Songs and Stories to Celebrate the Launch of Being a Woman in Cape Town Over the Women’s Day Weekend
The Artscape Theatre foyer was alive with strains of song and story on the eve of the Women’s Day long weekend as women of Cape Town gathered to celebrate a remarkable new book that was, quite literally, hot off the press. A framed copy of Being a Woman in Cape Town: Telling Your Story edited by Nancy Richards and Carol du Toit was presented to Richards at the event. The well-known radio journalist brought about the formation of Woman Zone, an NPO working to connect the women of Cape Town, three years ago. Now this has lead to the publication of this book, a collection of first-person narratives by 13 local women. The aim of the organisation is to allow women to share their stories, and this book is a wonderful artifact of this.
The event took place at the Women’s Library – the first of it’s kind in the city – and formed an exciting part of the Artscape Women’s Humanity Arts Festival. Richards’ vision for Woman Zone, bringing women together to share their personal stories in order to understand one another, was realised at the launch. Many who participated in the making of this book celebrated the healing power of narrative, made concrete on the beautiful pages of the book.
The book features the lives of 13 Capetonian women: Sandra Hill, Muizenberg; Asanda Msuthu, Nyanga; Hilda Mtshazi, Khayelitsha; Lucinda Evans, Lavender Hill; Maura Sanderfoff, Claremont; Bronwyn Heyns, Manenberg; Elise Fernandez, Woodstock; Philippa Kabali-Kagwa: Plattekloof; Zaitoon Rabaney, Wynberg; Sylvia Gangat, Summergreens/District Six; Christy Wheeler, Rondebosch; and Vuyiseka Dubula, Ottery.
The event began with an introduction by Artscape Theatre’s CEO, Marian Jacobs. She spoke of the women leaders present in the audience who had shaped her life, influenced her thinking, burped her colicky babies and inspired her with their own narratives of courage and determination.
She welcomed to the event Mary Burton, founder of the Black Sash. Her book, The Black Sash: Women for Justice and Peace, was launched the day before. Jacobs shared a hilarious account of how she met Burton, while standing in her bra and panties in a gym change room. She also made special mention of that veteran activist and writer, Sindiwe Magona.
“So many women make major impressions in the world, but they keep their feet on the ground,” Jacobs said. She then told the audience how one of South Africa’s great female leaders helped her look after her baby: “Mamphela Ramphela was the one who explained that my baby had colic and she jiggled my child to sleep!”
In the same way, she praised Marina Petropoulos, who also came to her aid as a new mum. “Despite the fact that I was a paediatrician, I knew nothing about babies. I called Marina. She coached me through breastfeeding and motherhood.”
Ramphela then took her place at the microphone. She spoke about the March to Parliament in 1956, and asked, “What will we, as African women, contribute to a global movement? We can say, ‘We are the majority. Our voice is strong.’ We have so much to contribute because certain strengths, values and characteristics only we can bring to a social relationship.”
“Why aren’t we leveraging this power?” Ramphela continued, “Imagine if we were to bring the power of our voices as poets, writers, cleaners, professors. Imagine if we did this across the generations, looking forward too.” She thanked the organisers for creating this space where women could claim their power and exercise their voices in the text of the book.
Richards then spoke about Woman Zone, reflecting on how part of the work of the organisation was to reduce the gaps and divisions in the city by bringing people together to share their stories. Richards had the pleasure of introducing Magona, and said that her book Mother to Mother had been a powerful inspiration in her own life.
Addressing the many storytellers in the room, Magona said: “It takes courage to tell your story because sometimes you talk about things you’d rather hide. It takes a lot of courage to open your heart. But since you’ve started, don’t stop. You could be addicted to worse things than writing!”
Magona reflected on the importance of leaving the world in a better state than we inherited it, and challenged women to step up to the plate in this respect. “Now, we have a brand new country. What are we doing about it as women? We stand on the shoulders of those who marched in 1956. We aren’t being asked to march now, but there are still issues needing to be addressed. There are no longer passes to carry but there are other kinds of oppression.”
She recalled an exchange in a queue at the Department of Home Affairs while applying for the reissue of her stolen documents. “A young lady sitting next to me from Langa got fed up. Eventually she said to me in a fury, ‘At first we were oppressed by white people. Now we are oppressed by people who look just like us.’ We all have a big lesson to learn as South Africans: evil is not colour-coded.”
Richards expressed her gratitude for each contributor who had given their work to the project so generously. “Not a cent changed hands in the making of this book,” she said. The evening’s speaking wrapped up with a couple of Cape Town writers reading extracts of their work.
Pat Fahrenfort read from Spanner in the Works, Maria Phalime read from Postmortem: The Doctor Who Walked Away. Zimkhitha Mlanzeli read from Blood Ties. Patricia Schonstein read from her novel, Skyline. Linda Fortune read from her memoir, The House in Tyne Street: Childhood Memories of District Six. Liesl Jobson read from Ride the Tortoise
In addition to the 13 original stories, Being a Woman in Cape Town includes extracts by published women authors are or once were residents in Cape Town, or who mention of Cape Town in their writing. Co-editor Du Toit said, “We were very lucky to find UCT student, Robyn Ausmeier, who undertook the bulk of the research and was tasked with acquiring permissions.” Included extracts come from the works of Antjie Krog, Eliza M, Fagmiejah Jansen, Finuala Dowling, Gabeba Baderoon, Ingrid Jonker, Jane Raphaely, Maria van Riebeeck, Judy Kibinge, Lady Ann Barnard, Liesl Jobson, Lin Sampson, Linda Fortune, Malika Ndlovu, Mamphela Rampele, Marcella Naidoo, Margie Orford, Michelle Rowe, Nadia Davids, Naz Gool-Ebrahim, Nomvuyo Ngcelwane, Olive Schreiner, Olivia Gordon, Rayda Jacobs, Rhoda Kadalie, Rosemund Handler, Tracey Farren, Sindiwe Magona, Zoe Wicomb, Zubeida Jaffer and Zukisa Wanner.
The final item on the programme was the appearance of Verah the Voice, beautiful in bright pink. Her powerful voice made the songs she sang haunting, and all present were touched by their tender loveliness.
The book is available in bookstores and other outlets, at a recommended retail price of R250. For sales, contact Xavier Nagel Agencies at 021 447 1225 or visit the website, www.xaviernagelagencies.co.za.
For more information on the book, contact Woman Zone at firstname.lastname@example.org
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- Being a Woman in Cape Town: Telling Your Story edited by Nancy Richards and Carol du Toit
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