Young Women against Apartheid: Gender, Youth and South Africa’s Liberation Struggle

Emily Bridger
University of Exeter

On a night in 1983, the apartheid police came knocking on the door of a family home in the township of Soweto, located just outside Johannesburg. They were looking for ‘Vicky’ – a seventeen-year-old school student who, according to their informant, was involved in local anti-apartheid politics in the area. They found Vicky asleep in the bedroom she shared with her sisters and drove her to the local police station along with the six young male activists they had also rounded up that night.

Upon arriving at the station, Vicky was relieved. Her father, a local township policeman, was on duty. Surely he would release her, she thought. Yet instead, he was furious to see his daughter amongst the night’s catch of young political troublemakers. To him, her transgression was two-fold: first, in participating in the liberation struggle she was defying apartheid laws and threatening the hegemony of the apartheid state; and second, she had done this as a girl. ‘What’s wrong with you?’ He shouted at her. ‘Why don’t I get your brothers here? I only get you here, hey? You are a woman! How can you do this?’

This belief that girls and young women had no place in South Africa’s liberation struggle was held by many in Soweto at this time. And, in the almost four decades since, the presumption that political militarism was a male prerogative has led historians to paint the final, turbulent years of the country’s anti-apartheid struggle as a male-dominated affair in which girls and young women appear only as marginalised bystanders or victims of male-instigated violence. Since the mid-1970s, the struggle had been increasingly led by the country’s black male youth – children and students who became the vanguards and shock-troops of the anti-apartheid movement. As township politics grew increasingly confrontational during the 1980s, with renewed political resistance met by the state’s increased militarisation, girls and young women were thought to have been largely excluded from township politics.  

Yet from 2013 to 2016 I met and interviewed dozens of women in Soweto who, like Vicky, had put their lives on the line to fight against apartheid while still teenagers and school students. Alongside young men, they had protested in the streets, picked up stones to throw at police vehicles, launched petrol bombs at enemy targets, and been detained, interrogated, and tortured by the apartheid state. Yet unlike young men, these young women had fought a battle on two fronts: against both the white supremacy of apartheid and local gender norms which confined them to the home, made them vulnerable to overlapping forms of personal and criminal violence, and stigmatised their political militarism.

It is these girls’ stories that Young Women against Apartheid seeks to tell. Based on three years of oral history and archival research, it explores what life was like for African girls under apartheid, why some chose to join the liberation struggle, and how they navigated the benefits and dangers that political activism posed. At the heart of the book lies the life histories of these women themselves. Now in their forties and fifties, most were eager to share their past experiences, repudiating arguments of young women’s absence from political activism during these years and constructing themselves as decisive actors in South Africa’s liberation struggle. Continue reading “Young Women against Apartheid: Gender, Youth and South Africa’s Liberation Struggle”

Youth against Empire

Insurgent Youth

Cross-posted from Comparative Studies in Society and History

STACEY HYND
Small Warriors? Children and Youth in Colonial Insurgencies and Counterinsurgency, ca. 1945–1960

MYLES OSBORNE
“Mau Mau are Angels … Sent by Haile Selassie”: A Kenyan War in Jamaica

Sometimes CSSH articles fit together remarkably well. One would almost think they were written to each other, like intellectual greeting cards, or the correspondence of old friends. Such is the case with two recent essays by Stacey Hynd (62/4: 684-713) and Myles Osborne (62/4: 714-744). Here’s how our editors characterized them:

INSURGENT YOUTH  The ranks of insurgencies are mostly filled by the young. The youth take to the streets and barricades more readily than do the aged, the propertied, and the established. Insurgencies depend on youth not only for their energy and hope, but also for the ways “youth” indexes the future, and presents a visage of innocence that seems relatively untainted by the stains and debris of historical wrongs. Yet insurgency can also be forced upon the young, even onto the fragile shoulders of children. The sources, networks, and reasons for recruitment are too often less than clear.

