1st Edition

Women in Solitary Inside South Africa's Female Resistance to Apartheid

By Shanthini Naidoo Copyright 2022
    188 Pages 7 Color Illustrations
    by Routledge

    188 Pages 7 Color Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Women in Solitary offers a new account based around the narratives of four women who experienced detention and torture in South Africa in the late 1960s when the regime tried to stage a trial to convict leading anti-apartheid activists.

    This timely book not only accords the four women and others their place in the history of the struggle for freedom in South Africa, but also weaves their experiences into the historical development of the anti-apartheid movement. The book draws on extended interviews with journalist Joyce Sikhakhane-Rankin, trade unionists Shanthie Naidoo and Rita Ndzanga and activist Nondwe Mankahla. Winnie Mandela’s account of her time in detention is drawn from earlier published accounts. The narrative brings to light the unrelentingly brutal and comprehensive character of the attempt to silence resistance and break the spirit of the activists, both to disrupt organisation and to intimidate communities. It is testament to the triumph and strength of conviction that the women displayed. It also reflects the comprehensive nature of the resistance. The women fought not only as organisers, recruiters or couriers, but also in solitary confinement, resisting all its deprivations, the taunts by interrogators and anxieties about their children. And when they took the fight into the courtroom, they prevailed. The book weaves their experiences into the historical development of the struggle in a way that highlights broader issues, drawing out the particular ways in which women’s experience of activism and repression differs from that of men, in terms both of the behaviour of the police and of the women’s ties with community, family and children.

    The book’s broad timespan underpins the psychological effects of sustained solitary confinement and its traumatic legacy, asking whether, by not attending more consistently to healing the trauma done to a generation by brutal repression, we allow it to contribute to social ills that worry us today. Women in Solitary is ideal reading for anyone interested in the history of apartheid, the criminalisation of activism, and women’s imprisonment, as well as scholars and students of penal and feminist studies.


    Chapter 1: The legacy of trauma

    Chapter 2: Finding the women

    Chapter 3: The trial

    Chapter 4: Joyce Sikhakhane-Rankin

    Chapter 5: Shanthie Naidoo

    Chapter 6: Rita Ndzanga

    Chapter 7: Nondwe Mankahla

    Chapter 8: ‘Rooi Rus’ Swanepoel

    Chapter 9: Winnie Mandela

    Chapter 10: Aftermath

    Chapter 11: Latter days

    Chapter 12: On healing


    References and Source Material




    Shanthini Naidoo is a former Sunday Times (South Africa) journalist who works in content marketing. She has also worked for The Times newspaper and O, The Oprah Magazine. Naidoo lives in Johannesburg and holds a Master’s degree in Journalism and Media Studies from the University of the Witwatersrand. The thesis, ‘Women in Solitary’, forms the basis of this book.

    "This necessary reclaiming of the female narrative in the resistance to apartheid unmutes the voices of many extraordinary, long-suffering women." - Margaret Busby, CBE, Hon. FRSL

    "A vivid, moving and gripping book. Focussing with great empathy on the experiences in solitary confinement of four women, Naidoo brings to life the female experience of apartheid. Through these deeply personal stories, she explores the role played by trauma in shaping people’s lives. This unique book is a must read." - Mary Harper, BBC Africa Editor

    "This book does the tangible work of elevating the many untold stories and lives of women in the struggle for democracy in South Africa. As one turns the pages, you are left stirred with visceral emotions because we are these women, and they are us. This work is important in the collective healing of the wounds in our hearts." - Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng, UNHCR Rapporteur on the right to health

    "In this unique book, Shanthini Naidoo offers new ways of understanding the ongoing trauma experienced by individuals, communities and nation states following political oppression and armed conflict. Focused on the stories of four female South African freedom fighters, the frequently unknown or unacknowledged female struggle against apartheid is centered and celebrated. Critically, the importance of listening, telling and understanding, as a way of achieving justice and freedom, is laid out.

    Beautifully written, Women in Solitary is both a powerful and accessible contribution to life-story research, providing insights into the importance of storytelling as an act of remembrance and healing. These extraordinary stories tell us about the gendered experience of resistance, as well as the indelible connections between state institutions and individual actors. In doing so, this book will be of great interest to scholars across the social sciences and humanities." - Dr Finola Farrant, Head of Department Social Sciences, University of Roehampton

    "In this important and so eloquently written book, Shanthini Naidoo narrates the stories of women who shaped South Africa’s political life. Their lived experiences of trauma, torture, and imprisonment craft a critical lens through which to examine the complex struggles of women activists. This is thought-provoking reading that will interest organisers, campaigners and scholars alike. It has much to offer to both the untold herstories of South Africa, as well as broader debates in gender studies and critical criminal justice scholarship." - Dr Anastasia Chamberlen, University of Warwick, UK