A Second Autobiography, From Disempowered to Empowered
After reading the first volume of her autobiography To My Children’s Children, this second volume covers South African writer, teacher and facilitator Sindiwe Magona’s life, from the age of 23 to 40, from the lowest point in her life, to one of the highest. The last chapter of the first volume Forced to Grow, becomes the title of this wonderful book.
Finding herself unemployed and pregnant with her third child after being pushed out of a teaching job – her husband’s parting shot as he abandons his young family, to inform her employer of his disapproval (a husband’s approval was required for a married (black) woman to be eligible to work) – she reinvents herself, creating her own work (selling sheep heads (cooked) she’d bought on credit) initially to survive, determined to reinstate herself back into the teaching profession, to extend and elevate her education and move beyond surviving to thriving.
From poverty and struggle to a job offer with the UN in New York, this second volume of autobiography was hard to put down.
Overcoming Fear Through Perseverance and Self-Belief
Though she had a legal certificate to teach, she would spend four years working as a domestic servant in white women’s homes, because she was not a “breadwinner”, she had a husband. Unmarried, childless women enjoyed preferential hiring, as long as they retained that status. Ironically, she would find a way back into teaching when two unmarried teachers were forced to resign their posts, due to being “in the family way”.
I have this fear that if I ever believe that others wield power over my destiny, that I am so vulnerable, I might as well abdicate control of my life. For if I accept that, what is to stop me attributing to others all the setbacks I encounter? And once that happens, why would I do anything to get back on my own two feet? I would be virtually saying that it was beyond me to reclaim myself. I would be accepting absolute lack of control. And the Good Lord knows, I had very little control over my life as it was.
This fear, this need to go on believing I am in the driver’s seat, may be the one ingredient in my make-up I will not find easy to relinquish.
Therefore, with everything I cherished taken, broken or out of reach, I resolved I would become self-sufficient. I would work hard. I would study. I would pull myself up by my bootstraps. Yes, even though I had still to acquire the boots.
Pursuing a higher level of education to offset so much else that set her back, fed into Magona’s ambition; as she achieved, her self belief grew and she pushed herself further, while assuming the role of both parents.
Moving from teaching into administration she witnessed how the country’s racist policies affect families, joining SACHED (South African committee for Higher Education) widened her circle of contact, connection, perspective & confidence.
What an inspiration Sindiwe is and what a gift to have witnessed her journey through reading; her perseverance and determination to make something more of herself, while trying to raise her children in a way to overcome the societally perceived disadvantage of being without the support or presence of the children’s father.
She sees the gift inherent in his abandonment, which is an example of how strong her mind is, she rewrites the narrative of her own life and how it will be. An errant husband is one thing, trying to create a career and attain a higher education while living within a system of apartheid and not being recognised as a citizen of your own country is impossible to imagine.
We are all the more fortunate to have been given such an insight into this personal and collective struggle and one courageous woman’s ability to work through and overcome it, in defiance of what the govt of the time wanted for the local African population.
Women Cooperating in Partnership
This volume too is an affirmation of the power and support made possible when women work in partnership, in collaboration, in community for a higher good.
The various groups she becomes part of that bring women together from different races, social classes and backgrounds and the facilitated discussions they have, both bring out her natural ability as a facilitator and leader and create a safe place for all them to develop empathy, to know each other, hear differing perspectives, challenge them, look for ways to resolve problems and how to put pressure where things need to change.
Invited to attend a meeting of a group of women who wanted change, it would create a pivotal turning point in her career.
As might be surmised, CWC (Church Women Concerned) was multi-racial, multi-denominational, inclusive of all faiths. It had members from the Christian faith, the Islamic faith and the Jewish faith. The primary objective was to build bridges, to effect reconciliation, to attempt to live lives that projected well into the future, to a time when the laws that separated us according to skin colour would be no more.
It was a fond dream put forward as a testimony of faith. We truly believed the possibility existed for apartheid to be dismantled. Therefore, it behoved us to hasten the process by living the future now.
I was reminded of my recent read of Riane Eisler and Douglas Fry’s Nurturing Our Humanity: How Domination and Partnership Shape Our Brains, Lives, and Future, and the pockets of a Partnership System approach to living and being they promote and suggest already exist; something women are naturally capable of creating if given a chance, or are bold enough to go ahead and create these circles of connection and support anyway, as Sindiwe Magona and others did, despite the risks.
“Humans are capable of living in egalitarian social systems where neither dominates the other, where violence is minimized, and where prosocial cooperation and caring typify social life. This image is not a utopian fantasy but rather a set of potentials, if not inclinations, stemming from our evolutionary heritage.” Riane Eisler
A Third Volume of Autobiography Please
Oh I wish there was a third volume, I do hope she might be writing one, covering the last 30 years. However I also understand why since her retirement she has been writing children’s books, creating a necessary resource for children in her country and around the world, to learn, be entertained and create understanding, hope and belief in the ability for situations to change.
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Thanks Nancy, she is indeed an inspirational woman with a compelling life story and a way of using its lessons to inspire younger generations today.
How wonderful that she overcame all the barriers to realize her worth and dreams. What a testament to her strength and resilience.
It is incredible Carmel, especially as this part of her story occurs while still under the oppressive apartheid regime, she is certainly an inspiration to many and honest regarding her own flaws, which I think is equally inspirational.
Everything you’ve said about her attitude and perseverance makes it clear these would be rewarding reads. I can see where she would want to shift to writing children’s books, for so many reasons. Maybe you’ll have to read some of those while you wait? 🙂
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A very thoughtful post about a woman who sounds really interesting and inspiring. I’m glad you took so much away from this book, Claire.
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