»The rest of the world doesn't know what it means to live with a people
who are consumed by hate, a people who are so petrified of domination,
who feel that if they share power, it means they will lose their identity.
The Afrikaners' neurotic desire to keep their purity as a race is something
like what Hitler must have had in mind when he flung the rest of the world
into a state of chaos, with millions losing their lives because of their race.«
I was born and raised in South Africa, a white child in an affluent English-speaking family, and left for the first time in 1959 when I was twenty years old. I am one of six children, just half an hour older than my twin brother, David, with whom I share position number four in our sibling hierarchy. Like many white South Africans, we were raised with and by servants who were black indigenous South Africans. This institutionalized form of racism was, I believe, my major instructor in racial prejudice.
When the power structure is as firmly in place as it was in my family, statements like »Don't let me ever catch you playing with a kaffir« didn't need to be made. There were no black children around with whom to play, no black neighbors to disparage, and no black girls at my all-white, sex-segregated schools. A system of apartheid reigned in my world before the term was coined in 1948, and before the laws were passed to keep it that way.
My mother was born in Ireland to British parents. Her grandfather had been appointed Lord Chancellor of Ireland in 1885, after which time the title of Lord Ashbourne was inherited by the eldest male descendant, including her father and oldest brother. She and her other siblings were stuck with the more lowly title of »The Honorable«. All this had so little meaning to me that I was seventeen before I absorbed the fact that Uncle Edward was the same person as Lord Ashbourne, and that my great grandfather was among those photographed in the picture of the House of Lords hanging near the stairs.
At the age of twenty-one, my mother had traveled to South Africa to take up a post as a school elocution teacher in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth. She met my father, a South African-born Rhodes Scholar to Oxford, on the boat trip out, married him, and made South Africa her permanent home.
Although English-speaking South Africans include a diverse group of immigrants and descendents of immigrants, most of them, like my mother, have British ancestry. Britons started to immigrate to South Africa when Britain took over its colonization from the Dutch in 1806. Literally at war with each other from 1899 to 1902, Afrikaners and English-speaking South Africans today still practice a kind of voluntary apartheid, speaking different languages, attending different schools, living in different areas, and voting for different political parties. The one thing that unites them is their desire to keep all the power in the hands of white men.
I was seven years old in 1945, when my father, the son of lower-middle-class Irish immigrants, won a seat in the South African Parliament. Like most English-speaking South Africans, he was a committed United Party supporter. Although English-speaking South Africans constitute only about 43 percent of the white minority, and whites only 14 percent of the South African population, the Afrikaner-led United Party also enjoyed considerable support from moderate Afrikaners at that time, and was still in power when he entered politics.
Three years later, in 1948, the Afrikaners, descendants of the Dutch, German, and Huguenot settlers who started immigrating to South Africa in 1652, won political power on a platform that introduced an important new word to South Africans and the world—apartheid. Translating this euphemistically to mean »separate development of the races«, the largely Afrikaner Nationalist Partyf promised to implement an elaborate and unworkable plan to force millions of Africans, the original inhabitants of South Africa, to live in areas designated as »bantustans« or »homelands«. Although the Africans constitute 75 percent of the total population, the architects of apartheid expected this large majority of the South African population to live on, and have rights in, only 13 percent of the land. All Africans who lived and worked in the remaining 87 percent of »white« South Africa would be regarded as foreigners, without the right to own land in these areas, or to vote, or to continue living there if they lost their jobs, or to buy a house, or to live with their families. Proponents of apartheid were indifferent to the fact that many urban Africans had never even seen their alleged homeland, let alone lived there.
To implement this policy, the all-white government divided up the 13 percent of South African land into ten separate »homelands«, one of which is made up of forty-four different pieces of territory. While four of these »homelands« are considered »independent«, this term has no real meaning, since the white regime remains all-powerful on any issue that concerns it, and no country outside South Africa recognizes their independent status.
A divide-and-conquer strategy is at the heart of this apartheid policy. The designers' goal is to separate not only blacks from whites, but the different African groups—Xhosas, Zulus, Sothos, Tswanas, Vendas, and so on—from each other by forcing them to live apart. The government has made equally strenuous efforts to separate Africans from the other two major non-African black groups, the Coloureds and the Indians.
Nine percent of the estimated thirty-three million South Africans are referred to as Coloured. (Although politically progressive people have become uncomfortable with the term, no substitute has yet been invented.) Largely a product of miscegenation, most Coloureds speak Afrikaans as a first language and belong to the Dutch Reformed Church—the mother tongue and religion of their Afrikaner oppressors. Just under 3 percent of South Africans are Indians, descendants of immigrants from India, most of whom settled in Natal Province between 1860 and 1911 as indentured laborers for the sugar plantations.
Both Indian and Coloured South Africans suffer less discrimination —legal, economic, social, and political—than do Africans. Nevertheless, their lives have more in common with Africans than with whites. They, too, are forced to live in segregated ghettos, separated from whites, Africans, and each other.
South African racial terminology is extremely confusing. Many politically progressive South Africans reject the term race altogether, preferring the concept of ethnic group. And many reject as racist the classifications Coloured, Indian, and African, instead referring to all people of color as black. While there is no disputing the merits of this opinion, the fact remains that South Africa is an intensely racist pigmentocracy in which the lowest status is reserved for the darkest-skinned peoples, and in which very real differences exist in political rights and economic realities for different racial or ethnic groups. Hence the difficulty in dispensing with these terms altogether.
Other phrases are invented, such as township people to refer to Africans or so-called Coloureds for Coloureds. But there is no consistency in usage, even among progressive people. For example, some use the term black to describe all people of color, while others use it synonymously with African.| Yet others are inconsistent, sometimes referring to Africans, and sometimes to all people of color, as black. Often one can gauge the meaning of the term only from the context. For instance, if someone mentions that all black people have to carry passes (or passbooks), South Africans know she or he must be referring only to Africans because this particular indignity has been limited to this group in recent years. Confusing as all this is to South Africans, it becomes trebly so for foreigners.
