Transcript: Launch of Women Surviving Apartheid's Prisons by Shanthini Naidoo

Released on February 16, 2021


Video, Audio and Text Transcript

Transcript of the video:

Helena Cobban (00:03):

Greetings I'm Helena Cobban, the president of Just World Educational, a small, but feisty nonprofit that works to build the informed public that's needed here in the United States. If we want to build a more just and sustainable world, I am also the founder and CEO of Just World Books, a small publishing company. Today, we are delighted to be launching a very special and timely book Women Surviving Apartheid's Prisons, a profile of four courageous she-roes of South Africa's freedom, struggle whose names were until now, sadly little known, even inside their own country. Let alone here in North America, where millions of us still take inspiration from the smart and protracted struggle that our sisters and brothers in South Africa waged against the vile apartheid system in today's programming, you will meet the author of Women Surviving Apartheid's Prisons, South African journalist Shanthini Naidoo, who is with us from Johannesburg to tell us about the journey she made to meet and understand these four now, aging liberation she-roes. Shanthini, thanks so much for being with us.

Also, with us is Denver-based journalist Donna Bryson, whose career as a foreign correspondent culminated in her service as the South Africa Bureau chief for associated press. Donna wrote her own book about racial issues in South Africa, which was published in that country. And more recently, she wrote a powerful forward to Women Surviving, which really helps to situate it for American readers. Donna, it's a pleasure to have you here.

I am thrilled that we're able to launch Women's Surviving Apartheid's Prisons at the beginning of Black History Month. And at a time when it seems large numbers of Americans of all ages and races are now eager to understand and dismantle the stark racial inequalities that still persist in our own system. So now one of the biggest treats of today's program is that we also get to meet the honorable Nomaindiya Mfeketo, who is South Africa's ambassador here in Washington, DC, a former mayor of Cape town and a longtime political leader who was a grassroots organizer in some of the youth movements whose steadfastness helped to talk all the apartheid system in the early 1990s. Ambassador Mfeketo, it is a deep pleasure and honor to have you with us today.

Amb. Nomaindiya Mfeketo (02:54):

Thank you very much, Helena. I'm excited to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

Helena Cobban (03:01):

Oh, it's just wonderful. I gather that you've had a chance to read an early copy of Women Surviving Apartheid's Prisons. I wonder if you could share with our attendees and viewers, your impressions upon reading the book.

Amb. Nomaindiya Mfeketo (03:18):

Yes. Thank you very much, Helena. And thank you too, Shanthini for writing the book. Definitely reading that book for me, you know, it made me confirm what we are always saying, about in particular when women who have been detained, how much the publicity is made, just their respect and recognition of what women are going through during that time? In most cases, now with a free South Africa, you don't get much of what happened to them. Yes, Helena, we are talking about seven women, including our icon Winnie Mandela, but there are hundreds, there are hundreds, thousands of people who died for this freedom, who suffered for this freedom, but you hardly get them written about what happened to them. So, I'm hoping this would be a reminder to many South Africans to revisit one of the special history that we are here because we're standing on the shoulders of those people who pave this way for the freedom we enjoy today. So even my own story, I keep on saying, when I retire, I will write my story and you know, it's something that needs to be done. It's something that needs to be known by communities. And at the moment, I think we're still in a situation where if men do something, even if it's not extraordinary than the one that was done by Winnie Mandela and other women, the publicity is not good enough to put that woman in a, in a space thing. Very much, Helena.

Helena Cobban (06:24):

It's so great to hear your own personal view on this. And I also quickly share with our attendees that the ambassador recently recorded a video in which she recounts some of her own experiences in the anti-apartheid struggle. And I think she will soon be making that video available to Just World Educational so we can put it onto the online resource center on Women in South Africa's Struggle Against Apartheid that we are continuing to build up on our website. I can't wait to see the video now, just before I hand over to Donna, who will be moderating the discussion with the author and the ambassador. I have a couple of quick housekeeping things here. First. I urge all of you who have not yet done. So to buy the book, it is now available, starting today, wherever fine books are sold. Second, I urge you all to keep open the chatbox here.