In “Small Warriors? Children and Youth in Colonial Insurgencies and Counterinsurgency, ca. 1946–1960,” Stacey Hynd explores how young insurgents are recruited and mobilized. Comparing Kenya and Cyprus in the 1940s and 1950s, Hynd shows that while some youth were coerced into armed rebellions, others joined of their own will. Teenaged warriors brought needed numbers but were especially valued for the ways they symbolized innocence and hope, helping to catalyze broader support for the movement.

Myles Osborne’s contribution also leads us to Kenya. In “‘Mau Mau Are Angels … Sent by Haile Selassie’: A Kenyan War in Jamaica,” Osborne examines the impact of Kenya’s Mau Mau uprising as the news of it circulated in Jamaica during the 1950s. The Mau Mau insurgency inspired Rastafari and other young and mostly poor Jamaicans, who saw it as a form of pan-Africanism much like Marcus Garvey’s. This version of Black Power in the Caribbean reveals intellectual frameworks developed by subaltern youth, and transnational circuits of pan-Africanism that formed even without direct contact or diffusion.

CSSH: We enjoyed reading your papers together. The overlaps in approach give incredible richness to the local insurgencies and global cultures of resistance you describe. Even more pleasant was learning that the close fit was as uncanny for you as it was for us. It wasn’t exactly a coincidence, but it’s fair to say you didn’t see it coming! Continue reading “Youth against Empire”

Researching Revolutions: A Staff-Student Collaborative Project

Reflections on Researching and Teaching a History of the French Empire: A Staff-Student Collaborative Project at the University of Exeter 

This multi-authored blog post details a collaborative project run by Dr Alex Fairfax-Cholmeley since January 2020. Seven History students at the University of Exeter (single and combined honours) were selected to work as Project Advisors alongside Alex as he researched and wrote a journal article on connections between the revolutions in France and the French colony of  Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) during the 1790s. Alex and the Project Advisors have also developed a series of teaching resources linked to the journal article. These will be made publicly available once the article has been published. The Project Advisors are Isaac Avery, Nick Collins, Ella Kennedy, Lizzie Laurence, Eleanor Lionel, Jessica Lloyd and Arlen Veysey. 

The French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) in the Caribbean, here outlined in green, was a plantation economy that became the world centre of sugar production in the eighteenth century. The sugar (and other products including coffee and indigo) was produced by the ruthless exploitation of the colony’s slave population. Detail from Guillaume Delisle, Carte de l’isle de Saint Domingue (1725) (source: gallica.bnf.fr/BnF)

Project overview 

Ella Kennedy writes: I applied to be a Project Advisor because this area of history really interested me. The project is centred around the idea of a ‘Dual Revolution’: the symbiotic influences of the infamous French Revolution and the Saint-Domingue slave revolution across the Atlantic (which is not so engrained in the public historical consciousness). The application process also declared an interest in making academic research more accessible for students. For me personally, the social foundations of this historical research were engaging. Alex’s work uses the proliferating French pamphlet culture during the mid-1790s as evidence for competing domestic French discourses about revolutionary events in Saint-Domingue, as well as underlying issues such as slavery. The project’s transatlantic approach helps explore a number of themes, including changing values within French Revolutionary society, public engagement with and education about revolutionary events (both in France and in Saint-Domingue), and the impact of empire on the issue of equality within France.

Inevitably, the project’s focus did evolve. For example, the original and expansive timeframe that we had intended to focus on (covering much of the 1790s) has narrowed, and a month from the middle of the period (Fructidor Year II in the French Revolutionary calendar, or August/September 1794) became more prominent. However, the educational purpose of the project has prevailed, with the group producing a set of learning resources to accompany the article for student readers. Hopefully, these resources will help to guide undergraduate students through the complexities of understanding the primary source material on which it is based (via worksheets with translated pamphlet extracts) and the dual historical contexts (via a timeline and biographies of key historical actors). These resources are intended to equip student readers with the tools necessary to tackle this and similar articles. Continue reading “Researching Revolutions: A Staff-Student Collaborative Project”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From African Americans and the fate of Haiti to how Bridgerton erased Haiti, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Mob that burned down the offices of the Wilmington Daily Record. Getty Images.

