From the Archive | Malibongwe

Originally published in exile in 1981, this collection of women’s poems from the ANC camps give back a voice to those erased or obscured in struggle narratives.

Lindiwe Mabuza (Sono Molefe) championed the Malibongwe book project, in which hand-written submissions were collected in the late 1970s from ANC offices and camps in exile. In 1981, 2 000 English-language copies were printed in Sweden and distributed by ANC officials around the world. Decades later, the book had gone out of print and few women struggle voices remained in circulation and publication. Malibongwe (Uhlanga Press, 2020) remedies that, republishing the full anthology and repatriating South African culture from exile. 

Women arise

By Alice Tsongo 

Women of our land arose 
heard call of distant drums 
summoning to unity 
to war oppressive laws 

1913 call 
vibrated from eardrum to ear 
they arose those warrior-women
and marched into the “Free State”… 
eyes blazing they hammered forward 
their path, and racists quivered. 
The women blazed nearer and 
forcing the final cowards 
to burn that violent law 
their special restrictive permits of paper 
that arrested human movement. 

Forty years later 
we were there 
holding the fort… fiercely again, women 
Lilian and Helen 
who followed Charlotte Maxeke 
leading our women to apex: August fifty-six 

Women arose 
thoughts bathed in sweat they marched 
twos and threes of colours 
coming, coming 
torrents of defiance 
to the very contaminated steps of Pretoria’s Union Buildings 
they marched 

Petitions submitted 
Strydom re-whitened 
looked, then preferred to hide… 
taught his secretary lies… “Out on business!” 

Bravery kept vigil 
night transforming to triumph 
how did their beings know 
police dogs were watching, waiting 
for the slightest move to jump 
against that victory! 
Mothers can march to battle! 
Women of africa, arise! 


• “Lilian” refers to Lilian Ngoyi. Born in 1911 to a mine worker, she was a leading member of the Garment Workers’ Union, one of the key volunteers during the ANC-lead Defiance Campaign Against Unjust Laws of 1952. By the time of her untimely death, 12 March 1980, Ngoyi was the president of the Federation of South African Women and president of the African National Congress Women’s League. In 1954, she was the prime mover, leading 20 000 women of all races to confront the Prime Minister Strydom in protest against passes. Known and most beloved internationally, tributes flowed in from all parts of the world, paying respect to the great heroine of our struggle, Lilian Masediba Ngoyi. 

• “Helen” refers to Helen Joseph. Still dangerous to the regime when she turned 75 on 8 April 1980, she remained a source of inspiration to freedom fighters. She was the first person ever to be placed under house arrest by the fascist regime, and was banned and jailed innumerable times. 

• Charlotte Maxeke was a founding member of the African National Congress on 8 January 1912 at Mangaung (Bloemfontein), and the first woman member of the ANC National Executive Committee. She was the main organiser and leader of the 1913 Anti-Pass Campaign. 

Undated: In the late 1970s, women members of Umkhonto we Sizwe in the camps in exile contributed hand-written submissions to Lindiwe Mabuza’s Malibongwe collection. (Photographs via Twitter @MinAyandaDlodlo)

Militant beauty

By Gloria Mtungwa 

Fragility, flimsy womanhood 
flowers on her birthdays 
luxurious apartments and flashy cars 
have never been her aspiration 

Distorted women’s lib 
refusing to mother kids 
and provide family comfort 
harassing a tired enslaved dad 
have never been her deeds. 

Attending to the needs 
however meagre they might be 
slaving for their well-being 
pretending abuses don’t mean a thing 
her only aspiration 
keeping candle light burning

Hardened by oppressive regime 
she refuses to weep 
even at death of innocents 
who continue age-old fight for justice 
her only aspiration… liberty. 

Standing defiantly 
in face of brutality 
resulting from corrupt illegal minority. 

Flowering in natural beauty 
through progressive ideology 
she overcame imposed passivity 
and became the essence of militancy 

Her beauty is not her criterion 
but justice for all humanity, person to person. 