The Nationalist Party's ruthless commitment to the preservation of white privilege by subjugating the black majority, who together constitute 86 percent of the population, has been so popular with the all-white electorate that the party has remained securely at the helm ever since its 1948 victory. The Nationalist Party's continued success was a great disappointment to my father, who believed that he would have become a cabinet minister if his party had come to power again during his eighteen years as a member of Parliament.
Like the upper class in all societies, my family was intensely patriarchal. When I left South Africa in 1959,1 was eager to escape its crippling effects, although I could not then have articulated my need in this way. As for many other English-speaking South Africans at that time, England was my automatic choice of destination. And as for so many other white South Africans, my three years away provided me with the opportunity to see through new eyes the political disparities in my homeland.
When I returned to South Africa in 1962, I joined the Liberal Party, which, despite its name, was considered radical in the spectrum of white politics at that time. (It disbanded just six years later, in 1968, rather than submit to new legislation that forbade multiracial political parties.) Within a few months, I became completely disillusioned with reformist politics. A pivotal experience in my transformation was my arrest for participation in a nonviolent protest against the banning (imposition of severe legal restrictions) of one of our Liberal Party leaders on the grounds that he was a communist. The South African government seeks to discredit its opponents by calling them communists, even those who are anti-communist. The law permits the government to ban whomever it chooses without having to prove the case in court or to justify it to anyone.
The futility of our disrupted protest demonstration was the last straw, convincing me that nonviolent resistance could not be effective in South Africa. Our rulers, I decided, were psychologically and morally unreachable. From that point onward, I viewed the large majority of whites as unconvertible. They had too much to lose to surrender voluntarily their monopoly on power, wealth, and privilege. Has a privileged elite class or ethnic group ever willingly handed over power to the less privileged in a country both inhabit? Why should white South Africans be different from others in this respect?
In 1963, hoping more radical action would bring change, I joined a small revolutionary underground group called the African Resistance Movement (ARM). The goal of this largely white group, most of whom were disillusioned former Liberal Party members, was to sabotage government property in order to show the government and its white supporters that their racist policies would have to change. Although the ARM embraced violence as a means of trying to coerce whites into giving up their commitment to white supremacy, we did not intend to kill or maim human beings.
Despite my conviction that revolution was necessary in South Africa, I did not believe—unlike many other optimists—that it was imminent. And I was not willing to give up my future for my participation in a revolution whose time had not yet come. Consequently, I did not alter my earlier plans to attend graduate school in the United States later that same year (1963). If discovered, my participation in the ARM, brief and peripheral as it was, could have cost me several years in prison. Long prison sentences were the fate of several ARM participants who were unable to escape after the arrest of key members in 1964.
After four years of graduate school at Harvard University, a year at Princeton University, and three years of marriage to an American, I became a committed feminist. For the next fifteen years, I focused on understanding and writing about sexual assault and other forms of violence against women, and teaching sociology at a private women's liberal arts college in California. Although I eventually became very absorbed in my life in the United States and in feminist politics, the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa continued to tug on my heart.
While the ARM is an important part of my history, it is of little significance in the history of the struggle for justice in South Africa. The African National Congress (ANC) is the giant among the many different anti-apartheid groups that exist today. Founded in 1912, it is also the oldest organization to fight for the rights of Africans and to struggle for a democratic, nonracist society. While the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC), which broke off from the ANC in 1959, was a significant rival for a time, in the last decade the ANC has emerged as by far the most popular revolutionary political organization.
On 21 March 1960, progressive people in South Africa and throughout the world were shocked by news of the Sharpeville massacre. As part of an anti-pass campaign organized by the Pan-Africanist Congress, hundreds of residents of this African township located outside Vereeniging, presented themselves at the police station without their passes. Police fired more than 700 shots into the crowd, killing 69 and wounding 180 (Benson 1986, p. 84). Most of them were shot in the back, including children. This slaughter led to a political crisis of »unprecedented magnitude as riots swept the country« (Benson 1986, p. 84). The government responded by declaring a state of emergency and banning the ANC and the PAC under the Unlawful Organizations Act. From 1960 onward, the penalty for furthering the aims of either of these organizations was imprisonment for up to ten years.
Although the government banning of these two groups in 1960 forced them underground, increasingly repressive measures against these organizations (and any other group that tries to end apartheid) have not succeeded in obliterating them. The name of the ANC leader Nelson Mandela has become a household word throughout the world, despite his continuous imprisonment since 1962. The Freedom Charter, adopted as the ANC's fundamental principles in the late 1950s, and described by Mandela as »the most important document ever adopted by the ANC (Mermelstein 1987, p. 223), still serves as the bible for most of the anti-apartheid organizations in South Africa today. And Mandela's old friend and colleague, Oliver Tambo, still presides over a virtual government-in-exile in Lusaka, Zambia, where the ANC plans strategies on how to bring an end to white supremacy in the land that once belonged to the African people.
Since the anti-apartheid movement was effectively decimated following the 1964 life sentencing of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and others, for sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government, I followed with great interest from the distant shores of the United States the emergence and growth of the Black Consciousness movement in the 1970s. Often associated with the name of a brilliant and charismatic leader, Steve Biko, this movement stresses the importance of black pride and the need for black people to liberate themselves from white domination as well as internalized racism. So threatening is this message to the white government that Biko was murdered by his interrogators while in detention in 1977.
