SAARTJIE Baartman, Dora Nginza, Molly Blackburn – these are just some of the women whose names are synonymous with changing times in the Eastern Cape.
However, there are countless others of all races and ages who played a critical role in shaping this province. NMMU is paying homage to these fearless women in an exhibition which chronicles their stories from the late 1700s to modern times.
The exhibition, which includes factual and anecdotal information, poetry and photographs on 18 ceiling-high panels, was launched last night. It is open to the public from today and may be viewed in the archive exhibition centre on NMMU’s Second Avenue campus.
“In the shaping of the Eastern Cape, these are stories of marginalisation and oppression, but also of resistance,” curator Christelle Grobler said. “For most of South Africa’s history, women have been repressed – socially, politically, economically and even domestically.
“The subordination of women has rendered them relatively absent from the historical record. This is why their stories need to be told.”
Filling the first panel is the story of Sarah “Saartjie” Baartman, the orphaned Khoi woman who was lured to England and France on account of her unusual buttocks and genitalia, to be exhibited in freak shows.
The province’s first missionaries and settlers are documented next. Among them is Janet Soga, a Scot who was married to the first black Xhosa minister, Tiyo Soga. They had eight children, among them the province’s first medical missionary, the first Xhosa historian and the country’s first veterinarian.
Industrialisation is explored including the filling of factories by women, and the rise of prostitution servicing the soldiers at Port Elizabeth’s Fort Frederick.
With the factories came the earliest trade unions, with strong women emerging, such as Katie Gelvan (after whom Gelvandale was named) and Yetta Barenblatt in East London, a skilled union negotiator.
“The Lovedale women”, those involved in famed Lovedale College, which was attended by Nelson Mandela, among them Dora Nginza, are also documented.
Apartheid is the theme of the last few panels, from black farming families evicted from white-owned farms to the devastation of forced removals. Anti-apartheid activists like Black Sash’s Molly Blackburn feature.
l”The Role of Women in the Shaping of Eastern Cape History” may be viewed until November next year.