If you're with us by zoom, my colleague Amelle, who's an essential part of our team is with us behind the scenes and is posting lots of useful links and background information there. We can share the record of the chat box with all attendees later. So you'll have all those links in one place. We will also use the chat box for any questions you may have just put them in. They're directed to all panelists and a mail, and I will stack them up to deliver them to the on-air panelists. When we get back to the Q and A section also, I'm about to shut down my camera. So you won't see me on screen, but a male and I are both still here looking in the background. If you have any technical questions, just shoot a message to me or a Mel in the chat box. So now I shall hand over to Donna Bryson to moderate today's conversation. Donna, it's all yours. Thank you. I'm going to put Shanthini on the spot a little bit, I'd like to start by giving you all a chance to hear some of the book in her own words. Could we do a little reading?

Shanthini Naidoo (08:56):

So, I'm reading from one of the early chapters and it explains something that is an anomaly in the book and in the story, which is a true story that I share a name with or similar name with one of the women who I've interviewed. So I I've written: “You will, I hope have noticed my name, Shanthini Naidoo. And I do let me say at the outset that this is purely coincidental, not a literary device as one of the early editors thought that I do share name or derivative of it with Shantie Naidoo. There is no bloodline between us of which I'm aware that the connection of our names provided coincidence upon coincidence. Shantie is retired now and lives in Johannesburg. She returned to South Africa from the UK after 1994, which was when South Africa became a free democracy. She's one of the reasons why the story found me and I'm glad for it, Joyce Sikhakhane-Rankin agreed to speak to me almost by mistakes or perhaps charmed by the confusion about her friend with a similar name and the same for Joyce's children who thought I was a great-granddaughter of their mother's good friend, whom they hadn't met. For Ma Nondwe and Ma Rita it was a trigger, hearing a name from a story they hadn't revisited for many years. And the coincidence brought a unique way into their homes and minds for this. I'm thankful for a name that's been mispronounced all of my adult life. That connection binds me to Shanthie Naidoo in a way that’s inspiring, but mostly because she lives her Shanthie, peace, more than any other human being I've met.

Donna Bryson (10:36):

Lovely. And many things stood out to me from that passage. But you'd say that the story found you and I wanted to talk a little bit more about what you meant by then.

Shanthini Naidoo (10:46):

So, I came across the story about a child from 1969 around the time of Winnie Mandela's passing. I was writing for the Sunday times in South Africa about her time in solitary confinement in prison. She'd spend 491 days in prison. And, and we'd known a little bit about this, but I hadn't realized that there were seven other women who were part of that trial. Two had passed on and the other four were still alive and still in Johannesburg. And in fact they attended her funeral, but very quietly and very, you know, without any fuss or any recognition. So I looked for them and you know, got, got to know them a little bit in terms of writing those articles at the time of Winnie Mandela’s death and realized that this was a whole story to tell there were four life stories that could be shared very similarly to Winnie Mandela’s. And at the time, Donna, I don't know if you were still in Johannesburg then, but it was also a time that Winnie Mandela's memory was not wasn't told as clearly as it is now. It was very, it was with, you know, as the ambassador said, it is what was with a male gaze without considering the mental health aspects of her time in prison and her activism. And, and I thought if she had been so affected by her activism over 50 years which is it's 50 years ago, five decades, which is a really long time to dedicate yourself to a course. And I thought these women would have had some other experiences, especially looking at the solitary confinement and how you know, how harsh it was for them simply standing up for their beliefs and trying to get to a democratic South Africa.

Donna Bryson (12:53):

I think these are stories that you've found that are going to resonate with readers and women everywhere in the world. And I don't want to draw too many parallels, but I am interested, here in America, we hear this phrase: “This is not who we are” after eruptions of violence, such as the January 6th attack on our capital. I not recall hearing that kind of sentiment in South Africa after that, such as the attack on the world trade center, I wasn't there. Then when white extremists storm, the World Trade Center, a conference center, outside Johannesburg, the leaders were negotiating the end of the apartheid due to South Africa and say something similar to this is not who we are.

Shanthini Naidoo (13:32):

I think definitely. So you know, this is part of the, the positives and the negatives of the new democracy that South Africa is experiencing. It's still new, it's less than 30 years old. So it's relatively young. What I wanted to say about the feeling of togetherness we call ubuntu in South Africa. And it is, I am because of you. And I think it's a similar sentiment. You know, what's happened recently in the U.S. where people stand together for something that they believe in. And in our case, it was most definitely our country. But I think, you know this is why I write in the book that the, the democracy is flawed. And the part of the flaw is that we don't know our history as well as we should. And therefore we don't recognize each other. Yet we haven't in that way, which I think Americans now very pleased to see how Americans on the right side of this sheet stood together and, you know and, and made the voices heard. And once we have definitely done in South Africa during the we, we still struggle because South Africans still trying to live as a united people it's, it's maybe something that's new that doesn't exist anywhere in the world, but we definitely have a lot more work to do.

