It’s National Women’s Day in South Africa

Today in South Africa, it’s National Women’s Day. While this is not my holiday, as I am not South African, I thought it would still be nice to share some books about South African women on their day.

This holiday commemorates a pretty spectacular Women’s March in South Africa back in 1956. I didn’t find any books specifically about the March, but check out the Wikipedia page for National Women’s Day and you’ll find that it was huge and it was in protest of “pass laws” that would have required blacks to carry passports in their own country. The page lists reasons why and the names of some of the organizers. The protest song that was inspired at this march is amazing:

Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock.

Okay, that’s the English version, but I figured translation apps would work better to go from all of one language to all of another, but the original is also on the Wikipedia page linked above.

Without further ado, here are some books about South African Women:


A Human Being Died That Night: A South African Woman Confronts the Legacy of Apartheid

A Human Being Died That Night: A South African Woman Confronts the Legacy of Apartheid by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela

A Human Being Died That Night recounts an extraordinary dialogue. Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, a psychologist who grew up in a black South African township, reflects on her interviews with Eugene de Kock, the commanding officer of state-sanctioned death squads under apartheid. Gobodo-Madikizela met with de Kock in Pretoria’s maximum-security prison, where he is serving a 212-year sentence for crimes against humanity. In profoundly arresting scenes, Gobodo-Madikizela conveys her struggle with contradictory internal impulses to hold him accountable and to forgive. Ultimately, as she allows us to witness de Kock’s extraordinary awakening of conscience, she illuminates the ways in which the encounter compelled her to redefine the value of remorse and the limits of forgiveness.

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Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa

Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa by Antjie Krog

Ever since Nelson Mandela dramatically walked out of prison in 1990 after twenty-seven years behind bars, South Africa has been undergoing a radical transformation. In one of the most miraculous events of the century, the oppressive system of apartheid was dismantled. Repressive laws mandating separation of the races were thrown out. The country, which had been carved into a crazy quilt that reserved the most prosperous areas for whites and the most desolate and backward for blacks, was reunited. The dreaded and dangerous security force, which for years had systematically tortured, spied upon, and harassed people of color and their white supporters, was dismantled. But how could this country–one of spectacular beauty and promise–come to terms with its ugly past? How could its people, whom the oppressive white government had pitted against one another, live side by side as friends and neighbors?

To begin the healing process, Nelson Mandela created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, headed by the renowned cleric Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Established in 1995, the commission faced the awesome task of hearing the testimony of the victims of apartheid as well as the oppressors. Amnesty was granted to those who offered a full confession of any crimes associated with apartheid. Since the commission began its work, it has been the central player in a drama that has riveted the country. In this book, Antjie Krog, a South African journalist and poet who has covered the work of the commission, recounts the drama, the horrors, the wrenching personal stories of the victims and their families. Through the testimonies of victims of abuse and violence, from the appearance of Winnie Mandela to former South African president P. W. Botha’s extraordinary courthouse press conference, this award-winning poet leads us on an amazing journey.

Country of My Skull captures the complexity of the Truth Commission’s work. The narrative is often traumatic, vivid, and provocative. Krog’s powerful prose lures the reader actively and inventively through a mosaic of insights, impressions, and secret themes. This compelling tale is Antjie Krog’s profound literary account of the mending of a country that was in colossal need of change.

Maverick: Extraordinary Women from South Africa's Past

Maverick: Extraordinary Women from South Africa’s Past by Lauren Beukes

This is a book about raconteurs and renegades, writers, poets, provocateurs and pop stars, artists and activists and a cross-dressing doctor. From Africa’s first black movie star and Drum covergirl, Dolly Rathebe, to Glenda Kemp, the snake-dancing stripper who shook up the verkrampte social mores of the 70s, these are the riveting true tales of women who broke with convention and damn the consequences.

Spanning over 350 years of history, Maverick explores the compelling lives of some of South Africa’s most famous – and notorious – women, including Brenda Fassie, Daisy de Melker, Sara Bartmann, Ingrid Jonker, Helen Joseph, Nongqawuse and Bessie Head. But it also delves into lesser-known stories of the likes of reluctant Boer commando Sarah Raal, the ill-fated khoekhoe interpreter Krotoa-Eva, Black Sophie, the brothel queen of Bree Street, and Elizabeth Klarer, who gave birth to an alien love child in 1958.

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Currently, these books are only on my TBR but I’ve been planning a personal memoir around the world challenge that will have one of these books on it. I plan to do it after I’ve read all the Nobel Women at least once over. When I have read them, I’ll post a link to my reviews.

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