Married to the Struggle: For better or worse Wives of Indian anti-apartheid activists in Natal: The untold narratives.11 December 2014
The role and contributions of women in war, and anti-colonial and nationalistic struggles have become the subject of intense research and analysis over the past two decades. In South Africa, the nationalistic struggle against the apartheid regime was a collective effort by men and women. Yet, to a very large extent, anti-apartheid discourses are male centred, focusing on well-known heroes of the struggle, their life in exile and their contributions. Women’s activism is still at the periphery of nationalistic discourses; the impact of the struggle on the wives of political activists is even less visible. This article examines the daily survival and experiences of the wives of political activists in the anti-apartheid struggle who resided in Natal between the 1950s and 1980s, at the height of the anti-apartheid movement. Wives bore the heaviest burdens of the struggle, in the context of social ostracism, depression, stigmatisation, financial hardships, and violations of their human rights and coping with an “absentee husband”. In this article I argue that the perennial absence of their spouses from the home and women’s lives had multiple effects on families, and that family dynamics and gender relations were negotiated and re-structured. Regional socio-economic and political conditions shaped women’s personal and political identities. New theoretical frameworks emerging from this article will add to the regional histories of the nationalistic movement in South Africa in the context of gender roles and family dynamics.