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Features & Columns
by Heather Clancy

Women's Feature

Fiercely Female

Tribute to women, both past and present, who have contributed their unique gifts to the world and paved the way for future generations of women, who not only know that the world is theirs but believe it too!

The Writers:

Zora and Zadie

Zora Neale Hurston was a celebrated novelist, anthropologist and folklorist, most well-known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Growing up in Eatonville, the first all-black town to be incorporated in the USA, Zora described her introduction to literature as a kind of birth. Fiercely resilient, Zora’s mother passed away when she was only 13 years old. Her father remarried shortly after her mother’s death and stopped paying her school fees, causing her to be expelled. As a result, she was forced to work as a maid before entering high school for the second time at the age of 26. Not content to let her age dictate her opportunities, Zora lied about her age in order to qualify for free education and from that moment on, relinquished her true date of birth, choosing instead to ‘birth’ herself once again in her new life of learning. At the age of 37, Zora graduated with a degree in Anthropology and went on to write as if she was making up for lost time. Her mother urged her and her siblings to "jump at de sun" and she certainly did, with her masterpiece, Their Eyes Were Watching God, still being celebrated over 70 years later. However, her determination and curiosity is best expressed by the Zadie Smith Zadie Smith ease with which she abandoned her date of birth, something which most consider set in stone. Zora modelled her life according to her own desires, whether traveling to the Caribbean for anthropological study or starting the literary journal, Fire!!. She didn’t just "jump to de sun", she was the sun. 

Zadie Smith is a celebrated novelist and short story writer. However, she is best known for her first novel, White Teeth, which she penned in her final year at Cambridge when she was only 21 years old. The novel sold over a million copies, won numerous awards and has been translated into over 20 languages. Despite this overwhelming success, Zadie has repeatedly said that she was somewhat embarrassed by her debut novel and admitted that her latest novel, N.W., is her first book that she feels proud to call her own. Born to a Jamaican mother and a British father, the acclaimed novelist was actually born ‘Sadie’ and decided to change her name at the age of 14 after her mother had introduced her the work of Zora Neale Hurston. Much like Zora in this regard, Zadie never let a clumsy letter like ‘S’ determine her self-esteem, as she felt ‘Zadie’ sounded more exotic. Zadie, who lists Hurston as a literary heroine, is also a brilliant essayist and spends her time between New York where she lectures at NYU and her hometown in London where her mother and brothers still live.

 

 

The Artists:

Eartha and Zoe

Eartha Kitt was an actress, singer, dancer and according the Orson Welles, “the most exciting woman in the world”. She played the role of Catwoman and Helen of Troy and was a successful singer during the 1980s. Eartha never conformed to the status quo and she is best remembered as a bold social activist who didn’t dilute her strong views even when her opinions posed a threat to her career. One of the earliest public figures to protest apartheid in South Africa, she also spoke out against the war in Vietnam and defended LGBT rights and the motion to legalise same-sex marriage. Ahead of her time, when asked by a journalist if she would compromise for a man, she responded indignantly “for what?” A firecracker of a human being, she danced, sang and performed her whole life. However, her greatest gift to the world was her unabashed and undeniable passion for living her own life according to her own rules.

Zoe Saldana Zoe Saldana

 Zoe Saldana spent her childhood between New York and the Dominican Republic, where she studied ballet, jazz and Latin dancing. Her dance training was serendipitous as her dancing talent helped her to secure her breakthrough role as an aspiring ballet dancer in the teen favourite, Center Stage. Not your typical Hollywood sweetheart, Zoe has starred in Pirates of the Caribbean, the Star Trek franchise and the record-breaking Avatar. Her performance in these films has been praised by the African-American community, as films of the adventure and sci-fi genre do not typically include minorities in starring roles. With no plans for slowing down, she is also set to star as Nina Simone in the highly-anticipated biopic about the iconic jazz musician and civil rights activist. The casting of the light-skinned Zoe as Nina Simone has sparked much controversy, with public figures such as India.Arie calling for the role to be recast with someone “who looks like Nina Simone”. Not one to court criticism, in a recent interview, when asked about the objections to her casting, Zoe simply stated, “I’m here to be an artist first”. Her dedication to her craft is evident as she is rumoured to have recently secured the role of Eartha Kitt in the biopic about the star. Much like Eartha, Zoe is a pioneer in her industry and is likely to excel in the role with so much in common with the avant-garde Miss Kitt.

The Foodies:

Julia and Siba

The dynamic woman who is credited with introducing French cuisine to the American public, Julia Child, described her first meal in France as “an opening of the soul and spirit”. In 1948, Julia and her husband moved to Paris. It was there that Julia discovered her passion for French cooking, a passion that would make her famous among food lovers the world over. While in Paris, she attended the highly praised Le Cordon Bleu cooking school and trained privately with famous French chefs. Her enthusiasm for cooking led her to meet fellow gastronomes Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, and together the three women wrote the seminal cooking bible Siba Mtongana Siba Mtongana “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”. In her lifetime, Julia would go on to publish several other highly praised books. Following the success of her first book, Julia landed her own cooking show, The French Chef. With her ineffable charm and bubbly enthusiasm, Julia, with her distinct voice, was a pleasure to watch and an inspiration to many wannabe chefs with a love for fine dining and the joy of a buttery croissant.   