The outrage that followed Biko's death led to the banning of eighteen black organizations, the detention of forty-two black leaders, and the banning of seven whites, most of whom were church leaders. My brother David, an Anglican priest who had provided his friend Biko with office space in his church for a while, was the only white person placed under house arrest on that fateful day of 19 October 1977. House arrest—a uniquely South African method of trying to silence and immobilize the government's political opponents—is a more serious form of banning, which, along with numerous restrictions like being prohibited from meeting with more than one person at a time, also requires the arrestee to stay in his or her home for from twelve to twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Most house arrests last for five years, as did David's, after which time many are renewed for five additional years.
Arising partly out of the Black Consciousness movement, 20,000 schoolchildren in Soweto marched in 1976 in protest against the imposition of the hated Afrikaans language as the medium for their education. (Afrikaans, a simplified form of Dutch, is the mother tongue of Afrikaners.) Soweto—the largest township in South Africa, home of over a million black people, situated on the outskirts of Johannesburg — would never be the same again. The Soweto uprising is considered one of the major historic events in the annals of black resistance.
Hundreds of unarmed children were gunned down, thousands wounded, and many crippled for life. These casualties provoked uprisings throughout the country. After 1976, many people talked about a new militancy on the part of young Africans, growing numbers of whom refused to be intimidated by the severe repercussions that seemed the inevitable consequence of political resistance, including the threat of death and the horror of witnessing the murder of loved ones. Many also fled the country to join the ANC's military forces, Umkhonto we Sizwe (»Spear of the Nation«).
South Africa's response to the growing internal pressures and ensuing international attack on apartheid was to claim that the government was willing to make reforms, if only the world would stop interfering and be patient. One of these alleged reforms was to institute a tricameral parliamentary system with one chamber for whites, one for Coloureds, and one for Indians. Africans were completely excluded from this complicated and totally inadequate power-sharing scheme, and it was unequivocally rejected by the anti-apartheid movement. The »reform« was consistent with the government strategy I have already described —to try to maintain power by dividing black people and co-opting non-African blacks. The tricameral parliament was instituted despite the protests, because the white electorate wanted it. In response, the most significant legal anti-apartheid group of the past many years— the United Democratic Front—was formed in 1983. The emergence of the UDF, a coalition of over eight hundred anti-apartheid groups, was a dramatic renewal of the liberation movement within South Africa, and it became increasingly vocal.
After Bishop Desmond Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, and Jesse Jackson made South Africa an issue in the United States' presidential campaign that same year, the anti-apartheid, pro-divestment movement became popular in the United States, where it had considerable clout. The combination of internal and international protest against apartheid in 1985 resulted in South Africa's President Pieter Botha's imposition of a state of emergency on 20 July.
A little over one month later, most international banks, including many in the United States, refused to reschedule South Africa's payment of its foreign debt, as they had always done in the past. The value of the rand, South Africa's currency, plummeted; and the South African government forbade its companies to repay their foreign debts for the rest of the year. Some people thought this might be the moment when the white regime would finally be brought to its knees. Although this thought proved overly optimistic, by 1985 the movement to overthrow apartheid was gaining tremendous momentum inside the country and significant international support outside it.
The government has effectively undermined this momentum by sheer brutal repression (killing hundreds, wounding thousands, and detaining tens of thousands), by trying to encourage or manipulate rivalries between blacks, and by deliberately arming the reactionary forces as vigilantes. For example, although the charismatic and internationally known Chief Gatsha Buthelezi speaks out against apartheid and has refused to accept the farcical »independence« that the white regime has tried to impose on different African tribes, he and his supporters in the Zulu movement called Inkatha are used by the white government to do its dirty work by attacking the more radical members of the United Democratic Front. Many African critics who live near the territory over which Buthelezi has power are more afraid of being killed by his forces than by the dreaded security police of the white government.
In 1987, when I arrived in Durban, Natal — which is surrounded by some of the forty-four pieces of territory that constitute KwaZulu, the Zulu »homeland« over which Chief Buthelezi supposedly rules—I kept hearing about Inkatha's violent tactics. One of the victims of this violence who is still alive to tell her story does so anonymously in chapter 20. This is a side of Buthelezi with which the international community is less familiar.
Although it is always difficult to say when a revolution has really started, I came in the mid-1980s to believe that South Africa was in the early phase of a radical transformation. This belief increased the urgency of my desire to reconnect with South Africa, and I decided in 1986 that the time had come for me to try to make some contribution to the progress and success of the revolution there. Facts and figures about the horrors of apartheid have little meaning for most people outside South Africa because they have no personal reference points: people's minds may be engaged, but their emotions are not. I decided to interview both black and white women involved in the liberation struggle about their lives and the risks they are taking to create a new South Africa. I wanted to convey the lived experiences behind the statistics because I am convinced that personalizing apartheid both makes it real and is the best way to reach a large international audience, many of whom know little or nothing about that country and its problems.
I decided to focus on women political activists because many other books on South Africa focus on the lives, activities, and experiences of men. Joseph Lelyveld's Pulitzer prizewinning Move Your Shadow (1985) is a noteworthy example. Many people are taken aback when feminists like myself express an interest in the question of how detention and torture or other kinds of oppression might differ for women and men in oppressive societies like South Africa, and see it as an irrelevant concern that only a narrow-minded feminist would wish to pursue. I have encountered the same response when I have tried to find out more about women's experiences in Nazi concentration camps. Only the belated efforts of some feminist scholars who have dared to investigate this question, despite public disdain, have enabled social historians to start to piece together some of the differences as well as the similarities in the ways women and men have responded to this extreme environment (Ringelheim 1985). The feminist historian Joan Ringelheim has pointed out that, prior to this work, »the experiences and perceptions of Jewish women have been obscured or absorbed into descriptions of men's lives« (Ringelheim 1985, p. 741). The same applies to many studies of South Africa.
