First formed in the early twentieth century, the ANC Women’s League has grown into a leading organization in the women’s movement in South Africa. The league has been at the forefront of the nation’s century-long transition from an authoritarian state to a democracy that espouses gender equality as a core constitutional value. It has, indeed, always regarded itself as the women’s movement, frequently asserting its primacy as a vanguard organization and as the only legitimate voice of the women of South Africa. But, as this deeply insightful book shows, the history of the league is a more complicated affair — it was neither the only women’s organization in the political field nor an easy ally for South African feminism.
Shireen Hassim is a professor in political studies at the University of the Witwatersrand and a widely published author in the field of gender politics in South Africa.
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On a freezing winter’s night, a few hours before dawn on May 12, 1969, South African security police stormed the Soweto home of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, activist and wife of the imprisoned Nelson Mandela, and arrested her in the presence of her two young daughters, then aged nine and ten. Rounded up in a group of other antiapartheid activists under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act, designed for the security police to hold and interrogate people for as long as they wanted, she was taken away.