Helena Cobban (15:19):

If I could just jump in a moment, people are asking you to be a little closer to the microphone,

Donna Bryson (15:27):

And I see Madam ambassador, you're still with us. I wonder if that's a question you'd like to weigh in on a little bit, the parallels or the lessons that we can share between our two countries.

Amb. Nomaindiya Mfeketo (15:38):

It's not sort of, I didn't even hear the full of what Shanthini was, was saying, I'm terribly, sorry. I think something broke here.

Donna Bryson (15:50):

I was asking whether you see parallels between our two countries experience of democracy attempts to perfect democracy. Perfect unity.

Amb. Nomaindiya Mfeketo (16:06):

To some extent, yes. To some extent. Yes. I mean, you'll appreciate, I was only here from March and the bulk of what I saw was the Black Lives Matter which in my view was in fact much more than we would do in South Africa. I'm saying much more because I saw a group of everybody in America, Black, brown, and white, young, and old standing up for a good cause. And I think in, in this short 27 years, that we've been what you can tell them as free. Yes, there's a democratic government and all that. But I think because of inequality and lots of other things in South Africa, you still cannot bring together in that, you know, time that, you know, what happened to George Floyd and immediately the next week, there was a strong movement that, eh, clearly change, eh, you know, their views that people live, yes, others evidenced change, but we're sitting in our houses playing, remembering what was happening in South Africa and how South Africans responded.

Donna Bryson (17:51):

Shanthini I'd like to bring your attention back to your book and give us another little taste of people who have haven't bought it yet. The more they hear, the more they're likely to want to run out and buy it. So please give us another little background.

Shanthini Naidoo (18:17):

One of the in Women Surviving Apartheid’s Prisons is Ma Rita Ndzanga, who is now in her late eighties. She was detained for over a year, nearly two years as well. And she still lives in the house that she shared with her husband Lawrence in Soweto. And she says: “In the country right now, we've never lived like the way we are living. Now we've got lives. We wanted our dignity back,” and she dismisses any consideration of psychological help, “I didn't have any counseling. I only went to a doctor when I felt pain. I, or if I didn't have tablets, I still take tablets.” She gestures to her forearm, “If you see my arm where I fell after she was dropped on two bricks and fell into a gas pipe, I could feel the pain. Sometimes I could hardly pick my hand up. It's painful nowadays. I'm tired. People think we don't want to associate, but it's because of the sicknesses. All of that comes from detention without trial.”

Donna Bryson (19:34):

Maybe share a little bit of what the question your research raise in your mind about the impact of trauma on detainees and their families and their communities. And are there ways you see this trauma still shadowing South Africa?

Shanthini Naidoo (19:49):

This is part of the reason for it. Actually, Women Surviving Apartheid’s Prisons started out as a as a master's thesis. It was on studying effects and actually changed my thesis at the very last minute to go and research this topic. And the topic was the mental health impacts on, on women who were a part of the freedom struggle, and also were detainees and centered it on this trial particularly. So there was some talk of Winnie Mandela and post-traumatic stress disorder and you know, mental health, although it's such a big issue. And it seemed to be one of the biggest issues we're going to have in our world. By 2030, you know, would, would be more prevalent than any non-communicable disease, even.

Mental Health is so neglected all over the world, but particularly in South Africa. And I thought if someone who was such a huge figurehead, like when you Mandela had she took post-traumatic stress. What about other women? And what does that mean for our society today? And it's the reason why the book Women Surviving will resonate with anyone in any part of the world is because it looks at how generational trauma affects us and affects the it affects the generations that come after the people who were physically affected. So that means the children and the grandchildren of these women who are all kinds of adults. So it goes to highlight, you know, how, how we interact with each other everyday to realize that we don't know each other's history and in a country like South Africa, where we've had particular trauma and in the us, you've had four years of trauma that you've just come out of. So it's just, it's how to, to interact with our fellow human beings based on how our histories and that's part of why this is so important in terms of black history month, even, you know, do we know the stories that came before us? And, and that was the purpose of the work.

Donna Bryson (22:13):

Hmm. Perhaps you'd like to add some perspective here on the impact of trauma and how it can be addressed?