 

Siba Mtongana has been cooking her whole life. Her passion for cooking started quite innocently, with her sister preferring to clean, young Siba took charge of cooking her family dinner, thereby laying the foundation for her unique take on South African cooking. Following university in Cape Town, Siba worked as a tutor and food editor, with her experience, charm and passion helping her land her own show, Cooking with Siba on Mzansi Magic. The wildly successful show piqued the interest of the bigwigs at The Food Network and Siba’s Table was born. Currently beamed to 60 million households in the US, Siba’s Table is not your average cooking show as it also gives viewers a sneak peek into Siba’s life as a wife and mom living and loving in Cape Town. Siba’s charm lies in her non-fussy approach to cooking. Instead she’s winning audiences over with her sugary-sweetness and South African inspired fare. With recipes including “pappizza”, a take on the worldwide favourite made with a pap base, Siba would make Julia Child proud.

 

The Leaders:

Eva and Winnie

Known as “The Woman with the Whip”, Eva PerÓn, known affectionately as “Evita”, died before her 34th birthday, yet her brief time on earth was filled with passion, politics and love. Born in 1919 in a rural village in Argentina, young Eva moved to Buenos Aires to become a star. However, little did she know, she was destined to be a star of a different kind. After meeting Colonel Juan PerÓn in 1944, the pair married the following year. Shortly after their marriage, Eva’s husband was elected President of Argentina and so began the rise of Eva PerÓn, the feminist firebrand with the common touch. Her popularity in Argentina was often compared to a personality cult, with Eva boldly championing women’s suffrage and the rights of the working class. However, Eva’s ill health stunted her political ambitions, eventually forcing her to withdraw her candidacy for the office of Vice President of Argentina. Her declining health, coupled with Mandela Winnie Winnie Mandela opposition from the military and the country’s bourgeoisie, prevented her from reaching her full potential as a politician. However, her dedication and passion for her country earned her the title of “Spiritual Leader of the Nation”. Despite her premature death, her spirit lives on and she is remembered as a tirelessly passionate feminist icon who fought bravely for her beliefs.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is the “Mother of the Nation”, stoic wife to Nelson Mandela during his imprisonment and fearless political activist. Her Xhosa name is Nomzamo, which means “she who tries”, a rather prophetic name as her life is perhaps best characterised by her steely determination to try and free South Africa from the shackles of apartheid. Often controversial, never apologetic; Winnie never stopped trying to achieve the vision that she had for her beloved country. Originally a trained social worker, Winnie always had the people of South Africa close to her heart. However, it was her whirlwind marriage to Nelson Mandela that forced her into a life of politics, a responsibility that she never abandoned or resented, often suffering unjust imprisonment and torture at the hands of the apartheid government. While her then-husband, Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, Winnie became an active symbol of the ANC’s struggle against apartheid. Much loved among supporters of the ANC, Winnie was loyal to Nelson Mandela despite the breakdown of their marriage, with Winnie devotedly visiting Nelson Mandela during his lengthy illness. Loyal, determined and brave; Winnie is the Mother of the Nation that we never earned.

The Pioneers:

Helen and Thuli

Originally trained as an economist and statistician, Helen Suzman was impelled by the insufferable injustice of apartheid to abandon her teaching career and pursue politics. In 1953 she was elected to the House of Assembly where she served for 36 years. For over a decade of her term, Helen was the only Progressive MP in Parliament and for six years she was the only female parliamentarian in an environment dominated by Calvinist Afrikaans men. An outsider not only because of her political views and gender, Helen was also ostracised as she was English-speaking and Jewish. Despite intimidation, Helen never shied away from expressing her vehement opposition to the apartheid regime. Criticised by an MP for asking questions that “embarrass the country”, Helen simply replied that “it is not my questions that embarrass South Africa; it is your answers”. That’s how it always was with Helen, forever gracious yet blatant in her disregard for injustice in all forms. Even following the fall of apartheid, Helen continued to challenge those in power, tireless in her Thuli Madonsela Thuli Madonsela belief that justice for all individuals should always trump the interests of the state and party.

The current Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, is well known and respected in South Africa and abroad. However, few know of her efforts in drafting the final Constitution of South Africa at the dawn of democracy. Not interested in flaunting her achievements, Thuli, a former human rights lawyer, fearlessly pursues the ends of justice in the interests of the people of South Africa in her role as Public Protector. Born in Soweto in 1962, Thuli has been listed as one of Time magazine’s Most Influential People in the World. Despite occupying several high power positions, Thuli has drawn most praise and much criticism in her role as Public Protector, with her office bravely investigating the likes of Bheki Cele and Julius Malema. Often threatened and criticised by various factions, Thuli remains steadfast in her desire to fulfill her mandate. In her quiet voice and poised manner, she asks the questions that need to be asked without fear or favour.

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