Married to the ANC: the life histories of Tanzanian women and their entanglement in South Africa’s liberation struggle

Monday, 1 October, 2012 - 15:00

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Although the end of apartheid has opened up new research possibilities into the history of the ANC, the scholarship on the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) remains fairly limited. Likewise, the transnational character of the anti-apartheid struggle is mostly absent from nationalist historiographies, which tend to view the exile history of the ANC only in function of South Africa’s national liberation. Moreover, very little is known about the daily lives of those who made up the ranks of MK, and what the implications were (and are in the present day) of having a large, predominantly male army stationed outside South Africa’s borders for three decades.

In several areas of Tanzania, which hosted ANC diplomatic missions, MK military camps, and educational and vocational facilities, there were everyday interactions between South African ‘freedom fighters’ and local communities. Morogoro, a small upcountry town, was one of the key sites where relations between the liberation movements and Tanzanian host communities were forged. While in the early years of exile relationships between MK cadres and Tanzanian women were not officially sanctioned by the ANC, from the late 1970s these relationships not only became increasingly common, but were also formalised through marriage. In this way, the lives of ‘ordinary’ Tanzanian women became entangled with the ANC: they were put into the service of the South African liberation struggle and became governed by the ANC external mission.

This paper is mostly based on interviews conducted in Swahili  (in Dinokana, South Africa, in April 2011, and in Morogoro, Tanzania, in February 2012) using a life history approach, as well as on documentary sources held at the University of Fort Hare. The paper traces the life histories of seven Tanzanian women: four of them have been living in Lehurutshe (a rural region close to the town of Zeerust, in today’s North West Province) since the early 1990s, when they accompanied their South African husbands during repatriation, while two were ‘left behind’ in Tanzania and one followed her husband, but after a few years returned to Morogoro.

These are some preliminary findings of an ongoing collaborative research project on the close interaction between South African exiles and Tanzanians communities between the 1970s and 2012. The project aims to illustrate the complex implications and present repercussions of these intermarriages and relationships.

The paper has been removed to address problems of confidentiality.  Please contact

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