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Cry Amandla!: South African women and the question of power.

We have only to read Cry Amandla! to see that this statement does not hold up, at least not for women fighting an intense battle for liberation in South Africa. June Goodwin, an American journalist who has spent much time in South Africa over the past eight years, sets about interviewing South African women, both white and black; she finds that in the struggle against apartheid, there is little talk about feminism. Instead the women discuss, from a wide range of ideological perspectives, their role in South Africa's civil war.

Cry Amandla! doesn't begin to match the intelligence or rigor of its best predecessor, Women and resistance in South Africa, by the historian from that country Cheryl Walker. That book examined the women's struggle under apartheid through South African history but also looked at its failures, and at how it might progress. Godwin, on the other hand, has failed to place her material in a historical context that would illuminate her subjects' politics. And her blind faith in her readers' ability to distinguish racist banality from intelligent insight has led her to present, without footnotes or explanation, such naively racist statements as, "Blacks are born with gonorrhea and syphilis. Do you realize how serious the problem is?" (a quote from Freda van Rooyan, founder of the liberal Afrikaner women's organization, Kontak).

Goodwin also falls into a trap common to non-South African writers on the political situation there: she separates Afrikaners from the rest of white society in a way that no longer reflects political reality. Afrikaner revolutionaries linger in jail (the poet Breyten Breytenbach, for example, ended his seven-year sentence recently), while English-speakers vote for the ruling Afrikaner Nationalist Party in greater numbers.

In an attempt to compensate for her lack of historical knowledge, Goodwin has chosen one woman to guide her through South African politics. Her friend Thenjie Mtintso is used as a touchstone for her interviews with other women, highlighting some of the racism of conservatives as well as the uneasy radicalism of white activists. At the beginning of the book, Thenjie is presented as a friend of Steve Biko, the Black Consciousness Movement leader who died at the hands of security police in September 1977. She becomes increasingly involved in clandestine organizing, seeing herself as continuing the work Biko left off. "I learned from Steve to be a surivivalist," she says.

Late, Goodwin visits her in prison, then in Lesotho, where Thenjie and her young son Lumumba have fled. By then, she has switched allegiances from the Black Consciousness Movement to the African National Congress-a political route taken by many South African activists in exile in the 1970s.

Thenjie's story does illuminate recent events, but there is a temptation to see her as the prototypal black activist. The experience of women who have reorganized inside South Africa since the countrywide riots in 1976 has been very different. Unfortunately, Goodwin does not examine the massive rise in grass-roots organizing over the last few years, nor does she discuss the United Women's Organization, founded in 1981,which has given black and white left-wing women a new opportunity for joint activism.

There is little overtly feminist content in Goodwin's book, and one comes away from Cry Amandla! realizing that for women in South Africa at least, national struggles still hold priority over feminist demands. Tenjiwe unwittingly sums this up when she tells Goodwin early on in the book, "It never occurs to me that I am being oppressed by any black man."
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Author:Walt, Vivienne
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 2, 1985
Words:582
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