Super-women (Grown by apartheid)

By Lindiwe Mabuza

wakes up each morning
to the vacant sound of the beetle
always teasing with the false alarm
the dry ashes which
conceal in their fine frailty
the live calender of
mealless meals
do you recall stranger

a traveler’s stomach is the size of a gizzard?

often washes her face
with touches of saliva
before licking the sleep-glued sight of her baby…
do you recall stranger
the roar in the veins of pain? 

moves, stranger in her country
even calabashes follow her shrinking gaze open-
everyday everywhere
beleaguered by laws and
bound to infant and hut
she must face a land criss-crossed
and dissected by droughts
even here on these expanses
where ancestors once feasted
and fought

the erosions coming
to these super-women 
of our super-exploited regions… 
listen to their song stranger…

without a man
i am man
without a husband
i am husband-wife
without a father
children might grow
without other hands
the earth must bring forth
without without without always
i must be without

husbands the frigid lands
while her body sucks in
summer’s fury
beneath the scorched soles of her furrowed
the mirage speeds up its snake dance
even as the sun seems to stomp
upon the crown of her head
dazing her thoughts
also hungry

erects the pick
beyond the listless fly-eyes bundle
on her back about the age of dr. death’s
visitation… always on call
on these lands

lowers her sharp thirsty hope on obstinate grounds
where it rebounds
also her pick
like all her other please
leaving a solo tone to the tune hollow
of these super-women
of our super-exploited land…
do you hear her song?
without without without always
i must be without

do you think she gets angry at
the earth sometimes
and its surfaces?

softened by tears and also
salivation for human flesh
the land produces steady harvests of
doomed or not doomed?

we have seen her
lashing at her birth
when faster than vultures can descend on yesterday
death triumphs over today’s scraggy steers
death by hunger and thirst
where ivory tower righteousness hangs
over the super-women
of our super-exploited land
groaning under an iron yoke
without without without always
they must be without

we abide on the perimeters of paradise
but cannot wear the free robes of rights
of our hands
though we sweat diamonds into crowns
of these human gods
who would award us with death wishes
till somehow
often, our lives add up to dry
keeping guard over
haunting memories
those that sometimes arrive
“special delivery” in a casket
as when dust has exploded inside miners’
they have no computers
for tears
in the dumping grounds
of South Africa
where children scramble for
only records of
“superfluous appendages”
and desexed marriage
that breed apartheid studs

There are no libraries for
gold mine legends
but our lives are
shelved repositories
of infirmities
of pass books
which sum the reserves
of “temporary sojourners”
working to be deported to die away from the country
chiselled while it billows-in
angry napalm on
future features
of these super-women
of our super-exploited land where over and again
the roar of hunger silences

without without without always
they must be without
there is mounting anger
on paths that frame desolation:
strong and stern the faces unshroud
revealing a blaze concealed by custom
and time

she, the woman
marches from many paths
untying knots
sickling tied overgrowths of want

she, the woman, the man
exorcises the land
possessed by the madmen of history
the classes convulse
the mine marriages dissolve
and the exonerated reef
to the mountain tops
the burnished sons of the land
with her together
they claim our land
they reclaim the wastelands
with bold boulders of
and glory-to-man-woman

with her, the woman
they scoop the earth into their hands
they mold it
they coddle it
they stop to marvel at its exhilarated soft
suns and sums

until in their own hands
the land moves
from hand to hand
the land moves
from child to child
the land grows
from woman to man
from man to woman
it explodes into beaded bubbles
of peace
and from that sprouts of
gigantic palms
their peaceful arms equally
banishing alms

with her, the woman
the sea of people bend
(also the straight and narrow path of trials)
placing their marvel
and handiwork
over the grave of exploitation
guarded by the tombstone of superwoman

with her forever
they sing the amen of vigilance
with all
i am
with man
i am human
with husband
i am wife
with father
the children must grow
with other hands
the earth brings forth
without without
we will no longer be


• The notion of the rural African woman as superwoman derives from the fact that, while she has to perform all the tasks traditionally relegated to women, she also has to be much more. Since all the able-bodied males are recruited as part of contract labour, rural African women in particular must also perform men’s work, just as their male counterparts may have to perform traditional women’s work in the urban areas.

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