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Title: South Africa's female comrades : gender, identity, and student resistance to apartheid in Soweto, 1984-1994
Author: Bridger, Emily Jessica
ISNI:       0000 0004 5992 454X
Awarding Body: University of Exeter
Current Institution: University of Exeter
Date of Award: 2016
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As South Africa’s struggle against apartheid entered its final, turbulent decade, African students and youth rose to the forefront of the liberation movement, engaging in non-violent protest and militant confrontation with the apartheid state. In the existing historiography, the “comrades” – as young activists were known – are predominantly depicted as male, with little attention paid to the experiences of politicised girls and young women. This thesis is the first extensive study of South Africa’s female comrades, focused on activists from the township of Soweto. In analysing the experiences of young female activists, it introduces their voices into male-dominated historical narratives, and complicates and challenges existing histories of gender, generation, identity, and political violence in late-apartheid South Africa. Drawing on oral history interviews with former comrades, the thesis provides new insight into why girls joined the struggle, what roles they played, how they were treated by their male comrades, and their experiences of political detention. It argues that the struggle, despite being a male-dominated arena, could provide girls with a sense of agency and empowerment at a time when girls’ lives were otherwise marked by their confinement to the private sphere, social subordination, and susceptibility to sexual violence. Thus, just as the struggle offered young men a means of asserting their masculinity, so too did it offer young women a means of challenging emphasised femininities and constructing oppositional gender identities that defied social expectations and limitations of traditional girlhood. Additionally, this thesis improves current understandings of girls’ experiences of conflict on a global scale by challenging widely held assumptions of girls’ predisposition to peaceful behaviour and lack of political agency. In so doing it places Soweto’s female comrades within broader narratives of liberation movements across Africa, Latin America, and elsewhere. This thesis thus makes an important and original contribution not just to South African history, but also to histories of nationalism and liberation movements, feminist conflict studies, and girlhood studies.
Supervisor: Hynd, Stacey Sponsor: University of Exeter College of Humanities ; Canadian Centennial Scholarship Fund ; Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) ; Santander ; African Studies Association Women's Caucus ; Royal Historical Society
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: South Africa ; apartheid ; gender ; girls ; political violence ; youth ; oral history ; memory