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Silence, Disobedience, and African Catholic Sisters in Apartheid South Africa

Abstract:
Abstract:

This article considers the choices made during the apartheid era by Catholic sisters who were members of one of the largest orders for African women, the Montebello Dominicans, based in KwaZulu-Natal, and one of the smallest orders, the Companions of Saint Angela, based in Soweto, the sprawling African township to the southwest of Johannesburg. The Montebellos took an apolitical stance and embraced “silence,” but they could not avoid the political tensions that defined KwaZulu-Natal. The Companions became activists, whose “disobedience” brought them into direct confrontation with the state. History, region, ethnicity, and timing help explain what it meant for African women religious to be apolitical, and what it meant to be politicized, in the context of state repression so effective that every action could be interpreted as a political act.

Résumé:

Cet article évalue les choix des soeurs catholiques pendant l'Apartheid, qui étaient membres d'un des plus grands ordres pour les africaines, les dominicaines de Montebello, basées dans le KwaZulu-Natal, ainsi que l'un des ordres les plus petits, les compagnes de St Angela a Soweto, le township tentaculaire du sud ouest de Johannesburg. Les sœurs de Montebello restèrent neutres politiquement, et adoptèrent un statut “silencieux,” tout en ne pouvant éviter les tensions politiques qui régnaient dans le KwaZulu-Natal. Les compagnes s'engagèrent alors politiquement, et leurs actes d'insubordination les poussèrent à un état de confrontation directe avec l'état. Le contexte historique, régional et ethnique, ainsi que l'époque permettent de comprendre la signification d'un choix de neutralité ou d'engagement pour les religieuses africaines, dans un état de répression si percutante que tout acte risquait d'être interprété comme un acte politique.

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Archival Sources

ACAD (Archive of the Catholic Archdiocese of Durban, South Africa)

N.d. Outline of the history of the Dominican congregation of the Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, Montebello. p.1. In Dominicans—Montebello, Constitution, History. Dominican Sisters of Montebello. Archival File No. 1.
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SACBC (Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference Archive)

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SND (Archive of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, South Africa)

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Interviews

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Dlamini Theodora. (Sister). 2009. Interview with author. Digital recording. July 19. Welkom, Free State, South Africa. CD copy deposited in the Archive of the King William's Town Dominican Sisters, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Fantisi Bernard. (Sister). 2008. Interview with author. Digital recording. June 21. Bronville, Free State, South Africa. CD copy deposited in the Archive of the King William's Town Dominican Sisters, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Hlatshwako Stella. (Sister). 2006. Interview with author. Digital recording. February 23 and 24. Johannesburg, South Africa. CD copy deposited in Historical Papers, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. A3259.
Mdluli Michael. (Sister). 2008. Interview with author. Digital recording. July 4. Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. CD copy deposited in Archive of the Dominican Congregation Montebello, Dalton, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Modise Mary John. (Sister). 2005. Interview with author. Digital recording. October 26. Power Park, Soweto, South Africa. CD copy deposited in the Archive of the Companions of Saint Angela, Power Park, Soweto, South Africa.
Ngubane Immaculata (Sister). 2008. Interview with author. Digital recording. June 22. Johannesburg, South Africa. CD deposited in the Leadership Conference of Consecrated Life (LCCL) Archive, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Tlhagale Buti. (Bishop). 2005. Interview with author. Digital recording. October 13. Johannesburg, South Africa. CD copy deposited in Historical Papers, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. A3259.

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African Studies Review
  • ISSN: 0002-0206
  • EISSN: 1555-2462
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