Five books about exceptional South African women you need to read

August 9 is Women’s Day in South Africa, and we commemorate the anti-apartheid activists who marched on the Union Buildings and burned their pass books. However, even the bravest, strongest women have been relegated to the background compared to their male counterparts. So in honour of the women of the struggle, The Daily Vox team rounds up five books to read this Women’s Day.

1. “Fatima Meer: Memories of Love and Struggle” – Fatima Meer
“Memories of Love and Struggle” is Fatima Meer’s memoir that begins with her entry into activism at 17. It is filled with interesting experiences and memories that shaped Meer into the person she was. In one incident, she and other ‘non-European’ students organised against the racist practices they encountered at university. There’s is something powerful about how Meer and others stood firm when demanding their rights: when the university refused to desegregate the graduation ceremony, they boycotted the event. From standing up to racism to surviving attempts on her life, Meer’s memoir is a reflection on all the things she achieved, and the things she felt were left unfinished.

2. “Walter & Albertina Sisulu” – Elinor Sisulu
While this book is not only about Albertina Sisulu, it highlights the important role she played in the struggle. During apartheid, Walter Sisulu was sentenced to life imprisonment along with Nelson Mandela. While he was in jail, Albertina Sisulu managed to continue the fight underground against the government. She was a part of the group of women who marched to the Union Buildings on August 9 1956. She also led delegations to the United Kingdom to address anti-apartheid rallies and to meet British political leaders. The book also highlights the love story between these two great struggle heroes who were separated for much of their married life and yet managed to remain strong.

3. “Strike a Woman, Strike a Rock: Fighting for Freedom in South Africa” – Barbara Hutmacher MacLean
Hutmacher Maclean, an American journalist who came to work in South Africa, wrote this book as a tribute to the women who were involved in the struggle. She reveals the courage and determination these women faced as they opposed the oppressive apartheid regime. She spoke to women around the country: women in Parliament; those who spoke at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; others in provincial government; a women’s self-help housing project; and women in a township school. They spoke to her about their the past, the violent years leading to change, their roles in the new government, and their hopes for the future. Maclean compiled their accounts of apartheid and the transition towards democracy to illustrate their important role in the struggle.

4. “Winnie Mandela: A Life” – Anna Maria du Preez Bezdrob
While it doesn’t contain Winnie Mandela’s own words, this biography delves into the life of Mama Winnie behind the public image which has been crafted over her lifetime. It traces Mandela’s life from childhood to her entry into activism. Winnie Mandela was and is a significant part of South African history and it would be a shame not to learn more about her. Du Preez Bezdrob says in the book: “Winnie [is counted among] the millions of nameless women who choose to confront oppression and injustice when it is safer to turn and look the other way.”

5. “Makeba: The Miriam Makeba Story” – Miriam Makeba in conversation with Nomsa Mwamuka
Miriam Makeba might have enchanted South African audiences with her soulful voice but the global singing icon was also intimately involved in the struggle. In 1963, she spoke out against the apartheid government at the United Nations. Mama Africa, as she was affectionately known was also involved in the civil rights movement in America. This autobiography is a true celebration of Makeba’s life and activism.

Featured image via Flickr