This study explores the idea that women members of the Quaker community (the Religious Society of Friends) in South Africa played a ‘highly visible and significant role’ in the struggle against apartheid. The author uses both archive material and her findings from questionnaires, occasional interviews and participant observation to investigate the level of their involvement. She finds that when apartheid began in 1948, Quakers, with a few significant exceptions, displayed a tendency to accept the status quo and concentrated on their personal spiritual development, avoiding political activity. However, the impact of the Sharpeville massacre and the later Soweto uprising galvanised many into activity. The Quaker women the author studies (the majority of whom were white) all took a stand against the apartheid regime; some worked for its overthrow in modest ways, others in a more overtly dangerous and illegal fashion. She discovers that the Quaker principles, or ‘testimonies’, of peace and equality, coupled with the active role that women play in the Society (particularly evident in their espousal of social issues such as poverty alleviation and education), were key factors in her respondents’ decisions to oppose the regime, and the manner in which they did so. The author looks at how their position as women – for example, in terms of the potential impact on their families– affected their level of involvement: the constraints of their social roles held some back, while others paid a price for their involvement. However, she finds that many are still active today, participating in the struggle to mitigate post-apartheid South Africa’s many problems.

Key themes:
The way Quakers reacted to apartheid, and the radical change that occurred in their attitude towards active opposition to apartheid
The significant role women Quakers played in the anti-apartheid struggle
The impact on women Quakers of their involvement in the struggle

Of potential interest to: those with a general interest in Quaker involvement in the anti-apartheid movement, women’s role in the anti-apartheid movement, Quaker women activists.

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