As appalling as is the oppression of black men in South Africa, black women, particularly African women, are oppressed even more. They were referred to as »superfluous appendages« (along with children and old people) by G. Froneman, a prominent Nationalist member of Parliament who later became deputy minister of Justice, Mines and Planning. The so-called homelands have been turned into the only legal homes for millions of these so-called appendages (Bernstein 1975, p. 12). Grim as are the lives of the African men who are forced to look for work in the cities, it is even worse for many of the women, who must try to eke out a living for themselves, their children, and their elderly relatives, on the infertile land of the homelands, with only a portion of the meager pay check of their husbands if they're lucky.
In rural areas most African women still marry under customary (traditional) law.f Until 1988, the law considered married African women as minors under the tutelage of their husbands. The wife could not own property in her own right, except for her clothing and a few personal possessions; and if she earned money or in any way acquired property, this became the property of her husband. She was also unable to make valid contracts without her husband's consent, or to sue or be sued. Her husband had to sue on her behalf (Bernstein 1985, p. 36).
Even worse, until 1986, commissioner's courts could confine any African woman to her kraal (home) if the court found that she was leading an »immoral« life, or if she was absent from her kraal and unable to »give a good account of herself« (Bernstein 1985, p. 36).
For all women married under common law (as opposed to customary law), as are most African women in the cities and towns, and all non-African women, the rights of wives were not much better than their country sisters until a new Matrimonial Property Act came into effect in 1985. Before then, the husband's marital power effectively turned the wife into a legal minor in terms of entering into contracts or opening credit accounts. And until the Matrimonial Affairs Act of 1953, the husband could even take his wife's earnings. Between 1953 and 1985, the husband could still take possession of anything the wife bought with those earnings unless she applied to the courts to change this rule.
The 1984 act abolished the power that made the husband the sole administrator of family property for white, Coloured, and Indian women, married after 1984. African women were only included in these legislative reforms in 1988. But even now that African women have the legal right to live in town, their right to housing still depends on their marital status. Housing restrictions are still used to keep African women away from the cities. For example:
A woman must avoid the misfortune of being left without a husband, whether through desertion, divorce or death. She often loses her home as well as her husband. A divorced woman may be given permission to stay in her home only if she was not the guilty party in the divorce suit, and has been granted custody of the children; if she qualifies in her own right to remain in town; if she can pay the rent; and if her former husband has agreed to vacate the house. [Bernstein 1985, p. 40]
Until 1986, the infamous pass laws prevented African married couples from living together with their children. Africans were treated as expendable units of labor. When the »white« economy did not need their labor, they were forced to leave »white« areas, regardless of their family ties, or to live there illegally under constant threat of arrest and deportation. In spite of recent changes in the pass laws, many other controls remain to keep the unemployed reserve of African labor in the homelands, particularly women, children, the old, and the infirm. This situation, combined with the minimal legal status of women in South Africa, particularly African women, results in an extraordinarily low percentage of married African women. According to official census figures, only 23 percent of African women were married in 1980 compared with 46 percent of white women (Bernstein 1985, p. 45). Remaining single or divorcing does not, however, mean African women have the same rights as African men (Meer 1987, p. 238). For example, the right to stay in her township home of one divorced African woman I spoke to, was dependent on her son, since as a single woman, she was not entitled to housing.
Despite some improvements in the legal status of women in recent years, much oppression still exists through women's ignorance of these reforms as well as through the sexism that is so deeply embedded in all sectors of South African society.
While several books on women in South Africa have already been published, few of them are available in the United States. Most of them do not focus on women political activists, and most have not been written for the reader who knows little about that country but would like to know more. I have written this book to tell both informed and uninformed Americans, women and men, what political South African women—particularly those who are black—are doing, feeling, and thinking. I have also written it for people in other countries, including South Africa, and for members of the liberation movement itself, both as a tribute and, as it turns out, a reminder. The reminder concerns the important contribution that women are making to the struggle and their feelings about sexism, both in the society and in the anti-apartheid movement.
The greater the unrest in South Africa, the more fervent the government's repressive measures have become. Audrey Coleman, an expert who has testified to the United Nations on detention in South Africa, and whose interview appears in chapter 5, estimates that only 5 percent of those detained are ever found guilty of any offense.
Although South Africa's Criminal Procedure Act requires that people who break the law be charged within forty-eight hours, Coleman stated in her interview that, of those detained, 75 percent are never taken to court. Of the 25 percent who are charged, only an estimated 3 percent to 4 percent are found guilty. »There's no intention of trying to find a charge against most of them«, explained Coleman, »because they haven't broken the law. And there is often no attempt to prove guilt, since South African law does not require it«. »The government is using detention like internment camps«, Coleman concluded. »People involved in democratic opposition are being removed from society because they are political opponents and dumped in prison for an unlimited time at the discretion of the minister of law and order without recourse to the courts«.
South African law permits detention without trial on the whim of the police. After President Pieter Botha imposed a state of emergency on 20 July 1985, detention could be prolonged indefinitely by the minister of law and order. Less than four months after this state of emergency was lifted, another one was declared on 12 June 1986. It is still in effect today. Over thirty thousand people have been detained in prisons since then, without ever having been found guilty of any offense by a court of law (Weekly Mail 1988, p. 4). Women constituted approximately 12 percent of the twenty-five thousand detainees held in 1986-87, and 5 percent of the five thousand held in 1987-88. Some of them were pregnant. Coleman mentioned that there have been several reports of miscarriages in detention, and that some pregnant women say they have been tortured with electric shock. She described one woman detainee she knew who had to be treated in hospital for an ectopic pregnancy. Although she suffered from cardiac arrest on the operating table, after convalescing she was taken straight back to detention, where she still remained eleven months later.
Girls constitute about 14 percent of the children detainees, some of whom are very young. »They are assaulted and tortured just like the boys«, Coleman maintained, »and there have also been allegations of girls being raped by soldiers«.
