Women's Day: here's what our female authors have to say
On August 9 1956 over 20,000 South African women of all races marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria in protest against "pass laws" enforced by apartheid legislature.
In recognition - and celebration - of this crucial act of defiance led by our women, we asked 26 local female authors to respond to the following questions:
1. What does it mean to be a woman in contemporary South Africa?
2. Which three books - of any genre - by local female authors do you recommend every South African woman should read, and why?
Happy Women's Day, Mzansi. And remember: You strike a woman, you strike a rock.
Recipes for Love and Murder, Tannie Maria and the Satanic Mechanic, Death on the Limpopo
1. These days, women are expected to do it all, even when we don’t have it all. The situation for working class women remains bleak, as they bear – and fight against – the brunt of economic and political inequality and inefficiency.
Middle class women have greater opportunities, and we continue to take and make new spaces for ourselves. Despite ongoing gender inequalities and violence against women, I feel a sense of anything being possible – if we are willing to create it. I am hoping that more gender activists will realise that although anger is important, it is understanding (political and psychological), wise action – and kindness – that hold greater power to make fundamental changes.
On a personal level, being a woman in South Africa right now means learning to stand in – and celebrate – my own strength.
2. These are three books I love because they have heart and brains and make me laugh out loud:
The Way I See It: The Musings of a Black Woman in a Rainbow Nation by Lerato Tshabalala (PRHSA, 2016). These refreshing and engaging essays will get you thinking, laughing and talking about race, sex, gender and culture in South Africa today. Tshabalala bravely marches into herds of sacred cows that others tip-toe around.
Self-Helpless: A Cynic’s Search for Sanity by Rebecca Davis (Pan Macmillan, 2018). This book takes you on a soul-searching and very entertaining journey through a number of alternative healing approaches, to overcome addiction and address the existential question of ‘Why we are here?’ I related to it since I went on a similar quest to conquer my own chronic illness.
Death on the Limpopo: A Tannie Maria Mystery by Sally Andrew (Umuzi, 2019, due out September). This is book three in the feel-good, funny, Karoo-based mystery series, infused with food and nature, with layers of political and psychological healing. Now’s the time to catch up with the previous two books in the series: Recipes for Love and Murder, and Tannie Maria and the Satanic Mechanic.
Weeping Waters, Our Fathers, Homeland
1. On some levels women have never had it so good. Life is still hard for the majority of women in this country, yes. But for some it has changed dramatically in the past 25 years or so. Our BEEE-rules and the labour laws, among other things, have secured women’s representation in the work place to a very large degree. In the corporate as well as government world, you hear a lot of tinkling glass as they're ascending through the glass ceiling.
We have wonderful role models to look up to - from the truth sayers, Thuli Madonsela and journalists like Ferial Haffajee to visual artists like Zanele Muholi and Mary Sibande. And on to some of the country’s most influential ‘mining bosses’, Christine Ramon, CFO of AngloGold Ashanti, and Bridgette Radebe, chair of Mmakau Mining, or Leila Fourie, newly appointed CEO of the JSE.
But: Now we need to tackle the awful business of making women safer. To do that, we need to put our heads together about the state of our men. We need to start asking hard questions, like why they are so violent towards women and children. And each other. We have done a lot for women.
Now we have to tackle the souls of our boys and men.
2. Country of my Skull by Antjie Krog on ‘guilt, sorrow and the limits of forgiveness’. She wrote this semi-fictional work after reporting on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in some of the most harrowing and lyrically beautiful books on the shaping of this country. If you want to understand our history, and especially the sorrow of some of its women, this is compulsory reading.
Two poets I love: Gabeba Baderoon about intimacy, belonging and the complexities of the everyday. Her latest: The history of intimacy.
Finuala Downing with Pretend You Don’t Know Me - new and selected poems. At last, she’s being discovered by overseas audiences with good reason: her witty, bitter-sweet poetry about ordinary life is well crafted and super sharp.
