forms of Resistance: South African Women's Writing during Apartheid

Academic journal article Hecate

Forms of Resistance: South African Women's Writing during Apartheid

Article excerpt

Forms of Resistance: South African Women's Writing During Apartheid

Every household in the fine suburb had several black servants -- trusted cooks...faithful gardeners...a shifting population of pretty young housemaids whose long red nails and pertness not only asserted the indignity of being undiscovered or out-of-work fashion models but kept hoisted a cocky guerrilla pride against servitude to whites: there are many forms of resistance not recognised in orthodox revolutionary strategy.(1)

[Resistance] is not always identifiable through organized movements; resistance inheres in the very gaps, fissures, and silences of hegemonic narratives. Resistance is encoded in the very practices of remembering and writing. Agency is thus figured in the minute, day-to-day practices and struggles of third world women.(2)

White supremacist racial ideology, articulated in particularly extreme forms in South Africa under apartheid, the dismantlement of which did not begin until 1990, prior to the general elections of 1994, through a process of naturalisation and the structural arrangements of the apartheid state, institutionalised black servitude. Racial ideology of the past constructed black women as inferior, as servants to whites or handmaidens of white women. The literary figure of the suffering and exploited black female servant is a powerful evocation of the injustice of apartheid and the long history of racist ideology but it also serves as a means of interrogating the institutionalisation of blacks as the inferiors of whites. Reproduction of the homogenised figure of servitude can also result in its literary and ideological entrenchment. However, black women in South Africa have a history of strong opposition, particularly evident, for example, in the mobilisation against Pass legislation in the 1950s.(3) Even though this political involvement was not universal, as there were specific groups with vested interests(4) who participated in the Defiance Campaign as well as other groups who did not, and even though the Defiance Campaign ultimately failed in its objective of preventing the imposition of passes, yet there remained a sense of confidence in the achievements of black women, and in `the ability of women to be agents of social change.'(5) This sense of confidence impacted on many subsequent organisations and associations. The anti-pass action was part of a concerted political campaign but agency, as Mohanty notes, can also be figured in the minutiae of everyday life and struggle.

This article explores some of the ways in which women writers in South Africa during the apartheid era conceptualised and represented the agency and activism of black women in forms of resistance, and discusses some of the impediments to and constraints upon black female agency during the period. I deal mainly with the black writers Lauretta Ngcobo (who fled to England in 1963), Sindiwe Magona (who works in New York), Miriam Tlali (who lives in Soweto) and also, briefly, the white writer, Menán du Plessis. In the movement towards the dismantlement of apartheid, Gordimer argued in 1982 that, if whites were to find a place in South Africa post-apartheid, then they had to find their `way out of the perpetual clutter of curled photographs of master and servant relationships, the 78 rpms of history repeating the history of the past.'(6) In a cycle of stories by Sindiwe Magona, a young black servant, Joyce, interrogates most of the hegemonies of the domestic servant relationship, signalling also the need for seeing differently, for reconceptualisation, for challenge to the naturalisation of white superiority and black inferiority: `And the colour of the maid should not automatically be black.... We must stop living according to prescription.'(7) There is recognition of the simultaneous challenge to the discursive construction of race and racism and of the need to address the social inequities that are its material effects.(8) This resistance for black women has necessitated complex negotiation not only of racialised class positions but also of gender relationships. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.