On their release, many detainees report that they were assaulted and tortured, according to Coleman. In addition, »some of them say that they were made to sign statements under duress. In some cases, they say they were not given the opportunity to read the statements; in some, they say that they agreed to sign a statement with which they did not agree because of the pressure that was applied to them«.
The government is finding it impossible to deal with the growing discontent of the majority of the South African people. In an effort to regain control, President P. W. Botha decided in 1987 to extend, with additional restrictions, the 1986 state of emergency, and to restrict yet further the publication of information about the conditions of detention. »The reality«, concluded Coleman, »is that there is greater repression today than there has ever been before in the history of South Africa«. For example, people who oppose the government are killed more often now, according to Coleman, usually by agents of the government, both black and white. Some South African women I interviewed believe that unless there is much more international pressure against detention without trial than there has been so far, the state of emergency will never be lifted as long as the current government remains in power.
The issue of so-called black-on-black violence is one about which there are many serious misconceptions. The South African government spends millions of rand publicizing so-called black-on-black violence, although this violence is, according to Coleman, only a small percentage of the violence that occurs in the black townships. Most of the violence is perpetrated by agents of the state against the African residents.
The reason I preface the phrase black-on-black violence with the word so-called is that this phrase obscures what the violence is about. »In Germany or France during the [Second World] War, did people talk about white-on-white violence?« Coleman asked, rhetorically. »No«, she answered emphatically. »They spoke about the resistance and the killing of collaborators«. Similarly, »some of the township people are saying to those who have been co-opted into this Nazi-like situation: >This is what will happen to you if you join forces with our oppressors.< It shows others that being co-opted is not worthwhile«.
Winnie Mandela sheds further light on this issue by pointing out that the white government is actually behind a lot of the so-called black-on-black violence. »They kill the leaders of the United Democratic Front by using the so-called vigilantes—gangs comprised of the elements in black society who are the puppets of the state—and the black councilors who carry out the laws of the government against their own people«, Mandela explained. »The government has always used blacks to eliminate blacks«, she continued. »They want the rest of the world to see us as barbarians who don't know what we are doing, barbarians who are fighting each other, not Pretoria. They want to reduce the people's struggle to tribal frictions, to a civil war amongst ourselves. That is why they promote the frictions that exist between the puppet leaders of the homelands and the struggle«.
In general, the South African government goes to extraordinary lengths—extraordinary, at least, to us in the United States—to keep down dissent, as I discovered on my four-month trip to South Africa in 1987 to do research for this book. It has become such a police state that I was not sure I would be granted a visa to enter the country, since Americans who are critical of the apartheid regime are frequently not permitted to visit. I became an American citizen in 1978, so for me to set foot on South African soil is now a privilege, not a right.
I worried about obtaining a visa because I feared that my relationship to David might make the security police more wary of me. In addition, my first book, Rebellion, Revolution, and Armed Force (1974), had been banned in South Africa, presumably because my support of a revolution there was quite apparent. While neither of these factors had caused problems for me when I had returned for brief vacations, I had never before applied to stay for more than three weeks, nor had I tried to enter the country during a state of emergency. So I was relieved when my passport arrived back from the South African consulate with the visa stamp in place. But my relief was short-lived: a small pamphlet inserted in my passport stated, »Your admission to the country is subject to examination by the Passport Control Officer at your port of entry«. Apparently, my visa and a $1,800 plane ticket assured my entry only to the Johannesburg airport.
Despite the warning of friends that I should be prepared for a search on arrival in South Africa, my entry turned out to be a breeze. Instantly, I regretted my decision to leave behind the anti-apartheid books I had wanted to bring with me (hundreds of books are banned in South Africa, and people have been thrown in prison for being found in possession of one). I also regretted having mailed the names and addresses of anti-apartheid people instead of carrying them with me. Since mail tampering is also a common government-sanctioned practice in South Africa, I wondered if I'd made the wrong choice—a concern I was to have many times in the next four months.
I spent the first six weeks of my trip with my mother, in her Cape Town home. A week after my arrival, I received a phone call from a policeman in the so-called Special Branch requesting an appointment to see me. Members of this plainclothes wing of the police force deal exclusively with political crime. Also known as »security police«, they have the power to arrest people »if considered desirable in the interests of public order« (Omond 1985, p. 161). In addition, they are the well-trained government agents who interrogate and torture political prisoners. At least fifty-seven people—almost all of them Africans—have died in detention since 1963 while under the »care« of the Special Branch. The officially stated causes of death include »fell out of tenth-floor window while being interrogated«, »slipped in the showers«, »slipped down the stairs«, and—most common of all—»suicide« (Omond 1985, pp. 164-65).
As a white American professor with international connections, I was less afraid of being detained (although white Americans have been detained there) than of being deported. Not that deportation is such a horrible fate, but it would have put an end to my project, about which I had come to care a great deal. But I thought it more probable that I would be questioned, warned, and made to realize that the Special Branch knew exactly what I wanted to do; and I feared that this would make it impossible for me to interview women political activists. What Special Branch Officer Home had in mind, I will never know. The intervention of my family lawyer, who told Home that I would see him only in the lawyer's office with my lawyer present, ended with Officer Home canceling our appointment the day before it was scheduled to take place.
My brief call from Officer Home turned out to be my only brush with the security police during my fifteen weeks in South Africa. Yet the branch accompanied me and my traveling companion, Marie Hart, in our imaginations throughout our trip. It was only on departing from South Africa knowing that most of our tapes had arrived safely in the United States that we realized we need not have been so worried. My description of what it was like to conduct anti-apartheid research in contemporary South Africa will reveal many of the things we did not do, others that we did do, because of the security police. All these precautions, despite the fact that what we were doing was perfectly legal.
