Zoe Wicomb and the Translocal: Scotland and South Africa

13-14 September 2012, University of York

Nadia Davids

Nadia Davids is a South African writer and director. She has published and produced work in Africa, Europe and North America. She won the Rosalie van Der Gught Prize for Best New Director for her play ‘At Her Feet’ in 2003 and was nominated for the Fleur de Cap for Best New South African Play for her play ‘Cissie’ in 2008. Her short stories ‘Safe Home’ and ‘The Visit’ were finalists in the Africa Pen Award in 2007 and 2009 respectively. ‘At Her Feet’ was nominated for the Noma Award in 2008. Nadia held a a Mellon Fellowship between 2000-2005 and was a Visiting Scholar at UC Berkeley (2001) and New York University (2004-2005). She has a PhD in Drama from the University of Cape Town and is currently lecturing at Queen Mary, University of London.

“This Woman is Not for Burning” performing the biography and memory of Cissie Gool

Between 1935 and 1963 Zainunnessa ‘Cissie’ Gool was probably the most politically powerful woman of colour in Cape Town, yet her history has remained largely undocumented and unknown even in her own city. The story of her life was not ‘lost’. Instead, it was absented from public view in a disappearance that is emblematic of South Africa’s history and its politicized historiographic practices. Further, it is impossible not to recognize that the disjuncture between the intense impact of Gool’s work on the lives of ordinary Capetonians and the slightness of her contemporary public profile is an instance of Judy Long’s assertion that ‘women’s lives are caused to disappear’.

Cissie Gool was born in 1897 and died in 1963 and her life’s trajectory reveals an existence inextricably tied to and shaped by the political and social currents of South Africa. Her mother was an émigré Christian Scots suffragette and her father, a practicing Muslim of Indian and Cape slave descent, was a physician and the leader of the African People’s Organisation. As a family, the Abduragmans’ experience was singular; consisting of equal parts class privilege, racial disenfranchisement, internationalism, localism and early feminism all played out against the backdrop of a multi-racial, multi-cultural early 20th century Cape Town. Like her parents, Gool went on to become a leading anti-apartheid, anti-imperialist and anti- segregationist activist.

This presentation traces a skeleton of her biography and offers a few reflections on the process of making two theatre pieces, Cissie (2008) and This woman is not for burning (2011), both works that were oriented around Gool’s life and the world of her constituency, District Six. Like the two plays it focuses on, this research is concerned with the efficacy and limitations of restorative archiving and historiography through performance and the potential seductions of hagiography. I suggest that both plays were acts of feminist biography, governed, in part, by the (often silent, sometimes unacknowledged) narrative of auto/biography. I will also an attempt to forge a critical and creative cohesion between the multiple forms of inquiry (imaginative, anecdotal and theoretical) that underpinned both works and establish a reflective narrative around the legacy of Gool’s political and social memory.


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Zoe Wicomb and the Translocal

September 13th, 2012
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