Recipes for Love and Murder by Sally Andrew. This book was the introduction of a new female star to the international literary world - Tannie Maria of the Klein Karoo. With this loveable character Sally Andrew brought a quirky, warm and wise female sleuth to crime fiction, which has since been published worldwide. Watch out for the latest: Death on the Limpopo.
In my vel
1. Womanhood in South Africa means complex and rich diversity. Because South Africa is a place of such astonishing plurality in culture, creed, language, class and race, there is no “standard” woman, no single yardstick against which womanhood can be measured. This imbues South African womanhood with a potential for fluidity, movement and texture that is extremely interesting, exciting, creative and dynamic.
Being a woman in contemporary South Africa also means occupying an ambiguous, often contradictory space. Although we are officially and legally protected by a range of sophisticated laws and constitutional provisions, our everyday access to power, safety and agency remains fragile and contested.
The one thing that all of the cultures in South Africa seem to have in common, is the belief that women’s bodies and lives are somehow less worthy than those of men.
This means that being a woman in South Africa is a daily negotiation against all kinds of social, cultural, political and economic forces that are trying to exclude, silence, or restrain us. The scourge of sexual violence being one of them.
2. It is very difficult to pick only three, because we have so many excellent women writers! But if I had to choose, I would say three of my favourite books at the moment are:
Koleka Putuma’s Collective Amnesia (2017). In this collection of poems Putuma explores what it means to be a black woman in South Africa today. She looks at family, childhood, religion, community, sex, race and violence in searing, heartbreakingly beautiful verse.
Sisonke Msimang’s The Resurrection of Winnie Mandela (2019). In this recent biography Msimang reclaims a woman’s story (a herstory) that has been erased, distorted and co-opted by a nationalist forces and the male histories of this country.
Pumla Gqola’s Rape: A South African Nightmare (2015). This is an accessible and highly compelling exploration of the problem of sexual violence in South Africa (even if the subject matter is extremely harsh). Gqola explores the histories and contours of the systemic gender inequality that underpins the epidemic of rape in our country. This book provides the reader with a nuanced understanding of the meanings and implications of the problem of rape in South Africa and a deeper awareness of how it ties in with other inequalities, like race and class.
Doo-Wop Girls of the Universe, I Flying, Notes from the Dementia Ward
1. To be a woman in South Africa today? It’s to live split in three. There’s the strand of despair (women and children raped, shot or suffocated), a strand of hope (brilliant, strong women; men who do right) and a strand of let’s-get-on-with-this pragmatism (passing on the arts of dodging, self-defence, self-respect and well-timed acts of subversion to the next generation).
2. Three books:
Julia Martin, The Blackridge House: A Memoir
Ronelda Kamfer, Noudat slapende honde
Antjie Krog, A Change of Tongue
My new and selected poetry collection Pretend You Don’t Know Me is out this month. It contains this poem: 'To young women, urging them not to become competent'
Daughters, do not become competent,
Try hard not to do things well
Leave food in the fridge to spoil
and clothes to lie where they fall.
If you do one thing well
you’ll end up doing them all.
Never be kind. It’s not a profession.
Let someone who is not you babysit and visit the sick.
If you do one thing well
you’ll end up doing them all.
Cook for yourself. When it comes to turkeys and ham,
plead ignorance or vegetarianism.
If you do one thing well
you’ll end up doing them all.
Most workplaces, you’ll find, thrive on disaster.
You won’t be loved for doing things better, or faster.
If you do one thing well
you’ll end up doing them all.
Daughters, don’t ever reach for a broom
unless you’re planning to fly.
CHRISTEL DU TOIT
1. My background is financial planning and divorce financial planning is my speciality. I see too many women with little or no financial power. They did have it as some point in their lives but once married it somehow gets eroded over time because we never value our time or our financial contributions.
Measure and calculate what you are worth holistically; this includes the financial bits that most people neglect. Once you have the answer to this I can assure you, you are the best qualified person to look after it. Never give it away.
It is important to understand your personal and household/family finances, get as much information as possible, document it and make sure your name is on every piece of valuable paper.