Amb. Nomaindiya Mfeketo (22:16):

Yes. I think at some stage, eh, at TRC was established at home, which I'm not sure if it was done yet. And part of establishing that was to deal with the trauma of what happened over a long period of about eight. I must say there are people who went to testify about that trauma, and those were responsible for that were called to the TRC as when. And it was on the basis of not only hearing the story of people, but also being able to see if the perpetrators of that must be arrested or must be forgiven because we are reconciling and you know, that those people were affected also saying, I forgive you, but I must say lots of people who didn't attend to that, the trauma was so overwhelming. They couldn't, I couldn't go because I wasn't sure what would happen after you go to the chat to see and open your soul, and what's going to happen after that.

Donna Bryson (24:15):

Thank you, that you would share that with us. I do think that somehow, sometimes just being able to tell your story, even just being asked and be accepted, I know that Shanthini, you mentioned that the officials misspelled Nondwe Mankahla’s name in the court records, and I'm sure that added to the difficulty that you face bringing these stories to him. When you talk about some of the other challenges you think.

Shanthini Naidoo (25:04):

No, Donna, as a journalist, you would know one of the first things you do when you interview someone is to get their name correctly recorded. So to have activists and people who are part of our history, not have been names correctly recorded in the government in notes, you know, it's, it's, it says a lot about how our activists were honored and remembered. And although they were you know, numerous awards they were, they were, the TRC was a long and lengthy process. If I can give you an example, you know, the woman in the story got between a few minutes to 20 minutes to tell their side of the story. They, the, the main torture, if I can call, call him that that's exactly what it was. An apartheid security branch captain didn't appear ahead before the TRC, he, he lived on a, on a Mandela government pension until he died.

So, you know, there was the, to find that a name was spelled incorrectly was again, like I say, symbolic, it, it shows that what we don't do as South Africans and what we probably don't do in, in, in many parts of the world is recognize those who came before us. And it's actually set out in the South African constitution that we should always on you know, those who for freedom. And it's just not, it's just not done. There aren't records because they were destroyed during the apartheid era. And then many stories have been forgotten because people like you saw how it affected the ambassador. Now they haven't shared, they haven't told their stories. They haven't been asked as well, which is why it was a real privilege to write Women Surviving Apartheid’s Prisons, because it gave the, although it was representative of many activists and of women who've sacrificed for causes around the world. It, it shone a spotlight on this particular child and these particular women from 1969.

Donna Bryson (27:27):

I feel that Madam ambassador. You both touched on this a little bit. The why of why these stories have not, are not more widely known, but there's anything to add to that question. Why aren't these stories more widely known?

Amb. Nomaindiya Mfeketo (27:43):

Yeah, no, I think what happened, we, we move on with trying to make sure that the liberation that we're saying we are experiencing after 1990, the release of comrade Mandela, I think there was a lot, eh, if, if you expect those stories to come from activists themselves, it would have been difficult. It was supposed to come from government, which they did with the TRC. But I think, you know, maybe if we thought of Shanthini and, that at that space, and there was an informal maybe, eh, informal process that is done by organizations, themselves, political organizations, themselves and recording what happened to, you know, those they see as they are people and other people may maybe, you know, everybody would go and tell their stories. But I think we were sort of overwhelmed by this new era. And we were, I mean, most people were put in different places you know, to prepare for the new South Africa more than telling your story, which, you know, it's, when I look back, I think these are things that we're supposed to go together at the same time.

Shanthini Naidoo (29:50):

I also think that this humility and discipline in the generation that fought in the party struggle, they were  selfless. It was not as vocal and as visible as activism is now. So it was, and also it was illegal for them to write anything down and keep records of the work. So, which is a real pity, but at the same time you got to think about young people, why don't young people ask these questions. Now it's a, it's something that you know, it takes a, a certain level of introspection and maturity to, to want to go and learn about where we come from, what our w you know, our values are founded on as a country, as a world, you know, even though this is a South African story, who are these brave women that we are talking about, it, it takes another brave young person to go and ask those questions.

Shanthini Naidoo (30:57):

So until they ask, they will not know. And I'm hoping this is part of the reason. And I really appreciate, I must say, too, to Helena and her team for taking Women Surviving Apartheid’s Prisons to the U.S. I think it's so valuable right now and you know, such an inspirational time in your country as well, but for these lessons to be shared and to know the sacrifice, and to know that the work that goes into, into freedom, it will make, make young people appreciate it a lot more, you know, then you can have a young poet speaking at an inauguration of the first black female vice-president. So, yeah, it's about, about wanting to, to, to gain that knowledge, which is out there.