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From life in the shadow of Cecil Rhodes to digitizing the Nuremberg trials, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

Spring Term @ExeterCIGH Seminar Schedule

The Spring Term is now upon us, and so please find the Centre for Imperial and Global History seminar schedule below for your calendars.

Please direct any inquiries about attending to the seminar convenor, Dr Lyubi Spaskovska.

Date and Location (Term 2) Speaker Paper Title
20th January 2021 (Week 2), 17:00h

 

CIGH-CMHS joint event

John Siblon (Birkbeck)

Commemoration as imperial hierarchy: The memorialization of African, Asian and Caribbean seamen after the First World War
3rd February 2021 (Week 4), 15:30h Cyrus Schayegh (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies,

Geneva)

The Middle East in the world: a modern history in documents

 

24th February 2021 (Week 7), 15:30h Kama Maclean (Heidelberg University) Coercive Institutions and the crisis of collaboration in late colonial India

 

3rd March 2021 (Week 8), 17:00h CIGH-CMHS joint event

Anyaa Anim-Addo (University of Leeds)

“Miss Jenny” in port: leisure and labour mobilities in the post-slavery Caribbean
17th March 2021 (Week 10), 15:30h

 

Joint event with Violence

Sarah Dunstan (Queen Mary University, London)

Race, Rights and Reform: Black Activism in the French Empire and the United States from World War I to Cold War

 

24th March 2021 (Week 11), 17:00h

 

Gajendra Singh in conversation with Neilesh Bose (University of Victoria) South Asian Migrations in Global History

 

 

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Villagers in fancy dress during a New Year’s​ carnival.. Moldova. Undated (1950s-1970s). Photo by Zaharia Cusnir. Recovered by Victor Galusca in 2016.

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From remembering India’s first rock band to Ireland coming to terms with its imperial past, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

A Black History Resource Guide: steps towards decolonising the library

Annie Price and Nandini Chatterjee
University of Exeter

Annie Price is Common Ground Project Archivist, Special Collections, University of Exeter, and Nandini Chatterjee is Associate Professor in History, also at Exeter, and co-Chair of the History Decolonising Working Group. They chatted about the valuable new Special Collections resource, a Black History Resource Guide, which Annie has created.

Nandini: Hello Annie, thank you so much for agreeing to talk to me about Decolonising the library and archives and your engagement with it. Will you please tell me a bit about yourself – your education and your work?

Annie: Hello! It’s a pleasure, thank you very much for inviting me to talk with you. I’m Annie and I currently work as a project archivist at the University of Exeter Special Collections, which is part of the University Library. I didn’t always want to be an archivist or even know what an archivist was! History was the subject I most enjoyed at school, so I studied for a degree in History and German at the University of Liverpool. I became interested in the heritage sector and, following graduation, I volunteered and worked in several archive repositories and museums in England and Germany, gaining valuable experience in caring for archives as well as engaging with the public. I then returned to the University of Liverpool to qualify as an archivist, graduating with an MA in Archives and Records Management.

Since joining the small and friendly team at the University of Exeter Special Collections, I have worked on projects to catalogue the Syon Abbey archive and the Common Ground archive. My main responsibility as a project archivist is to arrange, repackage, and describe the different components of an archive. This is done by creating a hierarchical structure of sections, series, files, and items that provides contextual information about how the records were originally used. Each component is given a unique reference number and the descriptions are added to a database. Users can then search the database via an online catalogue to identify material of interest and request to view it in our reading room. I would just like to emphasise here that archives are available to everyone, and can be used as much for academic study as for general interest or pleasure.

In addition to cataloguing, I like to find other ways to enable access to archives – the essence, really, of what I think being an archivist is all about – including through giving talks, managing the University of Exeter Heritage Collections Twitter account (@UoEHeritageColl), and creating online guides to our collections.

