Deemed "superfluous appendages" of their husbands by South African law, isolated in remote "homelands" where the mortality rate of their children is 50 percent by age 5, permitted to work only as maids and nurses, the black women of South Africa nevertheless have a slogan: "You have touched a woman, you have struck a rock."
This theme was struck Thursday night in the opening program of "Images of Resistance," a four-week series of free films and discussions sponsored by the Black Film Institute of the University of the District of Columbia and by Howard University.
"You Have Struck a Rock," a 28-minute film, portrays the widespread resistance among women to the "pass" system which requires a sort of domestic passport for all travel and many purchases. In 1952, some 20,000 women marched on Pretoria, delaying passage of the law until 1958. Through interviews and period film footage, black South African women are shown as leaders in the battle against apartheid. The implication is that their husbands--working in faraway cities--are less able to organize than they.
A second film, "South Africa Belongs to Us," consists of five portraits of women's life in a single-sex barracks, the ghetto of Soweto and a dusty, unfertile "homeland." There a mother of seven is shown visiting her husband for only the 20th time in their 20-year marriage.
In neither film is the white government of South Africa invited to defend itself against these pictures of misery and anger within its borders but outside its cities. Such a defense is not missed: The policy at issue is apartheid, and South Africa does not deny that policy.
A guest speaker was Barbara Masekela, a poet and writer representing the African National Congress, who claimed the South African government intends that black men be systematically exploited as cheap workers for the nation's labor-intensive mineral and metals deposits. According to Masekela, women, "supposedly 'superfluous appendages' with nothing to do," are left no choice but to organize, suffer banishment and death, and now arm themselves as members of an organization called "Spear of the Nation."
In the question-and-answer period, a young man suggested to Masekela that direct action be considered--that perhaps maids in white households in South Africa should poison their employers' food.
"No, in fact many of the policemen and informers are black, and many young white South Africans have gone to jail rather than go along with current policies. We are seeking justice for all races," Masekela replied.
Subsequent programs at UDC's Miner Auditorium are entitled: "Namibia: The Liberation Struggle" (April 15); "After Rhodesia, a Nation Named Zimbabwe" (April 22), and "Come Back, Africa" (April 27). Each program begins at 7:30 p.m.