Donna Bryson (31:48):

I think sometimes when we, when we finally are mature enough to ask those questions, people we want to ask are no longer with us. Can you tell me a little bit, look, I'm a mom too, what have you learned from these women that you want your daughters to know about their country's history?

Shanthini Naidoo (32:10):

A lot. I, you know, like I said, I wasn't particularly a political journalist. I did a bit of social justice work, but I, you know I went into the story expecting when you, you know, when, you know, there's a good story and it's something that's worth telling, but to go into the details with them, it just really put me back into those shoes that you know, 50 years ago, and to feel a little bit of what they went through and to and to appreciate it, it's done exactly what the purpose of the book is. So when someone reads women surviving, they must be able to identify with the bravery of this woman and to also you know, learn about the sacrifice. And I think that's very I really appreciated many South Africans saying how they didn't know this very sort of recent history of ours and who these women were. No one knew their, their names. And yet, you know, they were played such an integral part of our journey to freedom. So you know, in educating myself and my goals is I also managed to get a book out, to educate other people about our history.

Donna Bryson (33:40):

In Women Surviving Apartheid’s Prisons, you quote anti-apartheid activist, Ahmed Kathrada, lamenting that his partner, Barbara Hogan had not told her own story of her incarceration and struggle. You mentioned that Joyce Sikhakhane-Rankin has her memoir, and Madam Ambassador I hope you start yours soon as well. Shanthini I hope book inspired women to tell their story. What else do you think can be done to get you there? It is out there. And once they happen until what can be done to make sure the world, maybe both of you an answer to that.

Amb. Nomaindiya Mfeketo (35:06):

Yeah. it's, it's, it's difficult. I mean, it showed a book of this nature really should speak to all of us, including Barbara Hogan, myself, not long ago, I was just talking from what Helena wanted, talking about my life. I didn't include the periods that I was detained both in state of emergency and section 29. And when I lost a 16-year-old son then. The way those security branches, you know, just told me plain blank that I killed my son by being so irresponsible woman, staying for almost a year in prison without my children, when I knew they had something do with that accident and the killing of my son. So I think is how we've been trained that, you know, you don't get arrested to come back and write his story about that. And we really talk about them. People who are nearer to, you know, about that, eh, maybe we didn't put emphasis into people writing about other people when something happened and it becomes difficult to learn it later, but I'm hoping, I'm hoping that this, the new generation, and as people read these books, we will get into that culture of, of writing about even no matter how small something is writing about it in order to educate other people,

Shanthini Naidoo (36:50):

You know, ambassador I hope you will, one day, I know it's a difficult thing to do, but to one day, just start and do it in small pieces. There's, there's no other way to do it. Cause you can't do it all at once. It's very, very overwhelming. And I really hope that they will be more recording of many more stories. It's up to us as writers, it's up to young people to go and ask even the people around them to you know, who might've had a different experience, you know, off the apartheid era and to go and explore it. And it doesn't have to be, you know, everyone's story doesn't have to be entirely as a written as a book. It could be a part of bigger projects. And I think though that there's definitely an appetite for female stories.

And it's also to recognize and realize when you been a part of something as big as the apartheid struggle, which was many, many years decades long to realize that those different parts are very important. And I think that's something that people don't think about. I, I met Dr. Matthews Poser recently, and he was also very involved in the movement in Swaziland. And it's, it's not just, you know, Dominic treaties on here. He always reminds me as difficult as these stories are. They absolutely brave. And they absolutely interesting, exciting. They were really vibrant times that this was all out. There were, you know, their stories of espionage and gun smuggling and all sorts of things that were going on which are interesting for people to hear, but it wasn't just this dark awful time it was, but there was a spirit day, which obviously triumphed in a very big way, which is why South Africa is free today.

So, you know, yes, these stories will make you cry and make you think and make you reflect. But they also, you know, wonderful stories to tell which are part of it and love and life, you know, Joyce Sikhakhane-Rankin’s story is an absolute, wonderful love story as well about how she was put in prison because she was engaged to someone she wasn't allowed to be. And in the book, you know, in Women Surviving, you will read the story about how she eventually you know, fate change that narrative for her. It's a very interesting part of the book. So, you know, there's, there's a lot to tell and some of it is really hopeful and really brave and, and exciting and interesting. So, you know, it's not it's not, it doesn't make for, for solemn reading, all of it, which I'm very glad to say.

