As the political prisoners were incarcerated on Robben Island during apartheid, it was the women who held the fort back home and who were robbed of time with their sons, husbands and fathers.
The Robben Island Museum last week hosted an event to honour some of those women. The event on Tuesday August 29 was attended by 160 women. The aim was to recognise the unsung women for their contribution to our history.
The women were provided with a space to share their stories of the time of hardship through presentations, poems and readings while Sylvia Mdunyelwa performed some of her music.
Guests also included women from various communities and from the University of Cape Town, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Stellenbosch University, and the University of the Western Cape. “Women played a significant role as single parents and as activists in ensuring democracy and freedom in South Africa,” said Ayanda Woji, senior manager in the Robben Island Museum public heritage education department.
Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture Makhotso Sotyu said she was happy to be part of the event and to celebrate the women who fought in the struggle and those who had their husbands and brothers taken away from them.
Bulelwa Xulu, 26, the daughter of a former Robben Island prisoner, said she was too young to visit her father in prison. She struggles with people saying it’s time to move on from apartheid’s atrocities and that everything is fine now because those people don’t understand what their families went through.
“I had to remind people that this was not my great-grandfather who was in Robben Island but actually my father,” said Ms Xulu.
Nosiphiwe Matshwawo, the wife of a former political prisoner, said: “We are here as women from all spheres from different colours and backgrounds but we all fought for the liberation of this country. My husband told me that when they were held in Robben Island he was only 18 years of age. The regime was very cruel.”
Funeka Yoza, a daughter of a former prisoner, said being at Robben Island brought her joy as well as pain because the memories she has of the place are both happy and sad.
“It’s very difficult at the time when my father was arrested, we were still young and my mother used to visit him all the time which made it difficult for us to attend school,” said Ms Yoza.
“Things started to be more difficult when my father was killed in prison. They wouldn’t let us have a big funeral. They told us it’s only the family members that will attend his funeral, we wouldn’t let that happen as we African people don’t make small funerals for family only; neighbours come to pay their respect too and show support,” she said.