Hettie V. [pseudonym], a renegade Afrikaner and former journalist whose interview appears in chapter 21, was one of our major consultants, not only on whom to select for interviewing, but on how to protect our informants and the information they gave us. I was stunned to hear all the precautions she considered necessary.
»Before you leave Cape Town for your travels up country«, Hettie V. said, »you must find a lawyer who knows what you're doing and where you're going, and who agrees to take on your case«. Although the security police have a pretty free hand to do what they want, lawyers can still be helpful, acting as badgering advocates and sometimes a lot more. »You should call a friend every day at a particular time«, continued Hettie V. »If your friend doesn't hear from you within a couple of hours of your prearranged time, she should call your lawyer, who will then try to find you«. Could I be hearing correctly? The complexity of our calling at the same time every day while on the road and interviewing seemed awesome. Surely Hettie V. was being absurdly overcautious. Yet, as I was to learn from my interview with her, she erred, if anything, in the other direction.
Hettie V. was only warming up. »You'll also have to prepare for police roadblocks when you're traveling around the country. And they could happen here in Cape Town, too—particularly near the black townships.
»At certain points on the road, armed cops may order you to stop your car. They keep changing where they set up roadblocks, so it won't help for me to tell you where I've been stopped. If they have any reason to be suspicious of you, or if they're bored and want to amuse themselves, they will question and search you. If you suddenly see a roadblock ahead of you, don't try to U-turn your way to freedom. I was with someone who did that recently, and the cops shot at us. Fortunately none of us was hit, but it was pretty scary«.
Hettie V. went on to warn us that suspicion would likely be aroused by our tape recorders, blank tapes, cameras, photos of black people and townships, names and addresses of people to visit, anti-apartheid literature, letters of introduction, notes about appointments or impressions of the people we met. Being caught with a collection of taped interviews with women in the anti-apartheid movement would be more than incriminating for us; it could be dangerous for the women interviewed.
The danger of losing our tapes was brought home to us by a U.S.-based journalist who must remain nameless. He kept many of his taped interviews with him in his car so that he could review them before writing articles for U.S. newspapers. The police found them when they stopped him for a search, and erased every one. They also told him he would never be allowed to return to South Africa. He guessed that they didn't throw him out of the country only because they feared the negative publicity it might create for the government.
Hettie V. was clear about another thing. »Don't imagine you will get away with hiding stuff on or in the car. These cops are trained to search people and vehicles, and if they find something that you are obviously trying to hide, they will know you are up to something«. That put an end to my fantasies of squirreling away names and addresses in sanitary napkins and the like. »And you'll have to be ready with a good story about where you're going and what you're doing and about whatever they see in your car«, continued Hettie V.
Another person advised us to rent a different car in every new city we came to so that the police wouldn't become familiar with our vehicle. Someone else suggested we purchase a tire pressure gauge and check our tires regularly because a favorite trick of the security police is to overinflate the tires of anti-apartheid activists to increase the chance of a serious blowout.
Because all post offices were closed in Grahamstown, where we stayed over the Easter weekend on our trip up South Africa's east coast, we were advised by a politically knowledgeable woman that the local university where she taught would be the safest place from which to mail our materials. Normally, we tried to mail our original and our duplicate tapes at different mailboxes to make less likely the interception of both. The consequence of departing from this practice was that both sets of tapes for three interviews were lost. Presumably they are in the hands of the security police.
If doing perfectly legal research is so fraught with frustrations and fears for white U.S. citizens visiting the country temporarily, imagine what life is like for black anti-apartheid activists who live with government repression day in and day out, year in and year out.
One of my goals was to represent the extraordinary diversity of South African women who are fighting apartheid—diversity in race and ethnicity, social class, age, occupation, political affiliation, as well as kinds of opposition work. Since a successful revolution requires that many people put their lives on the line, I also wanted to focus on women whose political work had required their taking significant risks.
The fact that phones are tapped in South Africa made it difficult to recruit women for interviews. I could not mention on the phone that I was writing a book, or convey the depth of my anti-apartheid sentiments, in an effort to engender trust. Here, the fact that my brother David is well known in South Africa, and highly regarded by many people in the anti-apartheid movement for his commitment to the cause, proved helpful. His political work has earned him several short prison sentences in addition to the five years of house arrest I mentioned earlier. (Helen Joseph, the first person ever to be house-arrested in South Africa, describes her experience of this particularly South African form of punishment in chapter 15.) Mentioning my kinship with David opened many doors and evoked tremendous warmth and even excitement from some people, particularly Anglicans, since he has been an Anglican priest for many years, and is now a bishop. Being a staunch agnostic myself, I felt odd benefiting from this aspect of my connection with him. Nevertheless I was grateful for anything that helped provide me with the opportunity to learn about, and record, women's accounts of their lives as political activists.
Surprisingly, my necessarily cryptic self-introduction usually got me an appointment. My success is a tribute to the extraordinary openness and trust of women in the anti-apartheid movement. I cannot account for these qualities, given the extremity of their suffering as a result of the relentless racism of white South Africans. The vast majority were also willing to allow me to use their real names and to include their photographs in this book. Some explained that the Security Branch already knew everything there was to know about them. Others believed that using their own name gave their words more authenticity and validity. They thought it important to inform the world about what is happening in South Africa, and were willing to take the risks involved, just as they frequently did with their other anti-apartheid work. Some believed that exposing themselves to an international audience could actually serve as a protection. I can only hope that their optimism will turn out to be well-founded.
The sixty interviews that I conducted were all with women who had been actively engaged in the anti-apartheid struggle. They were from all racial and ethnic groups—African, Indian, Coloured, Afrikaner, and English-speaking South Africans. They range in age from thirteen to eighty-two years. They live in Cape Town, Soweto, Cradock, Port Elizabeth, Grahamstown, Durban, Johannesburg, and the Transkei. Some of them are well known, like Winnie Mandela, Albertina Sisulu, and Helen Joseph. Others are well known only in South Africa. Still others are local activists who have maintained a low profile. All have been actively involved in trying to create a new, nonracist South Africa.