Donna Bryson (39:57):

Crying, thinking, reflecting a wonderful book. And I think a wonderful time for me to spend some time with both of you, but it's hard for me to stop monopolizing the conversation. I know lots of people listening have questions, and I'm going to hand it back to her to bring some of these guys.

Helena Cobban (39:57):

Thank you so much, Donna. And all three of you. I mean, you would, you've just bring so much to this conversation and matter my best, I'm particularly moved by you sharing your story for the first time. It seems here with us and, and your pain and your strengths. And I just want to acknowledge that we do have some wonderful people in our audience today including a member of our board at Just World Educational: Alice, Dr. Alice Rothchild. And we have two people whose families who are family members of women, at least two family members of women featured in the book Dominic Tweedie referred to by Shanthini.

And I asked Dominic if he wanted to come on the on, on an appear live maybe with his wife Shantie and I do, but I don't want to embarrass him if he doesn't want to do it. And the same with Vikela Rankin, who is the son of Joyce Sikhakhane-Rankin, and, you know, if they would like to appear that would be really wonderful. We have two people who provided wonderful endorsements for the book on the cover. And on the inside one is Bill Fletcher Jr. who was the head of TransAfrica here in Washington, DC and nationwide here in the States which was a key organization in the anti-apartheid solidarity movement here. And also Gwendolyn's Zoharah Simmons who wrote a lovely endorsement of the book, who is a veteran she-roe heroine of the civil rights struggle here in the States. And she actually she's recorded some of her memories of the civil rights movement. We should put that somewhere onto our website. I think it was done by the Library of Congress or, or someplace, but anyway, as Zoharah has a couple of questions and I'm going to put her online, if I can figure out how to do this okay. I'm allowed to talk. Okay. Zoharah Gwendolyn Simmons?

Zoharah Gwendolyn Simmons (43:01):

I had no idea that I was going to be shown. I thought you meant my voice, everybody so wonderful to hear you all and to have read this wonderful book. I too played a small role in the anti-apartheid struggle here in the States by being active by, you know, demonstrating et cetera. So I am just thrilled to get to see and hear you all. One of the questions that I had raised, because, you know, right here, we've been fighting to get out female she-roes names, you know, in the Pantheon of those who fought to bring freedom to us here in this country. So I know what you're going through. And I had, I think you've already spoken to this somewhat, but I wanted to know what was being done to honor these women and give them the recognition that they so deserve them and all of the rest of you, because the ambassador is certainly one of those women who also are part of that Pantheon of women, freedom fighters, who must be recognized. Thank you.

Donna Bryson (44:39):

Well, I guess that's the question for the South Africans, it's either Shanthini or the ambassador.

Amb. Nomaindiya Mfeketo (44:46):

Well, I think Shanthini is doing it and I'm sure she said earlier when she speaks with, we need to talk to the youth, we need to question these things. And as much as there's so much that is happening, but I, I think we must rely because I think part of it is rely on the political organization thinking because the government is giving out recognition awards every end of the year. And so there's not much that needs to be written. Yeah, I, I think it's us who need to motivate the younger generation too, because they will learn from those lessons.

Donna Bryson (45:53):

Yeah, absolutely. Thanks. Shanthini do you have something to say on that?

Shanthini Naidoo (46:03):

I think the ambassador said, said, you know, articulated it really well. It's, it's a lot of it's, I don't want to call it work because then it seems like an effort to do, but it should be how we've got a lovely book, which comes from the States, I think, but it's, it's a bedtime story book called Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, which my daughters did as well. And it, you know, it goes through history you know, back to Helen Keller even until today with Palestinian rapper that they, they talk about. So, there is there is work being done, but I think there's a lot more and you know, the, the, I have wonderful opportunity here with Women Surviving being available in the U.S. but the many, many other stories. It's still, it's, it's about storytelling and sharing. And as much as it sounds like something that is frivolous and, and, you know, not significant, it's been proven to be a form of healing of healing trauma, particularly. So the more stories we share, the more we tell oral histories yeah, we've got to just do it. And I think as women, we, you know, if the stereotype is that we like to talk, let's talk.

