n Historia - Personal reminiscences on life as a member of the Black Sash
Swimming with Cobras, Rosemary Smith : book review

Volume 59, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 0018-229X



is a memoir by former Black Sash member, Rosemary Smith, who was born and raised in the United Kingdom. Smith moved to South Africa in 1966 and through this memoir she delivers a refreshing, personal perspective on South Africa's socio-political context from the mid 1960s through to the dawn of democracy in 1994. While the title of the book is a curious one, the first chapter explains its significance, detailing how Smith once swam in a river in the Eastern Cape while unbeknown to her there was a cobra swimming nearby. It was only after she had been alerted to the snake's presence that fear set in. The distress brought on by this experience is used as a metaphor for the fear felt by political activists during apartheid. Aside from setting up this metaphor, Smith also introduces the prevailing tone of the work, namely the diverse activities the Black Sash engaged in; these included, for example, attending funerals, which served as an act of solidarity as well as an opportunity to monitor the event for the potential recruitment of new members and for exposure of the organisation. One of the challenges that emerged through these events was language. While none of the Black Sash women could speak Xhosa or Zulu, and thus they could not communicate with a wider black audience, this did not prevent them from getting noticed during this politically turbulent time.

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