2. This is difficult...
Marita van der Vyver: Vergenoeg. We are all going to age, we are all going to get sick at some point and most probably be left with no spouse - they do depart earlier. Then you are left with your kids fighting it out about who is not going to care for you and all you really want to do is to go in peace. (Ons almal gaan daar eindig eendag oud, dalk siek, sonder ’n man en dan is daar net kinders oor wat bakklei oor wie nie die versorging gaan doen nie. Oud word sit nie almal se broek nie gelukkig kan jy dit net een keer doen.)
Shonda Rimes: Year of Yes! (Non-South African but a must-read). Year of Yes is an excellent book to understand how hard work and determination get rewarded but, more importantly, she understands what she is worth, values it and looks after it all cost. She wanted to have children but never wanted to get married. She stuck to her guns!.
Hanelie Retief – Byleveld. Always make sure you are safe no matter where you are…the numbers are just against women.
ERRIEDA DU TOIT
1. To be a community builder. We have the emotional strength, resilience and more than enough muscle power to do this. Build our own platforms for our voices to be heard, more importantly - build it for others who need to find their voices.
2. Finding that book that touches you on the most intimate level as to change you is such a personal thing,
Karoo Kitchen by Syda Essop (Quivertree), a seminal work for which she travelled throughout the Great Karoo to find the untold stories of women and their food; a cultural document rather than a cookbook.
It shows how people survive only through sharing – also the sharing of recipes. Through these voices Essop brings across food’s power to bind us all together, allowing us to express what we know the best: ubuntu.
Essop’s own sacrifices and total dedication to research the book had a lasting impression on me.
Die swerfjare van Poppie Nongena by Elsa Joubert. I first read this just after my student days - a white, Afrikaans-speaking South African on the brink of adulthood. It opened my eyes beyond my sheltered existence to the immense hardship of black women – domestic workers in particular. It’s been long overdue for a reread, so this Woman’s Month Poppie will be on my bedside.
Recipes for Love and Murder by Sally Andrew. This book has all the right ingredients – a murder mystery with intrigue, love and darn good recipes. Tannie Maria, the agony-aunt of a local paper in the Klein Karoo, is one of my favourite book characters. The book was recommended to me by foodie friend Isabella Niehaus, so in sisterhood I pass on the good advice as we all need a light-relief, feel-good read.
Whiplash, Snake, The Book of Malachi
1. To be a woman in South Africa means ... to fiercely forget your vulnerability to sexual violence and walk like you’re unafraid. Be unashamed of your breasts. Join the feminine voices of sanity who know which way to go, but not just on Twitter or Facebook.
Find a suffering child and bring something good into their lives. Find a way to feed them. Go to a children’s home and become a host parent. Take them out for a walk, look them in the eyes. Don't wait for your man's permission, apply to foster a child. Or adopt one. Don’t wait for the right time to change a small life.
2. Every South African woman should read ... Mandy Weiner’s Ministry of Crime, the latest proof of Mandy's preposterous courage in her fight against organised crime in our country.
Maire Fisher’s novel, The Enumerations for its expose of middle class hypocrisy and its precise, loving look into the 'crazy' mind.
Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu’s novel, Theory of Flight for its incredibly beautiful veiling of a tirade against post-colonial politics.
Shame on You, The Pact
1. Being a woman in South Africa is at once a state of rage, resilience and hope. There are still many challenges to overcome, but we have the power and drive to challenge the status quo.
As a white women living in South Africa, it also means being conscious of how my experience of feminism is underscored by its own privileges, and that it is up to me to enrich my perspective, support other women and create opportunities for women on an everyday basis. I don't think this support has to always be dramatic - it is simply about living a life that is truly, consistently in support of all women.
2. My favourite books by local female authors:
Intruders, Mohale Mashigo. Mohale is a powerful, relevant voice that makes her something of a national treasure. In her short story collection, Intruders, I love how she approaches speculative fiction from a truly African perspective. She succeeds in telling the everyday stories of South Africans, while using fantastical storytelling to communicate an important message in each one.
Tjieng Tjang Tjerries, Jolyn Phillips. This collection of stories is hypnotic and almost musical in its language and style. I devoured this in an afternoon and it has stayed with me ever since.