Helena Cobban (47:35):

So now we also have Oh, have I, we have Dominic Tweeie who's going to join us. Hi, Dominic. Dominic is the spouse of Shanthie Naidoo featured in the book. Dominic, could you turn off your, I mean, turn on your microphone. Great. And tell us how you, how you are and the Shanthie Naidoo. It's an honor to have you with us.

Dominic Tweedie (48:18):

Thank you. It's a pleasure. We're very fine. Greetings, Ambassador, greetings Shanthini, and everybody else. I would just like to say it's very difficult to do this thing of recording. We've been trying for many years, I would say that for, for us, for the, for the, for the Naidoo family, for Shanthie and the people mentioned in the books, but, but I think that something has been a godsend to us really, I must say is, it's not like everybody would do this. And Shanthini is a younger generation. She said herself earlier on, she was a journalist and normal journalists doing ordinary stories and she took this sort of leap and it's just been wonderful for us, but otherwise ambassador was, was trying to say how difficult to test, because one has all sorts of things to do. The people involved after 94, they, they were busy. They had responsibilities. They were their positions as the ambassador said, meaning that that I had to get down to work and do stuff. So there wasn't time. And then I must say, there's another factor. I believe, which is that that's life is very competitive. Life is competitive within politics within the liberation movement. It's competitive and people are jealous.

People feel that they would feel that they were boasting, that they were trying to use leverage to their own life for, for advantage. They would be made to feel that, and then they're talking about things that are very tender and sensitive and personal actually identity all of them, their own personal history. Then you would withdraw from that. You wouldn't do that. You wouldn't do that. You wouldn't put it at risk like that. And I can see this all the time. I believe people are either of course, shamelessly boastful, and sometimes artificially and wrongly. So you know, we can, we can think, let, let's just say, there are a lot of white people who take credit for the liberation of South Africa. You may not believe that, but in fact, they believe  that it's them. De Klerk is the first one. He believes that he liberated South Africa and is proud of his Nobel prize. He thinks it was down to him, you know, incredible, really. So this is a competitive thing. If you go into it, you're going to have to battle it out as well. And, and you're going to be facing people who may want to ridicule you and shame you and all sorts of things. So this is why it doesn't come out easily. So Shanthini has done as a hell of a good service something really special. I want to thank her for that actually.

Shanthie Naidoo (52:02):

Thank you Shanthini.

Shanthini Naidoo (52:02):

Dominic and Shanthie please don’t thank me, it's their story to tell. And in fact, Dominic is  you know, my history teacher in my data team, because a lot of the stuff wasn't recorded and he's got  the most amazing memory of everything that's happened, and it's important to get this all done, but I think a lot of, you know, what he's saying is correct, but I think it's also because of, because men do this  male stories, you know. Azrini, who's a researcher in  in the UK, actually just asked in the chat: Why, why do we think, why do we think that this happens? And it's because, you know, it's called history. It's already starting to focus on the men. And so we've got to change that, especially as women. And we want to hear the women's stories, they are far more interesting.

Helena Cobban (53:04):

So, we have a question from our board member, Alice Rothchild, who is a physician, very active in the Palestinian rights movement here in the United States and a member of our board. So Alice, if you could just unmute your microphone, it's great to have you with, and it's nice to see you.

Alice Rothchild (53:26):

Well, it's, it's great to be here and to be learning more and more history. My question is, and it kind of stems from what was just said. Can you speak to the relationship between anti-apartheid struggles and feminism and the difficulties for women to get recognition for their work?

Shanthini Naidoo (53:49):

Well, it's, it's very interesting because I'm a critic. Dominic can help you. But from early, there was a big separation between women's movements and you know, the main part of the anti-apartheid movement until, you know, they were sort of absorbed. And then after democracy, again, split up into very sort of very distinct female and male roles. And actually, you know this is part of the, I think feminism was something, you know, the woman in the story in particular, you know completely espoused. And I think it was something that any anti-Apartheid activist would have to believe in and do, because it was the sixties. It wasn't even a time of you know, of equality. So, you know, these were so they had, they had multiple barriers to work through. And I think we still do. We definitely still do, but this was, this goes back 50 years ago. So can you imagine when women were not wearing trousers and you had these brave journalists and you know activists who are meeting in dark corners with, without fear of being arrested, or maybe they did have some fear, but they did it anyway. So yeah, sure. The feminist movement in South Africa, I think it's still a work in progress.

