CRITICAL FOUNDATIONS: MAPPING THE INVENTION OF WOMEN
- Background to the Study
The need for a socio-cultural re-definition is the essence of the post- apartheid struggle. In the case of the black South African woman, the privileging of voice becomes an opening for women whose voices have been unheard, marginalised and silenced. They were not able to speak of their failure as mothers to protect their own children against police harassment and the ravages of poverty. It was women as single parents and grandmothers who effectively headed households when fathers were unwilling or unable to take up the responsibility. Indeed, this was the spirit that the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission hoped to impart to the nation; an obseravtion that resonates well with Fiona Ross when he argues that “the world is knowable only through words and that to have no voice is to be language-less, unable to communicate” (22).
Writing in the new democracy has its unique qualites and new challenges.
The historical changes in the new political dispensation make it necessary for women to redefine and renegotiate their relationship with the state, their men-folk and with one another. In particular, a new socio-economic divide has arisen out of the states‟ inability to provide basic rights such as clean water, sanitation, health- care, free education and affordable and safe housing for all. Many, many blacks remain unable to access a better lifestyle and are forced to endure the
consequences of the cycle of poverty. Some have argued that apartheid has evolved from “race” to “class” (22). Women who cannot speak out are seen as disempowered, unable to act and to effect change. Silence can be associated with powerlessness.
Women are thus positioned as a „muted‟ group. The silence of women is the absence of women‟s voices and their concerns from literature. This concurs with Kabeer‟s observation that the search for empowerment has thus become a search for women‟s voices and particularly so when women speak out against patriarchal authority.
This silencing occurred in patriarchal societies where the interests of women are rarely taken into account rendering the circumstances of black women‟s lives as non-existent from mainstream literature. But this silence continues to be ominously present in the literature made available in schools and universities. As South African Universities are confronted by the difficulty of transforming their literature, the reality of the polarized society displays not just racial categories but also the uneven access and exclusion from educational
institutions of the category „black women‟s writing‟. To this end, Brenda Nicholls concludes that “the challenge consists … in instituting a Literature which ensures that Apartheid‟s severities do not continue to have a final say” (18). For black feminist critics, the implications point to not only the invisibility of the literature but furthermore the potential misinterpretation of their writings, denying all black women a voice and an expressed worldview communicated on their terms.
In the South African literary context, the battle to achieve a voice is the singular challenge for black women. One of the subsidiary concerns of this study will be to give evidence that on a thematic and ideological level, they have a distinct contribution to make to the literary tradition. This study will give attention to overlooked and distorted experiences of women in the dominantly
„white‟ world – which denies a non-white reality – and the black male world that is incapable – for a variety of reasons – of hearing their narrative. In this respect, it seeks to challenge and expose the cultural norm of how women are supposed to think, feel and act and the distinction provided by black women writers such as Farida Karodia when expressing their thoughts and feelings. The concerns of this study include the submission that when we fail to listen to and for voices, we, as Gilligan points out, “become wedded to what within ourselves we know is a false story” about our social worlds” (59).