Being Lily, Qarnita Loxton. As South Africans we are known to tend towards the serious in our literature, so I adore this story that captures the present-day experience of life, love and commitment in Cape Town. It's a sweet privilege to be able to relax into a story and have a laugh in a familiar setting, all while exploring serious themes in a light-hearted format.
An Unquiet Place
1. South Africa is a visceral place, a country that demands emotion from its people. And living here isn't comfortable or easy or safe for anyone, especially women. It never has been. And yet it is that very thing that sharpens our senses to the day, makes us grab for the opportunities that come, that sparks the fight in us to make life work and then, appreciate the good things, though they be small. South African women are raised to work hard. We are raised to take on responsibility, perhaps more than our share, but it makes us tall. And proud. Perhaps too proud.
2. On thinking hard about this, I came to the conclusion that it's not just the books (or the love stories in each) I was so drawn to but the authors too. Each of them allowed their own histories to push through the fiction and the results are exceptionally vivid pictures of the land and its people.
Shades by Marguerite Poland - Prescribed in schools for years, this exquisitely-written book grabbed me and still hasn't let go. She delicately holds place and people, love and grief, past and present and one is left wondering how she managed, in little ink words on paper, to make one really, literally 'feel' this complicated country.
Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner - It still boggles my mind that she wrote this in the 1880s, in a time when women had to write under male pseudonyms to be published at all. Ironic, and more than a little amusing that her non de plume, 'Ralph Iron', happened to be on the forefront of feminist thinking and wrote a story so brimming with the controversial ideas of free thought and gender equality that it became an immediate success. Read this, not just because it's a classic, but because she was an extraordinary woman whose thinking and advocacy for the marginalised was way before her time.
Maru by Bessie Head - Even though her books were all written and set in Botswana, I'm claiming Bessie Head as South African because she was raised in KZN and worked as a teacher and journalist before leaving for Botswana when she was twenty-eight. She managed the feat of capturing the pain of separation, loss, love and cruelty in only 127 pages. It is short, sharp and oh so disturbing. Bessie Head wrote from her own personal tragedy; she harnessed her experience of apartheid South Africa and when she saw the same pain played out in other countries and other cultures, her novels were birthed.
NOZIZWE CYNTHIA JELE
Happiness is a Four-Letter Word, The Ones With Purpose
1. To be a woman in South Africa is a bitter sweet experience. We live in a country with the best policies and laws to advance and protect women’s rights and equality, yet we are violated every second.
To be a woman in South Africa is tough. To be a black woman in South Africa is even tougher.
You are a sister, mother, partner, breadwinner, carer, friend, punching bag. You are burdened with societal expectations of what you should and shouldn’t be. You are prejudiced in the workplace and put in extra efforts to ‘prove’ yourself.
You earn far less than everyone else. You are constantly living in fear of your life, you don’t feel safe anywhere. You are expected to make a plan.
To be a black woman in South Africa is a lot, honestly.
2. Sindiwe Magona – all her work. Her contribution to literature is immense, and she writes candidly about her struggles and triumphs.
Feminism Is – South Africans Speak Their Truth edited by Jen Thorpe – because we constantly need to learn, be inspired and reaffirm ourselves.
If You Keep Digging by Keletso Mopai – Keletso is an exciting new and courageous young voice. In her collection, she tackles a variety of difficult social issues from rape to mental illness and through the eyes of young people.
Just Add Rice, Yellow and Confused
1. To stand strong for gender equality, be open to unlearning and to support others that aren't heard.
2. Killing Karoline by Sara-Jayne King – this book opened my eyes about the role race and patriarchy plays, and how transracial/interracial adoption is not as simple as it seems.
Feminism Is – a beautiful book that provides a wide range of perspectives on what it feminism means to different individuals.
Intruders by Mohale Mashigo – stories that keep you on the edge of your seat. Mermaids and monsters in Africa, everyone needs this kind of fiction.
