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Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Campus Access Only

Degree Name

MA in Women's History


Women’s History Graduate Program


During my first visit to South Africa in January 2015, I was immediately captivated by the large number museums and statues that seemed to be on every corner depicting a moment or a person from South African history. Some of these statues were figures still celebrating the colonial conquests that began in 1652 when Jan Van Reibeeck and a group of Dutch settlers arrived in Table Bay. Many celebrate Cecil Rhodes and his attempts to forge a path of British colonial success from ‘Cape to Cairo.’ Others depict the gold and diamond mines in and around Johannesburg and the ways these elements have shaped the economy and lead to events such as the Anglo-Boer War from 1899-1902. But most of the monuments and museums have been erected since 1994 when South Africa held its first democratic elections. This public history represents the liberation struggle.

It illustrates the early laws and policies that lead to the election of the Nationalist Party in 1948. It portrays the ways a majority of the South African population was affected in the most personal of ways by policies that labeled people by the color of their skin. But most importantly it commemorates those who fought against this system. It celebrates those who spent their whole lives fighting to bring an end to this oppressive system. I remember standing in front of the Gugulethu Seven Memorial1 with a young boy named Cabaret. Cabaret was about to turn 16 and was very excited to be riding around in a van with college students who wanted nothing more than to learn about his life in Langa, a township just outside of the Western Cape. At the memorial I asked Cabaret when he remembers first learning about these moments in history, unsure of at what age does it seem right to teach kids about these violent killings. Cabaret said to me “None of this matters. Yes we learn about this, but that’s not what the lesson is. What is important is that you and I can stand here, on this street and have this conversation. Before we would not have been able to do this.That is what matters.”

I’ll never forget his words. As someone who had been researching South African history for three years I wanted to know why there were so many monuments and museums that depict a history that ‘does not matter.’ Through my research I gained a better understanding of the Rainbow Nation and what its role is in paying tribute to those who have shaped this ‘new’ South Africa. The Rainbow Nation was built on the dual themes of reconciliation and hope. Throughout my thesis I will challenge these themes and the idea that this history ‘does not matter.’ I will show that this is history is important, it shaped how South Africa became the country it is today. I will evaluate the ways the story of the Rainbow Nation has been depicted and question where women fit within this narrative. Using the 1956 Women’s March as an example of the Rainbow Nation and the critical role women played in shaping South Africa, I will analyze the ways women have been tokenized and silenced.