Making sense of political activism : life narratives of political activists from the South African liberation movement

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This is a study of the personal and social construction of meaning that political activists who have been involved in the South African liberation movement attribute to their lives. It examines the lives of a group of activists who were situated at the heart of the anti- apartheid movement for more than four decades. Their resistance to the wide-ranging laws and non-legal devices that the state employed to maintain white, Afrikaner Nationalist rule became the benchmark against which they lived their lives. 1960 saw an intensity of state oppression and brutality from which some activists escaped with their lives, while others were killed or jailed for life. The struggle to create a society where humanity and justice would triumph over cruelty and racial division was setback a generation. It took nearly three decades of defiance and unrest before Nelson Mandela was released from prison and South Africans sat down to negotiate the Interim Constitution that would guide the country towards its first democratic elections. ANC members in exile received indemnity so that they could return to the country and participate in the negotiations and four years later a new South Africa based on majority rule was won. Since these 1994 elections, South Africa has continued to undergo fundamental change from the old apartheid order to a new democratic dispensation. Oral stories are essential to this process as they contain memories of recent history that contribute significantly to contemporary political and social life, which in tum shape the future. The stories of the activists who comprise this study illustrate how their commitment to their cause and to themselves has shaped their lives, as well as those around them, and how meaningful engagement with the challenges of daily life can strengthen us as individuals.

Bibliography: leaves 229-258.