DR TLALENG MOFOKENG
A Guide to Sexual Health and Pleasure
1. Being a woman in contemporary South Africa means moving constantly between joy, fear, despair. The levels of violence in all spaces and spheres mean that many women have survived some form of violence, inter-personal or structural and yet in the same breath, there are undeniable gains and wins that women have made throughout the years. The level of confidence and boldness with which we live our lives, express and celebrate ourselves is the joy that I feel blessed to experience.
2. A Guide to Sexual Health and Pleasure by Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng – I wrote this book because people were asking for it. It is rich in information from anatomy, physiology as well as advice and facts about sexual health and pleasure. the book is written with the aim to demystify sex and sexuality in a way that is entertaining and enlightening.
Collective Amnesia by Koleka Putuma – I have travelled everywhere with this poetry book in the last two years. I found myself snapping fingers and the next minute gasping and sometimes weeping. It is in some parts anguish, and other parts familiar and gives a voice to our deep collective trauma. And yet, I find it uplifting.
The Resurrection of Winnie Mandela by Sisonke Msimang – the life and times of Mama Winnie represent so much of what it is to be Black and a woman in the contemporary South Africa. The book’s timing was inspired by Mama’s passing and for those of us who continue to fight against the narrow definition and narrative of what a good woman is or isn’t, for ourselves, this book does so for Mama Winnie.
Called to Song
1. There are so many different ways of being a woman in South Africa today. Intersections of race, able-bodiedness, religion, class and nationality have profound influence. Where you live, what history you have inherited, who you choose to love, what kind of body you have, and your access to resources shape the kind of life you inhabit. Violence is endemic within our society and, for a great many women, influences the possibilities and limitations of our lives. I hope for a South Africa where no woman lives in fear and is able to move around freely. I long for a South Africa where every woman has everything she needs to thrive.
2. There are so many excellent and important books written by black women writers. If I had to choose three, it would be the following.
In Rape: A South African Nightmare, Pumla Gqola explores how gender-based violence became normalised in South Africa and how our history of racial oppression is connected to the ordinary way in which violence is enfolded in the everyday. An accessibly written book about a very difficult topic, it explains rape culture and allows women to connect their personal experiences to social structures in a way that enfolds one in feminist solidarity.
The novel Grace, by Barbara Boswell, delicately details the psychology of domestic violence. Written in beautiful prose, the novel explores how the trauma of domestic violence is carried across generations. The book can be used to recognise the relational dynamics of domestic violence and hopefully change a life.
Koleka Putuma's collection of poetry, Collective Amnesia, powerfully shows the connection between race, gender, sexuality, age and class. Like the other two books, the collection, shows how inequality and societal injustices manifest in our intimate lives. All three books are attentive to the importance of honestly grappling with our histories and working actively to undo the violences we have inherited. Whilst gender-based violence and our violent racist histories are challenging to confront, collectively the courage of these three books engender a feminist hope in their demand for a better future.
If You Keep Digging
1. Being a Black woman in South Africa who writes contemporary fiction, particularly short stories, means swimming my way through a pool of great stories written by women writers.
It's such a popular genre, than per se speculative fiction, and I think we do it well.
2. Three books I'd recommend:
If I Stay Right Here by Chwayita Ngamlana.
This book follows a lesbian couple and highlights abuse in a queer relationship.
I think it was an important and different issue to tackle in a story.
The Gold Diggers by Sue Nyathi.
Sue is such an entertaining writer and she wrote the book with a knowledgeable spirit.
I think stories like that are important, especially since our country is ignorant when it comes to why other Africans would want to live here.
Such a Lonely, Lovely Road by Kagiso Lesego Molope.
I love this book because it's such a beautiful story about love between two men and also highlights homophobia in South Africa, particularly in Black townships. Kagiso wrote it so well.
1. To be a woman is to refuse to live a life according to other people’s limitations and standards, it’s to be fearless and bold in going after what you want and to make a choice everyday to be present in every moment of life, to always seek the sun in every situation and to remember to stop and smell the roses as you go along.
2. Miss-Behave by Malebo Sephodi: For the way it’s so radical and makes you realise that misbehaving is a bold move and message to society that women are no longer going to bow down to societal expectations which often mean they cower and have to live up to certain expectations and no further.
