Floretta Boonzaier

Associate Professor in Psychology, University of Cape Town


Fall 2015: Sheila Biddle Ford Foundation Fellow

Fall 2009: Mandela Fellow

Reading the past in the present: Historicizing Violence Against Women in South Africa

Project Description

Reading the past in the present: Historicizing Violence Against Women in South Africa

South Africa is notorious for its high levels of violence against women. Although frequent acknowledgement is given to the role of colonialism, slavery and apartheid in the manifestations of violence little to no work has unpacked the meanings of this historical context and its continuities to the present. I argue that an analysis of the structure and how it has come to be is important for thinking about the themes that characterize violence against women in present-day, post-colonial, post-apartheid South Africa.

The proposed project is located at two key intersections. First, it engages with the assertions by South African feminists such as Pumla Gqola (2010) and Gabeba Baderoon (2014) that there is a relative inattention to slave memory in South Africa, despite its relevance for and continuities into the present. Secondly, and relatedly, it is concerned with the ways in which colonialism, slavery and apartheid has created the conditions in which black subjectivities and black women’s bodies specifically, have become sites of violation.

In this work I theorize contemporary representations and manifestations of violence against women, by locating them in the past. I ask, ‘ How do the themes of the past locate themselves in the present?’ This work begins an analysis of how the local past – a particular history of slavery in the Western Cape Province of South Africa and later apartheid has given shape to the present. It asks about the intersections of race, sexuality, gender and the sexualisation and violation of the black female body. This historicizing project intends to unpack both the continuities and discontinuities between past and present asking about its implications for subjectivity and agency for those deemed victims and perpetrators.


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