Nandini: This brings us nicely to the Black History Resource Guide, which you have created this year. What led you to prepare this guide? Continue reading “A Black History Resource Guide: steps towards decolonising the library”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Black Lives Matter demonstration in London, June 7, 2020 (Steve Eason, Flickr)

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From the single most important object in the global economy to crafting a global message of anti-racism, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Bretton Woods Conference, July 1944. Image source: UN photo

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From Bretton Woods 2.0 to revisiting the Zong Massacre, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Knole House, home of the Sackville-Wests. Photograph: IR_Stone/Getty Images.

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter

From Belgium’s reckoning with its brutal colonial past to Novia Scotia’s lobster wars, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

A Dutch Netflix Postcolonial Horror Story

Dominic Alessio, Yaffa Caswell, Charlie Klucker, Yeats McDonald, and Emma Nourry
Richmond, the American International University of London

Please note: this article is a co-production with undergraduate history and film students at Richmond, the American International University of London. It was written in a time of COVID as an experiment in alternate assessment forms when regular classes and seminars were not always an option. It was also a useful way for students to apply the lessons of theory and history to the present.

Please also note that there are spoilers below.

In 2020 Netflix produced Ares (directors Giancarlo Sanchez & Michiel ten Horn), its first Dutch horror series. The eight episodes in the series deal with the story of Rosa (Jade Olieberg), an Amsterdam university student of mixed ethnicity and working-class/lower middle-class background, who is invited to join a wealthy and powerful secret society called Ares. Apart from Rosa the other members of Ares appear entirely European and extremely rich and well-connected.

The secret fraternity Ares can be read as a metaphor for how white Dutch society continues to clandestinely benefit economically, politically, and socially from the country’s history of colonialism and slavery. We also believe that the Netflix production was especially prescient given that 2020 was also the year of the year of Black Lives Matter and that this series followed upon growing calls for the Netherlands to address various postcolonial lacunae in its academic curriculum, namely: its need to address the atrocities committed during the heyday of its imperial rule (Doolan 2016); its late and shameful late abolition of the institution of slavery in 1863; and the fact that the country had “failed to acknowledge the continuing influence of its colonial legacies” (Pattynama 2012: 176). Continue reading “A Dutch Netflix Postcolonial Horror Story”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

“A new Map of the whole World, by H. Moll. [In hemispheres, on the stereographic projection]” – British Library shelfmark: Maps K.Top.4.25.

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter

From the threat of academic authoritarianism to when Louis Armstrong stopped a civil war in the Congo, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

Has the Clash of Civilizations Thesis Influenced America’s War on Terror?

Gregorio Bettiza
University of Exeter

Cross-posted from the Religion and IR Blog

Samuel Huntington’s theory that post-Cold War world politics would be defined by the “clash of civilizations” has generated much debate in scholarly and policy circles since it first appeared on the pages of Foreign Affairs in 1993. One of the main controversies has revolved around the extent to which Huntington’s (in)famous thesis would come to shape America’s foreign policy and its War on Terror since the attacks of September 11, 2001 (9/11).

Some like Paul Avey and Michael Desch have suggested in a 2014 International Studies Quarterly article that Huntington’s ideas have had scarce purchase among US national security policymakers and, by implication, little impact on American foreign policy. Through the use of surveys, Avey and Desch found that across a range of theories which policymakers where most familiar with, Huntington’s clash of civilizations was the one they exhibited the greatest skepticism towards and influenced their work the least. (Other theories policymakers were surveyed on included: democratic peace theory, mutual assured destruction, population centric COIN, structural realism, expected utility.)

Others, especially critical scholars often drawing on Edward Said’s concept of orientalism, have tended to reach dramatically different conclusions. Within this scholarship the clash of civilizations is generally understood as a shared discourse that percolates across all levels of American society, from Hollywood productions to the corridors of power in Washington DC, consistently categorizing Islam and Muslims as the new post-Cold War ‘other’. The War on Terror is then understood as an enactment of these discourses on the world political stage. Continue reading “Has the Clash of Civilizations Thesis Influenced America’s War on Terror?”