If You Keep Digging by Keletso Mopai: For its brutal honesty and the way it opens our eyes to the realities of life we so often ignore.
The 30th Candle by Angela Makholwa because of its relatability and simplicity.
LEBO AND TEBO NDALA
1. What it means to be a woman for us is to no longer sit in the background and allow people to give you permission to follow your dreams and ambitions.
As young women in the industry, it means to be go-getters, girl bosses and strong!
We are in a world where we have to fight for our place and compete with men and we need to level up.
It means we need to be bold and confident.
2. Soft Magic - Upile Chisala
Bare - Jackie Phamotse
Being Chris Hani’s Daughter - Lindiwe Hani
Making Finn, As If Born to You
1. I believe that women are the social conscience of South Africa. There are still unfair gender roles and women are still often the unseen people raising South Africa’s children, working different jobs, and making huge personal sacrifices, often under extreme and unfavourable conditions to raise children they hope will be good model citizens. They do this out of love, but also against the odds.
There is a crisis around masculinity – you seldom hear of shootings and violent crimes committed by women. It is just as easy for a woman to pull a trigger as a man and yet so few women resort to this type of behaviour.
It is something men need to take more accountability and responsibility for, both in South Africa and globally.
2. The Theory of Flight by Siphiwe Ndlovu is a beautifully crafted southern African tale that is deserving of being recently short-listed for the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize this year.
Meg Vandermerwe’s The Woman of The Stone Sea is beautifully written and bravely tells a unique story from the perspective of two original South African characters – a West Coast fisherman and the Xhosa mermaid he rescues from the shore.
Yewande Omotoso’s Bom Boy speaks to themes I raise in my own novel about cross-racial adoption and is a moving and beautiful read.
Under the Camelthorn Tree
1. My feminism has straddled two centuries: I was born in 1954, into the age of pointy bras, nipped in waists and hostess trollies. I was raised by a clever, vivacious, angry woman struggling to be the ‘perfect’ homemaker.
The criteria for perfection? Pure social constructs given oxygen by pernicious advertising and Technicolor movies. Hello, does that sound familiar?
I was liberated by women who wrote books, and broke rules, and showed me a new way. But I wasn’t free, not really. I was weighed down by 19th and 20th century oppressions. I was refused entry to university because I had five children; so, I educated those children myself and they went to university; there are many ways to win a fight!
I’m sixty-five and still fighting for my sisters. I’m not weary, but I am disappointed. 21st century mothers returning to work, while contributing to society raising good humans, still meet 19th and 20th century obstacles.
21st century victims of sexual crime still battle with shame, guilt, victim-blaming, an inhospitable legal system and limited access to free psychological support. Children raised by traumatised mothers suffer; the ripples in the stream are ignored, and I argue we ignore them at our peril. Gender violence has long term consequences that impact on society and urgently need to be addressed.
Yes, much has improved in my lifetime, but not enough. Feminism is an engine that drives change, and it needs to shift into four- wheel drive so it can cover all terrains.
2. I have chosen four young poets because the power of their voices reaches into my bones.
I came upon Lebogang Mashile recently, and felt I had come home. “Tell your story / Let it twist and remix your shattered heart.”
That line resonates with me. Stories are not only healing they have the power to initiate change.
Puno Selesho I am African … This poem about defining identity due to place and space resonates across all cultures. Roots dig deep and leaves change. Her poem made me cry the first time I heard it. “I refuse to allow your pencil to draw a picture of who I am. I am a daughter of this land…and I celebrate my modern culture.”
Lee Mokobe’s poem about transgender is a heart-breaking clarion call for all who are defining and defending their personal identify.
“When you house is falling apart you do not evacuate. You make it comfortable enough to house all your insides…you make the floorboards strong enough to stand on.”
No matter what challenges we face we all need to make our personal floorboards strong enough to stand on…it’s not easy!
The image of the house is potent…and reminds me of Warsan Shire’s poem about sexual abuse. “Mother says there are locked rooms inside all women…Sometimes the men - they come with keys, and sometimes, the men - they come with hammers.”
