Revolutionary Papers

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Presented by

Sam Longford
24 April 2022

This teaching tool focuses on Dawn, the official organ of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), or ‘Spear of the Nation’, which was the military wing of the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP). Founded after the banning of organisations associated with the Congress Alliance and the ‘turn to armed struggle’ in […]

Dawn: Journal of Umkhonto wa Sizwe

This paper focuses on the poetry produced by the women of Umkhonto WeSizwe (MK), the armed military wing of the African National Congress (ANC) in the pages of its magazine, Dawn, These poems serve as an archive of women’s individual and collective thinking about their role in the liberation struggle. As a monthly MK journal which was first published in the 1960’s and was later revived in 1977, Dawn magazine documented guerrilla attacks on strategic targets within apartheid South Africa. However, the magazine goes beyond this description by providing a window into the collective thoughts and struggles of rank and file MK members, including its women. This paper seeks to make visible the ways in which the poetry published in Dawn played a role in not only the mobilisation and resistance against apartheid, but also in the ways in which MK women soldiers exercised their agency and envisioned their role in the struggle, as well as in the future South Africa. In reading their poetry, we are invited to imagine the affective dimensions of their lives in the struggle, where the personal is political. For instance, one of the poems published in the journal, titled Forget Not Our Mothers, by Ilva Mackay with an illustration by Judy Seidman, chronicles the frustration of remembering loved ones while in exile. Not only that, but these loved ones are in one way or the other, struggling with the daily oppression of apartheid while battling their separation with their exiled family members. In this poem, Mackay further invites her fellow comrades to “forget not our mothers awaiting us with an assured patience”. The gloom of apartheid is thus adequately captured in this poem as Mackay further calls on her exiled comrades to “forget not our fathers languishing in jails, toiling in the mines.” Through the lines in Mackay’s poem, we are reminded of the pain felt by exiles who were separated from their loved ones under a harsh and tumultuous political climate. In addition, this poem, along with the other poems published in Dawn, have the power to reveal these women as more than combatants, but as people with personal histories, families, intimacies, hopes and dreams. It is for this reason that Dawn magazine plays a vital role in challenging the erasure of women’s participation in the struggle for liberation.

Kebotlhale Motseothata

Kebotlhale Motseothata is a multi-disciplinary writer, scholar, journalist, poet, researcher, feminist and human rights defender. She holds an MA in African Literature, an Honours in African Literature, a BA in African Literature and Theatre and Performance and an N.dp in Journalism. Her work focuses on gender and culture in the liberation movement of South Africa, […]