I was active as a student and community activist in Durban in the 1970s. My emerging political identity and consciousness were influenced and inspired by the black consciousness movement in South Africa and by ideas emanating from the civil rights and student movements of the USA and Europe. Towards the late 1970s I became a conscious feminist – influenced by third world women’s struggles within national liberation movements and by the women’s liberation movement in the UK. In particular the issues and activism of black women in the UK and USA were important in shaping my ideas as a feminist.
As part of my involvement as a community activist in Durban from 1978 to around 1982 I facilitated the organisation of grassroots women’s organisations within broader housing struggles. It was from this location that I became involved in the Durban Women’s Group and went on to co-found the magazine SPEAK in 1982.
We started SPEAK as a newsletter for grassroots women to share with each other their life experiences and their achievements in organising and taking up their concerns. Ours was a feminist agenda – that is an agenda informed by an understanding of the structural causes of women’s subordination and fired by a determination to eradicate women’s subordination. We were concerned to make sure that women and their concerns were part of the broader community and trade union organising initiatives unfolding in South Africa at the time.
As organisation grew in the country so did our newsletter. More and more organised groups were interested in receiving copies of the newsletter and in contributing their experiences. The newsletter grew into a national magazine with distribution mainly through trade unions and community groups. SPEAK magazine through its content was able to raise key issues of concern to women – such as violence against women, the unfair workload resulting from women’s reproductive roles in the home, sexual harassment, the subordinate position of women in trade unions, the specific experiences of women workers given systems of gender oppression and exploitation, women’s struggles within community organisations. In each magazine we included a section on women’s health with a key focus on reproductive health. Later issues of the magazine dealt with women and HIV/AIDS as a regular feature. In 1994 we published the last issue of SPEAK magazine and the magazine came to an end mainly due to the movement of key SPEAK staff into other media opportunities that had opened up. However in 1997 we published a book which brought together key articles from the pages of the magazine together with updated assessments of key sectors – the book is entitled ‘Women SPEAK – reflections of our struggles 1982-1997’.
In 1978 I was involved in co-founding Agenda, a journal about women and gender. Our aim with agenda was to make sure that women and feminist concerns entered the political debates of the time. Agenda continues to be published and raises key debate and discussion of relevance in the present context.
Since 1994 I have been working as a freelancer – attempting to bring feminist thinking and activism to development concerns. My work has involved training, research and writing. The publications I have been involved in are listed below:
The African Gender Institute/ Gender Studies section
Harry Oppenheimer Institute Building
Level 2 & 4
University of Cape Town
Tel: +27 21 650 2970
Fax: +27 21 650 4840