Please keep writing…we are all listening.
The Polygamist, The Gold Diggers
1. To be a woman in contemporary South Africa is to be a woman on her guard. You might be well-heeled and well-to-do but you always have to walk around with an armour of steel. You have to guard your heart, your body, your mind and your space. I feel like women are under siege as men grapple to hold onto the vestige of patriarchy and all other male privileges they have enjoyed for centuries. And in doing so, they have become vicious and violent.
I feel like womanhood is under threat and unless you just smile and conform to patriarchal norms you will be attacked.
I don’t feel safe as a woman in urban spaces. I am wary of men and have a glaring mistrust of them. When men approach me, I think of harm first before benevolence. We are confronted with aggression everywhere, if it’s not in the traffic, you are accosted by it in the streets or in the privacy of your own home.
Years ago I used to look forward to celebrating Women’s Day. Now it is a glaring reminder of how my sex is being ambushed.
2. The Resurrection of Winnie Mandela – Sisonke Msimang: The book serves to reframe a distorted narrative of Winnie Mandela, an iconic and controversial woman in SA’s liberation struggle.
Rape: A South African Nightmare – Pumla Dineo Gqola: The prevalence of rape in SA almost feels like a violent rite of passage. This is such an important book in a country where most women have been sexually violated at least once by the time they turn 12.
A Life’s Mosaic – Phyllis Ntantala: A moving account of a woman’s resilience and fight against patriarchy and racial discrimination and her struggles in exile.
Marriage Vows, The Park, The Accident
1. It feels to me that in both South Africa and around the world, we are facing a new wave of awareness of exactly how quietly our femaleness (and for women of colour, and LGBTQ+ women, this is of course multi-layered) has limited us in a male world.
I think those of us who have a voice and have power need to constantly be aware of our duty to speak up. We may speak up in the boardroom, or on social media, or when a strange man thinks he can touch our girl children without their permission.
We need to raise a generation who speak with voices that will be heard.
2. To narrow down the amazing range of South African women’s writing to just three is almost impossible – so the first thing I would encourage any reader to do is to understand that South African women have moved beyond angst-filled apartheid memoirs and whatever your favourite international genre, you will find it ably executed by a South African writer.
But three books that I have loved recently are:
Lacuna by Fiona Snyckers
Enumerations by Maire Fisher
Intruders by Mohale Mashigo
And I am very excited about the new Joanne MacGregor!
Now Following You, Lacuna
1. Being a woman in South Africa depends very much on what socio-economic and cultural milieu you occupy. For a white, middle-class woman like me, it can be fairly comfortable. There are certain inequities - like the gender pay-gap and the corporate glass ceiling - but there is a tangible sense of progress.
We have advanced beyond our mothers in terms of freedom and opportunity.
Unfortunately, adding intersectional factors like race, sexuality, and income creates a very different picture.
Many women in South Africa suffer in appallingly unsafe circumstances, with little recourse to the law or access to quality medical care. These are problems that need to be addressed urgently.
2. The Ones With Purpose by Nozizwe Cynthia Jele. It is currently shortlisted for the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize and is a masterful study of family and the position of women in familial relations.
The Blessed Girl by Angela Makholwa shows the choices some young women feel they have no option but to make.
Upturned Earth by Karen Jennings is launching during Women’s Month. It is part of an emergent genre of post-Marikana fiction that showcases South African literary historical fiction at its best.
Cape, Curry & Koesisters
1. Being a woman in contemporary South Africa means that I enjoy, being able to speak for myself and contribute meaningfully to the lives of others. I enjoy being perceived as equal and a valuable member of society. I appreciate my rights as a woman in our beautiful country and to be in a position to make a difference and to inspire other women. My parents raised us to be good human beings and to reach for the stars, never putting any emphasis on our gender.
2. Becoming Iman, by Iman Rapetti. Reading this book inspired me so much, I always admired her work as a journalist. To be able to get to know her story in this powerful memoir was a blessing – her courage of standing up for who you are no matter what and carrying out your dreams, even in the face of strong criticism, ignited a new sense of courage within me.
