(By Three O'Clock Press; originally published at threeoclockpress.com)
We do not come into the world like fully baked cakes; someone has provided the ingredients before us—several men and women—and it is up to us to honour their memory and to honour the history of how we came to be educated. Your generation has been buttered in the hands of our grandmothers, who made sure that our lives would be greater than theirs—always remember that. We are all as great as the community of women who raised us, and nothing is greater than the gift of gratitude. — Dr. Rozena Maart, Letters Lived
Today in our blog series dedicated to the contributors of Letters Lived, we're going to learn a bit more about a truly incredible woman: Dr. Rozena Maart. Dr. Maart was born in Cape Town's District Six neighbourhood, from which her family was forcibly removed in the mid-1970s as part of the apartheid government’s Forced Removals Act. In 1986, Rozena co-founded Women Against Repression (W.A.R.), the first Black Feminist Organisation in South Africa, for which she was nominated for the “Woman of the Year” award. In the years since, Dr. Maart has worked as a professor, researcher, writer, consultant, psychoanalyst and has also written and directed for theatre—a passion she has held throughout her life.
In her contribution to Letters Lived, Dr. Maart wrote a letter to her 16-year-old self from 1978. In her letter, Maart describes the incredibly devastating impact of apartheid on the life of herself and her family, but also shares the many ways in which they practiced resistance, like by sharing family history:
"There is sorrow in the lives of many grandparents who have had their lives cut and sliced by legislation that has attempted to dehumanize them, but look how Mamma and Pappa wake up every morning. Look at how they still continue with their day, and how they still see their friends and still have parties... You are only a slave if you allow your enslaved history to keep you shackled to a reality that situates your past as present. Mamma and Pappa know that all too well. As grandparents, they have made sure that all of their grandchildren know their history; there is good reason for that. Without knowledge of our history, we are not able to live in the present. Being able to know—like you do—is a gift."
Another way in which the young Dr. Maart practiced resistance was by using her passion for drama and performance. As a young woman, Maart used the theatre not only as a place to develop her voice and work through emotions, but also to bring focus to important issues affecting women: "Young women need to have forums that allow them the kind of expression that you are known for. Theatre is a joy and will give you the possibility of bringing the lived experience to the stage in very particular ways... The street theatre you organized in Lavender Hill was important—even if people laughed. There are those who laugh because crying is too painful. At least you are able to raise awareness of rape and sexual abuse."
Throughout her life, Dr. Maart's work in the theatre, as well as her creative, journalistic and academic writing, has continued to focus on race, gender and creativity. Her book of short stories, Rosa's District Six, and novel, The Writing Circle, were both published to great acclaim. There are tons of great links on her website, including more about her family history and a list of her writings and accomplishments.
Which leads us to.... your upcoming opportunity to hear the incredible Dr. Maart speak! This coming Monday, December 16, Rozena and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha will join Letters Lived editor Sheila Sampath for some readings and to share conversation. Gonna be casual and fun. We hope you can make it!