This month as we celebrate the centenary of the right for some women to vote, I find myself remembering the remarkable women in my family who have shaped my life but never had the vote in their lifetime. By the time Mandela was released in 2014 my maternal grandmother had been dead almost a decade. It wasn’t until after Mandela’s release that the question of the right for all South Africans to vote was a viability. As South African women under the yoke of the Apartheid system, my grandmother and mother were denied the vote because of their racial status, never mind the fact they were female. Voting for all in South Africa finally became a reality in the 20th century. This is a stark reminder the struggle for equality is very much an ongoing one.
When I reflect on what these women gave me in terms of self-belief, psychological nourishment and love, I’m overwhelmed they did so despite the odds. It highlights the strength of character inherent in their natures. I have no doubt I would never have embarked on my precarious writing journey if I had not had the solid grounding they provided me with.
My mother was a feminist at heart. The example of her fortitude was always before me. In a society and time period which was particularly chauvinistic in nature my parents had a very equal relationship and shared the work load financially and on the home front. I remember my dad being teased by his friends for having a wife who wore the trousers. My dad regularly joked he was ruled by a petticoat government.
My mother was a Jack of all trades, forced to be so by the difficulties of finding a well-paid job for an educated mixed race person in an unequal society. At one point she even opened her own business – a modelling school and agency for African, Asian and mixed race people. Her entrepreneurship in a time when daily discrimination was the norm still astounds me.
A voracious reader on a variety of subjects, she even took it upon herself (after purloining a chunk of my father’s gambling proceeds) to buy a plot of land. She had realised there was a loophole in current law and took advantage. She then designed a house and commissioned a builder. Sceptical of my mother’s drawings, the builder brought an architect on board. He declared the drawings sound and to scale. My mother never did anything by halves and always urged me to finish whatever I started regardless of whether I was enjoying it or not. This attitude to life was no doubt passed to her from her mother who also endured much hardship during her lifetime.
As an Asian, my maternal grandmother was disowned by her family when she eloped with my grandfather - a strapping mixed race member of the ANC who favoured his Black ancestry more so than his European. Not only did she have to deal with the financial and emotional fall-out of his subsequent imprisonment but later the domestic abuse he heaped on her after imprisonment left him a changed man. She had the bravery to divorce him in a society where divorce was considered a cop out.
So this is the female stock I hale from. I could not be prouder to stand in line with them. Someday I hope to make my mark and pass on the baton of resilience they handed down to me.
So who are your personal Suffragettes and what did they do for you?