because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Dora Tamana

South African Dora Tamana lost three children to starvation and a husband to alcohol, but she never abdicated her responsibilities as a mother (to her own and her sister's children) and as a member of her community. When she heard that the Communists in Russia provided childcare for working mothers, for example, she was so impressed with the idea that she immediately organized childcare where she lived.

For a time afterward, she served the Communist Party in various capacities, but eventually, she decided that she must dedicate her energy to fighting the government's attempts to wipe out her community. It was all she and her neighbors had, ramshackle as it was. Rather than tearing the neighborhood down, they argued, conditions should be improved and the government should lead the efforts to accomplish that improvement.

When World War II caused severe food shortages on top of everything else, Tamana joined the African National Congress. If the White-controlled government would not be responsive to the needs of all South Africans, reasoned ANC members, then the government should be replaced. Over the next decade, Tamana marched, organized, protested and refused to cooperate when the government told her to move or not to leave her house.

In 1954, Tamana helped to organize the first Conference of the Federation of South African Women and she was elected to the organization's national executive committee. This gave her the opportunity to spend time in Switzerland, China and Russia, but that just drew further negative repercussions from the government, including two stints in prison, which debilitated her health. Still, whenever she could, Tamana continued her work, adding to everything else visiting and meeting the needs of political prisoners, one of whom was her son.

When the United Women's Organization was formed in 1981, Tamana -- eighty years old, blind and in a wheel chair -- gave the opening speech: "We must share the problems so that we can solve them together. We must free ourselves. Men and women must share housework...must work together in the home and out in the world. Women must unite to fight for...rights. We have opened the way for you. We must go forward!"

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