Sorry Not Sorry: Experiences of a Brown Woman in a White South Africa by Haji Mohamad Dawjee. I enjoyed reading this book, it made me realise that I must, a woman of colour, embrace all of me, my skills and qualifications, to make use of it and stop letting my colour devalue it. To embrace and celebrate my coloured accent, my roots, hailing from Mannenberg ...
My Father's Orchid by Rayda Jacobs. What a powerful book, enjoyed reading it immensely, she writes in a way which allows us to question certain things, that would normally be left alone or thrown under the rug.
ILSE VAN DER MERWE
Cape Mediterranean: The Way We Love to Eat
1. I am a 41-year old South African Afrikaans-speaking woman, mother to our 8-year old daughter and wife to my musician/historian husband. I am self employed in a very niche creative food industry. I am 1.90m tall, an unusual characteristic that has influenced and governed my identity and gender identity to many degrees.
Being a modern woman in contemporary South Africa means that I wear many hats daily, I have to be a jack of many trades and I have to embrace change often. Having a positive mindset has always been one of my secret weapons - there's a lot of magic that can happen when the clouds have silver linings.
The most important realisation of the past year, is that my "uniqueness" is enough. My niche set of skills is enough. Being true to myself, is enough, and a very precious commodity - especially within a career where I am the face of my own brand.
2. Lazy Days by Phillippa Cheifitz (she's my food icon, and creator of the most effortless recipes for entertaining at home - a must for your kitchen shelf).
Maverick: Extraordinary Women From South Africa’s Past by Lauren Beukes (she's a clever, award winning novelist, but this non-fiction publication is a necessary look at women within a SA history context).
Skinned by Antjie Krog (some of the most beautiful Afrikaans poetry translated into English for a global audience - written by a SA icon, who's work deals with love, politics, apartheid and gender issues).
MARLENE VAN DER WESTHUIZEN
Decadent Dinners, Sumptuous, Secrets of a French Cooking Class
1. We are living during a time where ‘culture’, which under normal circumstances should be defined by what we recognise as our own, beauty around us, safety, having a career and working in a sustainable way towards a real future for both ourselves and our children, are not only threatened but mostly non-existent. We have absolutely none of the above and are living in a constant reality of ‘not-knowing’.
My perception is that we are battling to keep a modicum of control over our lives, living conditions, children’s education and monetary conditions whilst Rome is burning and we all say good-bye to our loved ones in the morning with ‘ Be safe’ – and meaning it.
Contemporary South Africa is an unsafe and scary place to be a woman, wife and mother.
Although most of the women I know are supporting each other with jobs, groceries, housing, paying school fees for each other’s children, paying for young men’s initiation rites, tertiary education and health care, I do not think it is sustainable.
We are looking at a substantial sub-economy which goes completely unrecognised and never spoken about. It is so ignored that it cannot even be deducted from taxes. Maybe the last question which all of us women would like to ask is, to coin Roger Whittaker, WHY?
2. Marlene van Niekerk – all her novels. The most recently read was The Snow Sleeper – an extremely well written piece of literature, brilliantly translated by Michiel Heyns.
And then of course the beautiful Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche – an African perspective written poetically. Sadly that is that.
Two recently read female authors – whose books I have kept for my shelf – are Lauren Elkin’s Flâneuse and Siri Hustvedt’s collected works A Woman looking at Men looking at Women. They are not South African authors though!
Troos vir die gebrokenes, Vuilspel, Slaafs
1. Concepts of gender, of femininity and the roles of females, have largely become irrelevant, I think. Our humanity, kindness and generosity of spirit define us far more than biology does.
2. The first book is These are the things that sit with us edited by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela et al, because it is such an important reflection on our society's traumatic past, and how to heal from it.
The second is an Afrikaans title Spertyd by Elsa Joubert, a memoire about aging and womanhood.
The third is a classic published in 1985, Ellen Kuzwayo's Call me woman, about being black and female in apartheid South Africa.
Each of these books, in its own way, ask of us to reflect on womanhood and the politics of being female, in different stages of life.