Responses by black women to race and gender dynamics under South African Apartheid with special reference to the Black Consciousness Movement

Lorenz, Nicole (2002-03)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2002

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Black women's oppression under apartheid was based on four interacting forces: race, class, gender and nationality. Although this rendered their status in both feminist and anti-apartheid policies unique, it was never addressed as such. The national liberation movement defined women's role in the struggle in male dominated terms and did not acknowledge 'gender' as a legitimate political issue until the 1980s. There were no official restrictions that impeded women's participation in national politics. It was rather the failure of parties to adequately address their social disabilities resulting from legal minority, geographical isolation and social marginalisation, that prevented women from participating on an equal level with men. The focus on women as 'significant others', as supportive mothers and wives, largely determined black women's self-perception and political consciousness. The growth of anti-apartheid movements principally went along with new formations of women's organisations. Gender struggles, however, appeared to be absent, since women's protests were indistinguishably bound up with other socio-political issues. Women's commitment to define themselves solely within the context of national liberation was highlighted in the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), which called upon blacks to examine their psychological and physical oppression and to realise the power of self-definition. Although women took a far more assertive stance toward their subjugation as blacks, they entirely ignored the masculine nature of the language and ideological outlook of Black Consciousness (BC). BC writers tended to romanticise community life and gender relations, ignoring the actual dynamics of gender relations amongst blacks, thus reinforcing traditional hierarchical structures. Women participating in the upper ranks of the BCM saw their emancipation in terms of becoming 'honorary men.' Feminist movements taking place in the Western world at that time were overtly rejected by both men and women in South Africa. Women's entry into the public sphere of industrial production and national politics did not ineluctably lead to their emancipation. Nor had these steps been motivated by the sought for liberation from domesticity and traditional gender relations. It was a reaction to the way in which apartheid eroded their traditional solidity. Women's protest movements showed highly conservative features, as they affirmed obligations traditionally assigned to them as women and aggressively utilised entrenched stereotypes to tackle social injustice. Black women were not fighting for their personal rights as women but for their rights as mothers. The failure of . mainstream feminism to adequately address the nexus of race, class and gender which renders women's oppression in Third World societies, led to the acceptance of womanism. The latter Stellenbosch University http://scholar.sun.ac.za emerged in the late 1970s, gained momentum in the 1980s, and was closely related to both BC and Black Feminism. It seeks to re-define black women's social status and roles in positive and exclusively black terms, thereby frequently naturalising stereotypical definitions of femininity. Emphasising black women's defiant engagement with white racism, it identifies motherhood and wifehood in political terms. Due to its inclusive approach, however, womanism restrains from elaborating definite theories and political programmes.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die onderdrukking van swart vroue tydens apartheid was op vier interaktiewe kragte gebaseer: ras, klas, geslag en nasionaliteit. Alhoewel dit aan hulle unieke status in die beleidsrigtings van beide feministiese en anti-apartheidsgroepe verleen het, is hulle besondere posisie nooit as sodanig aangespreek nie. Die nasionale vryheidsbeweging het vroue se rol in die stryd in patriargale terme gedefinieer en het nie voor die 1980's geslag as 'n legitieme politieke kwessie erken nie. Daar was geen amptelike beperkings wat vroue se deelname aan nasionale politiek belemmer het nie. Dit was eintlik meer die onvermoë van partye om vroue se sosiale agterstand, wat gespruit het uit hul ondergeskikte regstatus, geografiese isolasie en sosiale marginalisasie, aan te spreek wat vroue verhinder het om op dieselfde vlak as mans deel te neem. Die fokus op vroue as "significant others", as ondersteunende moeders en eggenotes, het grootliks swart vroue se selfpersepsie en politieke bewussyn bepaal. Die opkoms van anti-apartheidsbewegings het gepaard gegaan met die stigting van nuwe vroueorganisasies. Oënskynlik was daar nie sprake van 'n geslagstryd nie aangesien vroueprotes verstrengel was met en nie te onderskei was van ander sosio-politieke kwessies nie. Vroue se verbintenis om hulself uitsluitlik tot die konteks van nasionale bevryding te bepaal is onderstreep met die Swart Bewussynsbeweging wat 'n beroep gedoen het op swartes om hulle psigologiese en fisiese onderdrukking in oënskou te neem en om die krag van selfdefinisie te realiseer. Alhoewel vroue 'n groter assertiewe houding ingeneem het met betrekking tot hulle onderwerping as swartes het hulle die manlike aard van die taal en ideologiese siening van swart bewustheidsbewegings heeltemal geïgnoreer. Swart bewussynskrywers was geneig om die gemeenskapslewe en geslagsverhoudinge te romantiseer en om die werklike dinamika van geslagsverhoudinge tussen swartes te ignoreer. Sodoende het hulle tradisionele hiërargiese strukture versterk. As "honorary men" het vroue wat deel was van die hoogste geledere van die swart bewussynsbewegings hulself as bevry beskou. Feministiese bewegings wat toe in die Westerse wêreld bedrywig was, is deur sowel mans as vroue verwerp. Die toetrede van vroue tot die openbare sfeer van industriële produksie en nasionale politiek het nie noodwendig gelei tot hulle emansipasie nie. Hierdie toetrede is ook nie gemotiveer deur die begeerte om bevry te word van hulle huishoudelike gebondenheid en tradisionele geslagsverhoudinge nie. Dit was 'n reaksie op die wyse waarop apartheid hulle tradisionele bestendigheid verbrokkel het. Vroueprotesbewegings het hoogs konserwatiewe kenmerke getoon in die uitvoering van verpligtinge wat tradisioneel aan hulle as vroue toegewys is en hulle het verskanste stereotipes aggressief aangewend in die wyse waarop sosiale ongeregtigheid aangepak is. Swart vroue het nie vir hulle persoonlike regte as vroue geveg nie, maar vir hulle regte as moeders. Die onvermoë van hoofstroom feminisme om die samehang van ras, klas en geslag, wat die onderdrukking van vroue in Derdewêreldgemeenskappe gevestig het, voldoende aan te spreek het gelei tot die vestiging van "womanism". Laasgenoemde het in die laat 1970's na vore gekom, in die 1980's momentum gekry en was ten nouste verbind met beide Swart Bewussyn en Swart Feminisme. Dit poog om swart vroue se sosiale status en rolle in positiewe en eksklusief swart terme te herdefinieer en daardeur dikwels stereotiepe definisies van vroulikheid te naturaliseer. Terwyl swart vroue se uitdagende betrokkenheid by wit rassisme beklemtoon word, word moederskap en vrouskap in politieke terme geïdentifiseer. Weens die inklusiewe benadering van "womanism" weerhou hulle hulle egter van noukeurig uitgewerkte teorieë en politieke programme.

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