Narratives and Testimonies of Women Detainees in the Anti-Apartheid Struggle


Hiralal, Kalpana. 2015. “Narratives and Testimonies of Women Detainees in the Anti-Apartheid Struggle.” Agenda: Empowering Women for Gender Equity 29 (4): 34–44. doi:10.1080/10130950.2015.1104883.

Author: Kalpana Hiralal


South Africa's road to democracy was a product of the contributions of both men and women in the freedom struggle. Thousands of women risked their lives and sacrificed their families. In the post-apartheid era the narratives of the nationalist struggle have largely focused on popular and well known men and women, their experiences in exile and their role in the African National Congress (ANC) which led to the under-ground movement. This article seeks to document the lived experiences of women inmates and detainees in the liberation struggle, whose stories have remained in the shadows of dominant nationalist narratives. Thousands of women were arrested, subjected to naked body searches, torture, verbal abuse and sexual harassment. Women experienced both physical and psychological humiliation. This article argues that prison, despite being a "site of humiliation", repression, and subversion, also became a "site of female community and resistance" (Thapar-Bjorkert, 2006:12,25) and that women political prisoners were capable of challenging and negotiating their incarceration. This study challenges dominant narratives of the nationalist struggle by making women inmates and detainees crucial historical subjects and introduces the prison as another terrain of political struggle, resistance, confrontation, and negotiation in the telling of the liberation struggle.

Keywords: gender, prison, apartheid, Narratives, women detainees

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Women, Health, Mental Health, Race, Sexual Violence, Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, Torture, Sexual Torture Regions: Africa, Southern Africa Countries: South Africa

Year: 2015

© 2023 CONSORTIUM ON GENDER, SECURITY & HUMAN RIGHTSLEGAL STATEMENT All photographs used on this site, and any materials posted on it, are the property of their respective owners, and are used by permission. Photographs: The images used on the site may not be downloaded, used, or reproduced in any way without the permission of the owner of the image. Materials: Visitors to the site are welcome to peruse the materials posted for their own research or for educational purposes. These materials, whether the property of the Consortium or of another, may only be reproduced with the permission of the owner of the material. This website contains copyrighted materials. The Consortium believes that any use of copyrighted material on this site is both permissive and in accordance with the Fair Use doctrine of 17 U.S.C. § 107. If, however, you believe that your intellectual property rights have been violated, please contact the Consortium at