Fifty-four of the women I interviewed live in South Africa; five had fled the country to live in exile in Zambia, the location of the headquarters of the African National Congress, generally acknowledged as the most important organization in the South African liberation movement. One woman, Adelaide Tambo, wife of Oliver Tambo, the president of the African National Congress in exile, lives in London, England.
Although the interviews had no rigid structure, each covered certain themes. I asked each woman: How and when had she become politically aware? What anti-apartheid activities had she engaged in? What were the consequences of her political involvement for herself and her family? Did she think the changes needed in South Africa could be achieved by reform or by revolution? If she believed a revolution was needed, when was it likely to occur?
Other themes included the role of the African National Congress in achieving revolution; the role of women in the struggle; the problems posed by sexism; the impact of economic sanctions on South Africa; and the importance of international pressure in bringing about change. In addition, I obtained basic demographic data, such as each woman's age, family background, level of education, occupation, marital and maternal status. All black women were also asked how they had been most affected by apartheid. Space limitations have necessitated the omission of portions of most of the interviews, most of which ran about ninety minutes.
Unfortunately, women in rural areas, including women in the so-called homelands, are severely underrepresented here. Although I sought to conduct interviews in a major rural area, the Transkei, where I spent eight days with my brother David, who was living there at the time, only two were forthcoming. One interview was with a radical white feminist, the other with a black woman attorney who turned out not to be an activist. I learned that the repression in many of the homelands—economically unviable land where the government dumps Africans based on their tribal affiliation—is even harsher than in the rest of South Africa. Many politically radical people gravitate to the cities, and African women activists who have stayed in the Transkei were presumably too afraid to talk to me.
But there was another even more serious problem. I do not speak Xhosa, Zulu, Venda, Sotho, or any of the other African languages. Nor do I speak Afrikaans, the mother tongue of most Coloured people as well as Afrikaners. (Twenty-eight years of living outside the country has made my Afrikaans unusable for interviewing purposes.) Since Afrikaans is seen by many black people as the language of the oppressor, even more than the English language, many blacks prefer not to use it, including politically-oriented Coloured people for whom it is a first language. Thus, my lack of fluency in Afrikaans was a relatively minor flaw compared with my inability to speak any African language.
There is a correlation in South Africa between the level of education of Africans and their fluency in English. English is sometimes the third language even of those who speak it quite well, their first and second being their native tongue and Afrikaans, or another African language. My decision to use the women's own voices in the form of edited interviews in English biases this study toward the more educated African women. This factor, combined with my inability to interview in any other language, partially explains why African women do not appear in this book in proportion to their numbers in the population.
Non-African women are also overrepresented in this book in order to correct the extremely simplified picture of South Africa that North Americans see in the media. The fact is that Coloured and Indian women play a significant role in the anti-apartheid movement, despite the government's many concerted attempts to co-opt them. A smaller but significant percentage of white women are also involved.
Undoubtedly, one measure of the success of apartheid is that white women were more accessible to me than were Coloured women, and Coloured and Indian women more than African women. Most Africans live in townships that are set apart from the so-called white areas. Many do not have phones. White visitors to these areas are conspicuous and likely to arouse police suspicion or the hostility of some of the township residents, particularly if unaccompanied by someone known to the community. Because of these problems, I frequently interviewed township women in areas reserved for whites—at my mother's, for example, or a friend's home. Meeting me in these settings was often not easy for these women.
No doubt my being white affected what black women were willing to say to me—particularly, perhaps, their feelings about white people. But most of the black women I interviewed were accustomed to working with white people in the anti-apartheid movement and to speaking their minds. Nor was my color the only fact about me that must have affected the interview situation; my gender, my age, my social class, my South African heritage, my living in the United States, my connection with David, all undoubtedly had an impact as well.
Despite these factors, I believe my knowledge of South Africa and the United States and my connections in South Africa place me in a unique position to convey to a North American audience what is going on in that country and to stress the urgency of the need for change. I strongly agree with a basic tenet of the African National Congress that people of all races and ethnicities can, and should, contribute to the making of a new nonracist South Africa.
Many of the women I interviewed stressed the important role women are playing in the liberation movement. For example, Albertina Sisulu, co-president of the United Democratic Front, maintained that »women are the people who are going to relieve us from all this oppression and depression«. Ela Ramgobin, a leader in the Natal Indian Congress before she was banned, said, »From the time of the campaign against the pass laws, women have been quite militant. They have played a major role in the education campaign because they are concerned about their children's education. They are the ones who go on the marches about housing, and they have always been in the forefront of the rent boycotts«. Women's strength was another common theme in these interviews. According to Florence de Villiers, a former domestic worker, »if given the chance, women are the most powerful force under the sun«.
Several women maintained that, in their experience, women have shown more courage than men. According to the ANC representative, Mavivi Manzini, »Once women have committed themselves to the struggle, they do so wholeheartedly. That's why I think women don't break as easily as men. Even under torture, very few women break«. Similarly, Feziwe Bookholane, who spent six years in prison, said, »My experience is that men break easily compared to women. I told a guy, T will never work with men again because you are afraid of being assaulted. A woman can still keep her mouth shut.' » When I asked Connie Mofokeng, whose torture was unusually harsh, what she thought of Bookholane's conclusion, she agreed, saying, »Because women are stronger«.
When, however, I asked women why there are relatively few women leaders, many referred to women's internalized sense of inferiority, their poor education, their lack of assertiveness, and the strong beliefs in traditional gender roles that still prevail in African cultures. I find it difficult to reconcile these two perspectives. The fact that only 5 percent to 12 percent of the political detainees are women suggests that women are underrepresented not only in leadership positions but also in the rank-and-file of the movement. Although leaders are certainly primary targets for detention, the pervasiveness of detention (an estimated thirty thousand since June 1986) shows that this fate is extended to many others.
