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The voice of the voiceless

Educated people are not the only ones who can write books. Ordinary people, with little education, can also do it.

Women from the small village of Mboza in north-eastern Natal have, with a little help from some friends, written a book about their lives and struggles. The book is called SIBAMBENE which means “we stand together”.

Most of the women, like many other rural people, have never been to school. They tasted school for the first time in October 1985 when community workers helped to start literacy classes in the village.

In these afternoon classes old women, young mothers and young girls meet to learn how to read and write. This is also where they share their daily life struggles.


In the book the older women or amakhosikazi do not complain about their lives. They are used to this life. “We do not know another life,” they say.

But they feel that it is never too late to learn to read and write. The classes mean many things to these women.

One woman says: “It means that you do not have to ask another to read for you. We can read the Bible on our own and write down things we do not want to forget”.

But not all the people in the village think that it is important to learn how to read and write. “Some look at us like foolish people who leave our homes to come and play here. They say our men do not think. How can they allow us to come to classes?”

But the women have seen the light. “Tomorrow we will reap a good thing,” they write.


The younger women do not like the life of Mboza. They speak strongly about their problems. Most of them are mothers with small children. Their husbands work in the cities and they see them once a year. They are both mothers and fathers to their children.

“Life will be better if there is a change. When a man finds a job in the city, he also finds a girl and falls in love with her. They forget about us who do not work and they stay with the girls in the cities. So we learn to read and write so that we can keep the fires of our loves burning — by writing letters to our husbands in the cities.” says one makoti.

“We have no jobs and no money. Mboza must get something that will help us. If our men work here then we will work alongside them and we will see each other.”

They say they don’t get enough food and money from farming anymore. “In the past there was rain and enough food to eat and sell. People had cattle but now we have to hire a span of oxen to plough. The white people open the dam and flood the land. This has made the land poor.”


The young girls talk about their work and how they want their lives to be. Most of them cannot go to school because their parents do not have money. Some parents only send their boys to school. The girls can get married and bring lobola for their parents.

The girls in the village want to know how to read and write. They believe that if they can read and write, they will have a better chance of getting jobs.

They complain that “every day is the same”. The work is the same, the food is the same, everything is the same.


At the end of the book all the women, young and old, speak with one voice. They give a list of things they want for themselves and for their village.

  • They want Mboza to develop so they don’t have to work so hard.

  • There must be jobs for all at Mboza

  • All the children must go to school.

  • There must be piped water for everyone.

  • There must be good roads, nice houses and stores.

  • There must be progress and the voices of the women must be heard.


We think there a few weaknesses in the book. Firstly, the first part of the book is written in difficult language. For example, there are words like “developing sector”, “conveyed”, “transformed” and “adversely”. The book comes from a learning group — but learners in other groups may find parts of it hard to understand!

Secondly, the book is full of “they say”….or “they believe…” The person who helped the learners to write the book should let the people talk for themselves. It is important to give names to the people who are talking — and not just a list at the end of the book!

Thirdly, the pictures in the book are good — but why not tell us who the people are and what they are doing? But don’t worry too much about our complaints. The book is rich in the culture of rural life. It gives a voice to the voiceless women in the rural areas. Any book that does that is worth buying!

* You can also get the book in Zulu. If you want to know more about the book “SIBAMBENE”, write to Ravan Press, P.O. Box 31134, Braamfontein 2017. Or phone (011) 642 5006/7. They offer a special price to workers!


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