A cake of soap: The Volksmoeder ideology and the Afrikaner women's campaign for the vote

Vincent, L.
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The 1920s witnessed a great volume of activity associated with the women's suffrage campaign in South Africa. Existing women's organisations added the demand for the vote to their programmes and new organisations were formed with suffrage as their exclusive goal. This campaign is usually associated with the English-speaking women of the country. Cherryl Walker, for example, in her article on "The Women's Suffrage Movement" asserts that "its leaders were not rural or Afrikaner, but characteristically middle-class, urban and English-speaking". Walker sees Afrikaner women as firmly under the sway of the patriarchal ideology of the Dutch Reformed Church and "content to exercise their power indirectly, without questioning the principle of male hegemony" (1). Lou-Marie Kruger, in her study of the magazine, Die Boerevrou, finds that the issue of female suffrage was hardly ever discussed in Die Boerevrou and concludes from this that Afrikaner women played no part in the campaign (2). Marijke du Toit's work on the Afrikaner Christelike Vroue Vereniging (the Afrikaner Christian Women's Association) comes to a similar conclusion. She argues that sporadic reports of militant suffragette action in Britain made little impact in South Africa and that, for the most part, Afrikaner women agreed that "unbiblical suffragettes" threatened domestic life (3). This paper challenges the perception of the suffrage campaign as a movement of Englishspeaking, middle-class, urban women. It argues that Afrikaner women played a significant role in what was referred to at the time as one of the most controversial issues ever to have been dealt with in the South African Legislative Assembly. Leading Afrikaner women campaigned vociferously for their own enfranchisement. In order to do so, they had to challenge existing Afrikaner nationalist ideas about the proper role of women in society. As the title of the paper suggests, Afrikaner women employed the language of home-making and motherhood as a means of conferring legitimacy on their campaign for citizenship. The title is taken from an article which appeared in the suffrage magazine, The Flashlight in July 1930. In this article, Mrs M. Moldenhauer described the newly-won suffrage as "a cake of soap" which women would use to "clean up the dirty places of the country, and lighten darkness wherever it is possible" (4).
African Studies Seminar series. Paper presented 23 March 1998