Perhaps a partial explanation for this paradox is that the women I interviewed recognize the crucial role that many women play in enabling men to be politically active. They often have to raise single-handedly and provide for their children on severely inadequate wages, as well as support their male activist relatives in whatever way necessary. Clearly, this way of contributing to the struggle takes enormous strenght but does not necessarily receive much recognition, For example, the ex-detainee Elaine Mohamed said, »I think women's role in the struggle is a very strong one. Like my mother, they are the supportive base in holding families together... If men had to cope with the responsibilities that women shoulder, their role would be much more difficult«.
When mothers who are also the wives of political activists become politically active themselves, they often feel much more torn than men do about their other responsibilities. The interview with Winnie Mandela, for example, reveals the enormous additional stress in her life caused by having to combine motherhood with political activism. In talking about how it felt to be imprisoned, Mandela said, »At first I was bewildered like every woman who has had to leave her little children clinging to her skirt and pleading with her not to leave them. I cannot, to this day, describe that constricting pain in my throat as I turned my back on my little ghetto home, leaving the sounds of those screaming children as I was taken off to prison«.
Several interviews show the crucial role played by relatives in helping politically active mothers take care of their children. For example, the ANC leader Ruth Mompati's mother took on the task of raising her two grandchildren when her daughter was unexpectedly forced to remain permanently exiled from South Africa. Mompati describes the agony this caused her. »I used to get ill thinking about my children«, she told me. When she saw her sixteen-year-old son after a ten-year separation, she said, »I didn't know how to behave toward this boy. It broke my heart. ... I can never explain the emotional suffering of this meeting. It is extremely painful for a mother to miss her children's childhood years. I died so many deaths. I felt, >Good God, the South African regime owes me something, and that is the childhood of my children!<«
Although I told all sixty women that I wanted to interview them for a book on women in the anti-apartheid movement when I met with them in person, I also hoped to be able to give each of them the opportunity to see and, if necessary, correct the edited version of their interview before its publication. Yet another indication of the extraordinary trust of these women is that only two out of the sixty made their consent conditional on seeing what I did with their interview.
It would have totally interrupted the flow of the interview had I asked the women to spell each name of place or person at the time it was mentioned. I hoped later to obtain the assistance of the twenty-four women whose interviews I chose to include in this book, to check all such spellings. I also wanted to make sure that they felt comfortable with the material that had been included Copies of the interviews were mailed or hand-delivered to each of them - many of them twice - with the exceptions of Winnie Mandela, whom I judged to be too busy to handle this request, and Gertrude Fester, whom I knew to be in prison.
Seventeen of the women responded to my inquiry, letting me know what corrections, if any, they found necessary. (They are, in order of presentation in this book, Elaine Mohamed, Connie Mofokeng, Feziwe Bookholane, Audrey Coleman, Ruth Mompati, Ela Ramgobin, Alber-tina Sisulu, Paula Hathorn, Florence de Villiers, Helen Joseph, Di Bishop, Anne Mayne, Rozena Maart, Sethembile N., Hettie V., Rhoda Bertelsmann-Kadalie, and Sheena Duncan.) While I would like to think the silence of the remaining four women and one child means that they could find no errors in their chapters, it would be naive to believe that these manuscripts all arrived at their destination.
In a further effort to avoid spelling errors, I sent the entire manuscript to Hettie V., an extremely informed and helpful woman. This proved useful in catching several errors; but, clearly, she cannot be expected to know how to spell the names of every interviewee's friend or brother (for example), nor even of every informant. Hence, I can only apologize in advance for any errors in these chapters which may have occurred through clumsy editing or the vicissitudes of working with taped materials.
The map of South Africa at the beginning of this book includes only those cities, towns, villages, and townships mentioned in this volume, at least, those that could be located. Almost without exception, maps of South Africa do not include the townships in which most black people are forced to reside (with the exception of Soweto). Hence I asked Sheena Duncan and Hettie V., two very informed women on this subject, to try to place a list of twenty townships on the map I sent them. I also consulted the map published in Jane Barrett et al. (1985), and to a lesser extent, the map in David Mermelstein (1987). With this combination of sources, I was able to locate nineteen townships.
I cannot vouch for the accuracy or precision of their placement on the map, but I wanted to include them anyway, for both political and practical reasons. I think it is helpful for the reader to be able to see on the map where the places are that are mentioned in the text, including the townships. And I think maps of South Africa should not continue to exclude the places where most black people live, albeit not by their free choice.
A glossary of words and abbreviations unfamiliar to non-South Africans, and a chronology of some of the key events in South African history, are included at the end of this volume.
Only eight out of the 112 people included in the 1985 edition of Shelagh Gastrow's Who's Who in South African Politics are women (7 percent). Of these eight women, four are included in this volume: Winnie Mandela, Albertina Sisulu, Sheena Duncan, and Helen Joseph. A fifth woman listed in Who's Who, the attorney Victoria Mxenge, subsequently shared the same fate as her attorney husband, Griffiths, who was murdered in 1981. Both murders are assumed to have been political assassinations. Dorothy Nyembe, the sixth woman, was one of the twenty-five thousand people detained after the 1986 state of emergency was declared. Prior to this detention, Nyembe had spent fifteen years in prison after being found guilty of harboring members of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the ANC's military wing.
Although I never intended to focus my interviews on the recognized women leaders in the anti-apartheid movement, I did not intend to avoid them either. But the purpose of this brief analysis of the women included in Who's Who in South African Politics is to remind the reader how little credit women in the anti-apartheid movement have received for risking their lives in order to give birth to a new South Africa. It is to this end that I have dedicated Lives of Courage.