Call me Woman, by Ellen Kuzwayo

Ellen Kuzwayo, Call me Woman

"Cholofelo ga e tlhabise ditlhong."
"There is no shame in hoping."

Ellen Kuzwayo, a black South African woman, was born in 1914 and died in 2006 in South Africa. All her life, she worked and asked for the women of her country (and the men):
Rights for black women equal to those of black men and white women and men,

School for little girls,
Access to any higher education,
Access to any professions,
Decent hygiene, etc...
Raised in the Christian religion, she was a believer and derived her strength from her faith and the words of her grandparents, grandmother and mother. She had a happy childhood, but very traumatic experiences in adulthood, accompanied by happiness too, because she never, ever gave up. Her autobiography, Call Me Woman, was published in 1985 when the main laws of apartheid were still in force and she was 71 years old.

On the one hand, Ellen Kuzwayo explains the history of South Africa, from the African tribes of origin to Apartheid, including Christian missionaries. These mixtures of cultures, or rather these brutal cuts from one world to another, are analyzed by the author with foresight and without any hatred. Each culture has its own flaws and qualities. Ellen would only have liked everyone to take the best of the different cultures. But it never happens.
On the other hand, beyond the history of the country, she presents us the paths of black women, including her own. Because of unfair laws, men went to work in the mines, women remained alone in villages and countryside to support families.
Ellen dedicated her life to the black women of her country. Anonymous women, courageous, abused by the law, by black men themselves, imprisoned for a piece of bread stolen for their children or a demand for equal rights at least equal to those of black men; women imprisoned and abused even at the age of twelve, raped because they dare to create a club to support women, overwhelmed by burdens and work even though they are considered by law to be minors and need the signature of the son who is in their charge to obtain any official paper!

This book is necessary to understand the work that so many black women have done throughout the 20th century in South Africa to live, survive, educate their children in a world ruled by men and apartheid.

I knew very little about South Africa. To be honest, apart from Nelson Mandela, I couldn't have named one single person from this country!
And I'm reading this book, and IT PISSES ME OFF!

Once again, where are the women, in the newspapers, in the history books?
Where are Gladys,
Debra Nikiwe Matshoba,
Phyllis Noluthando Mzaidume,
Matilda Papo,
Joyce Seroke,
Noniah Ramphomane,
Esther Seokelo,
Violet Sibusisiwe,
Winnie Motlalepule Monyatsi,
Minah Tembeka Soga,

Charlotte Manye Maxeke, who said: "You must kill the spirit of the self and not live above others, but with others. As you rise, raise others with you. Get rid of that awful beast lurking inside each of us, jealousy. Kill jealousy, and love your brothers and sisters."
Magdeline Sesedi,
Elisabeth Wolpert,
Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela-Mandela,
Phyllis Noluthando,
Ann Magadzi,
Bertha Maboko…,

All these women and others have set up associations, created companies, built schools!
All these women and others have done everything they could to build a country instead of destroying it!
All these women and others have forged bonds of friendship and mutual aid between women and men instead of cracks of hatred!
Where are their names mentioned, but in few books written by other women and rather confidential?

"I will say it again and again throughout this book, the black woman has suffered from double discrimination for too long, as a woman and as a Black." But these women are resourceful in front of adversity. "Those who were considered by law to be minors turned out to be valiant heroines who fought against all odds for the love of their people."

This book is the book of a heroine: Ellen Kuzwayo, who survived an abusive husband, the separation from her first two sons when they were young, the house arrest of her son far away from her, her own imprisonment without motive or judgment; a woman who saw her black sisters suffer the worst treatments. Despite everything, Ellen has always kept an incredible hope; she has never let herself be overwhelmed by discouragement or hatred.

"Itsose Moea Wa Wa Me." "Awaken my soul." That's what Ellen Kuzwayo’s Call me Woman did to me.

"Awaken my soul." That's what Ellen Kuzwayo’s book did to me.

Gabrielle Dubois

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