Donna Bryson (55:29):

I think, as I was reading your book, I so often thought of this, the idea of women's work, and that should be a lot of the things that these women did that was heroic was just considered what women should do and they shouldn't talk about it. And then also this idea that there's so much women's work when the ambassador talks about having to get busy, building a new South Africa after liberation, there just wasn't time for this kind of reflection. And I think women did most of the work there too. It just wasn't time. There's so much women's work.

Shanthini Naidoo (56:01):

Yep. And in the absence of partners and things like that, you know I actually think that the woman may have held it all together, you know, part of the movement and outside.

Amb. Nomaindiya Mfeketo (56:17):

There was one time, there was one time when I felt that women were very strong and were holding whatever they are doing as themselves women. And that time was, you know, between the seventies and maybe up to 1990, when now, you know, the unbanning of those 42 organizations. No, and this was precisely because some of the organizations, women organizations that were there and fought and fought really hard where women will set from the beginning. And this is where the feminist idea also was, was natured. Women were saying, we will take our decisions. I will sense we will not lie on men to take decisions for us. And I must say many, you know, many things that we went through that time we went through as women. We didn't wait for men, whether they are in an organization or not to guide us on what to do. And one of the things that happened, the unbending of the liberation movement.

Now women became a league or a broader organization that had everybody including men. And I touch, I mean, look at the ANC, for instance, there's and the women's stretch of the ANC is the ANC women's league. Now in many instances, policies are the same and also it depends on what is vocal more than who. And to some extent it influences how women speak and need to operate and more focused and fight on women issues. So, it's something at times we do unconsciously, even though at some stage, we were adamant that as women, we want our own organization. We were writing our own budget as women. You know, when the, national party or whoever were writing their budget to announce, we would write our budget as women, but do those things happen now? They don't, they don't because we bought off the, you know, the organization that has everybody, including men and policies are the same. Yep. Thank you.

Helena Cobban (01:00:04):

I think we probably need to wrap up now and I'm just, so I feel like I've, I've worked on this project of publishing Shanthini’s amazing book for most of the past eight months. And now I told Shanthini, when you publish a new book, it's like having a baby. So this one, this one it feels like I've worked on this for nine months. And I know that Shanthini worked on it for a lot longer than nine months. And I know that Shanthie Naidoo, and all the other wonderful women featured in the book obviously lived these issues for decades. And there were those who were inside South Africa, like the ambassador and those who were in exile like Shanthie Naidoo. And Joyce Sikhakhane-Rankin, and each of these was a different situation for, for many years.

And between you, you all ended the apartheid system. So first of all, I want to thank you so much for doing that. And for letting me and my team here be a little bit part of this and what a pleasure and an honor to work with the people in South Africa. So, I want to just remind people that the video of today's event will soon be posted on the Women in South Africa’s Struggle online resource center, check back in with the resource center throughout the months ahead to see the new content that we'll be putting on there. And I think Amelle has just put the link into the chat box. Okay, so this continuum educational outreach project from Just World Educational is made available at no cost to the learning public and Just World Ed needs and welcomes your support in many ways.

Obviously putting on my publisher's hat again, we would love it if could tell your friends about Women Surviving Apartheid's Prisons, discuss it on social media, provide thoughtful reviews or discussions of it in all the usual online forums. This story really needs to connect with a very broad readership. And I hope that all of you watching this can help, help it do that. So now I would like to thank first of all, Donna Bryson, who is with us from Denver. Donna, your, your participation in this project has just been wonderful. And I mean, as a journalist to a journalist, thank you so much for everything you have done for this.

And Shanthini you know, without you and your work, none of this would have happened and you have put something on the record for the ages that maybe would never have ended up in a book. So I want to recognize your contribution and obviously your participation here has been great. Thank you so much.

And finally, Madam Ambassador Mfeketo this, the spirit and soul that you brought into this online discussion has transformed it from what would have been just a very ordinary book launch into something much deeper. So thank you very much for being with us. Thank you. Amelle Zeroug and Charity Famakinwa who have been working behind the scenes, Charity’s name has been on the ambassador’s video feed. And when you leave the meeting, this zoom, you will be sent to an exit poll. So, if you can give us feedback then that can really help us improve our programming. So, I would be very grateful if you could fill out the exit poll. Finally, all of you on the panel and watching from around the world, thank you for being with us, stay safe and let's hope we can meet in person sometime soon. Thank you and goodbye.

Speakers for the Session


Shanthini Naidoo


H.E. Nomaindiya Mfeketo


Donna Bryson

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