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EXTRAORDINARY WOMEN FROM SOUTH AFRICA’S PAST
LAUREN BEUKES AND NECHAMA BRODIE
ISBN 9 781415207543
n. A person who shows independence of thought and action, especially by refusing to adhere to the policies of a group to which he or she belongs.
In terms of choosing the women who fitted snugly into the definition of the work ‘maverick’, the authors deserve kudos for the meticulous list.
One is just not sure how Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang made it into the list!
One used to think that it was easy to put together these sorts of books: compile names and, voila, you have copies flying off shelves!
But this is not one such offering. Some degree of thought has clearly gone into compiling the names here. Their respective backgrounds label these women as eccentric types who were at odds with societal norms.
It is the method in their madness that made them such curiosities.
Daisy de Melker poisoned her two husbands to death, both of whom were, by some queer twist of fate, plumbers in the employ of the municipality. As if this were not enough, she fed the same toxic substance to her lay-about good-for-nothing son.
A woman imbued with no particularly exquisite looks, amidst the storm of her trial, she had the gall to gripe that the press chose an unflattering picture of her.
Having taken the reader on this whirlwind tour of the gory life of de Melker, Lauren Beukes and Nechama Brodie keep to the script and do not disappoint.
None of the stories are new but the novelty is in the lightness of prose they employ to convey the narratives.
They write in contemporary Suffafrican that peppers their language with such colloquialism as naar, skaam, lala kahle …
But even as they go on this literary detour, their writing still appeals to the pedantic.
They chose their female mad genius well.
You feel the pain that had been the life of Bessie Head anew. Born in a mental hospital, was she fated to be a nutcase herself, as per the cruel prediction of an ex teacher? Could having known the identity of her [black] father have helped steer her life in the right direction?
Normal writers, like artists, are boring. Bessie Head’s novels appeal to her audience because of her unconventional nature.
So was the artist Irma Stein. She was gargantuan in body size but in her head was as alluring to men as the sultry sketches of her art.
No other art pieces except her own work hung in her home.
There is something beautiful about this madness. No normal person can pull off such a stunt and make it a lifestyle.
It is the tragedy of Ingrid Jonker’s life that makes her such a favourite subject of biography. She bedded men as she saw them, in a society that labels such behaviour as sluttish.
To hell with the prudes – it is not their poetry that Nelson Mandela quoted from on his inauguration as President of the First Republic!
Think of apartheid jails during the Struggle. They definitely were worse than gulags. But in the midst of all this gloom, detainee Ruth First always insisted on wearing makeup each morning!
The mistress of expensive Italian shoes, fine French perfume and general sartorial elegance, such was the nature of this maverick that Ms First – who was Mrs Joe Slovo, insisted on packing a silk nightgown to jail.
A maverick sure Brenda Fassie was, insisting on this tag in more languages than were officially spoken in the land.
So was Nongqawuse; so was Olive Schreiner.
If this is the way to re-tell our stories, our expansive heritage will grow even larger qualitatively.
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