This women’s month, we would like to pay tribute to the heroine of our people Dora Tamana. We choose Dora Tamana because she is one of the most outstanding women who contributed in advancing women’s struggles at an epoch when our oppressed people were becoming highly organised and the apartheid oppressive regime even more brutal between the 1940 – 50s. What makes Dora Tamana more outstanding for us is that she was a communist. The observation we make is that communist liberation struggle women unlike their male counterparts are less celebrated and remembered.
We will one day ask the movement as to why there is so little knowledge and political lectures given to young people today on Dora Tamana, Jossie Mpama and many other Communist women who contributed to the liberation of our people. As an aspiring communist young women, our interest is to know women who came before us, their contribution and how they confronted patriarchy in the Party and the movement in general. It is for this reason that we choose to honour Mama Dora Tamana. she is one of the pioneering women who worked very hard and contributed in making the 1956 Women March a success.
What sets Mama Dora Tamana apart is that she had a very difficult upbringing, she had to look out for her siblings at an early age. Even after she got married, her life was that of difficulties having to lose her own kids to death and a husband who abused alcohol. What we learn from her upbringing is that she was resilient. She still managed to stand up and come up with initiatives that don’t only help her but also her community. We learn from her that our past must not determine our future because she chose to stand and fight for herself and her people. Her resilience and perseverance show us that women are indeed the rock a community is built. From a woman who struggled to make ends meet for her family to a leader of community initiatives that provided for many disadvantaged people, this is the Dora Tamana we must all aspire to be.
Our leaders must address the concern our people have of social distance. We often see our leaders reach out to communities only during elections time, conference times or some annual commemoration on our political calendar. Dora Tamana lived and struggled with her people, she led from the front. She believed in education and the welfare of children that’s why she opened a Crèche in her community in 1938 to care for the children. At this time when the masses of our people raise concerns about social distance with the movement and our leaders, we must emulate Dora Tamana and we must all be active participants of community initiatives in the areas we live in and encourage our people to be action oriented.
Mama Dora Tamana was a true activist and an all rounder of all alliance formations, she was a unionist and led workers, she was actively involved in the ANC, she joined the Communist Party at a very young age inspired by the evictions she suffered with her family and community and the need to fight the oppressive regime for dispossessing them. She was a founder member of the federation of South African Women and was elected its first National Secretary in 1954. The FEDSAW Congress in 1954 adopted the Women Charter as a lobbying and guiding document to advance women struggles. They clearly understood that the struggle for freedom had to be fought side by side with the struggle for women emancipation. She believed in the unity of women in advancing their struggle hence she was part of the diverse women and organisations that came together to form the Federation of South African Women.
As a Communist Woman she participated in the ANCWL. What is critical is that she knew that views of the working class and the poor must find expression in the ANCWL. Today women who differ with the posture of the ANCWL disassociate themselves with the organisation of women by saying they cant be members. What must be our attitude is that we must be members of the ANCWL and contest its views in the structures. We must be there in its Congresses and programmes and contend what we disagree with than to give up on the organisation that organises women of our country. It is in its structures where we must interogate the leadership as to whether they are staying true to the mandate underpinned in the aims and objectives of the ANCWL of Dora Tamana. She never gave up on advancing women struggles and that’s why we must never give up on the organisation she helped to shape.
Leaders must always lead from the front. Dora Tamana did just that, she organised her community and women in defiance campaigns against pass laws that limited our people movement in their own Country. She was brave and not a coward who waited for others to act. She was ready for the consequences of the path she had chosen but more determined to end the oppressive regime and its laws. When women were going to Pretoria for the March from Cape Town where she was based, they were inspired by her and they used trains without giving up and they participated in the historic March. Leaders must be able to inspire others the way Dora Tamana did.
Dora Tamana understood that our struggles are interlinked with all the oppressed people of the world. It is for that reason that herself and other women embarked on an international tour to mobilise support against the oppressive apartheid regime. They enlightened the world about the atrocities of the regime on black people and women in particular. She was an internationalist. When they returned from the international tour, she and five other women were listed under the suppression of Communism Act and in April 1955 she was banned from participating in political gatherings and meetings for five years. In the 1960s she served two jail sentences but she never gave up on the struggle. Even when she suffered poor health she still continued to talk to women at different events and urge them to continue to fight. She passed on in 1983.
Today more than before, we need to ask ourselves whether the struggles that Dora Tamana stood for are being taken forward. She initiated cooperatives because she wanted women to be able to provide for their families through those cooperatives. Dora Tamana stood for oppressed women, the women in the Country side and the deep of villages. She stood for women defranchised by harsh living conditions in townships, the farm worker women who everyday brave the weather to produce for farm owners who continue to dehumanise them, the house helpers who look after homes of their employers for little appreciation, the wife, girlfriend and daughter who has to endure abuse, violence and rape culture, those and many more are women that Dora Tamana stood and fought for. If we believe that we are taking the struggles of our hero forward, we must then ensure we change their living conditions of the downtrodden and defranchised women for the better.
We must also refuse to compound women struggles and emancipation as an event of the month of August. Our struggles are from far and we must continue to fight until we have the ideal society we aspire for. Patriarchy must be confronted daily and in all spaces we occupy. The struggle against Patriarchy and the emancipation of women existed through out the evolution of the liberation movement and we must continue to do so today both in form and content. Long Live the radical undying spirit of Mama Dora Tamana. Malibongwe.
Precious Banda is the former Treasurer General of SASCO and member of the YCLSA National Committee and Political Commission