Rediscovering forgotten IsiXhosa women writers: the visibility of Letitia Kakaza and Victoria Swaartbooi in the history of IsiXhosa written literature

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University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
The benefit of the study is that it will give insight into a period in our country that failed to recognize women in isiXhosa written literature. This is also the period Letitia Kakaza and Victoria Swaartbooi made history by being part of the first black women to publish a novel in isiXhosa. We are also able to explore a country where missionaries took control by manipulating black men and women to convert to Christianity. It is during these times that the Lovedale Press was produced and isiXhosa literature was developed. The history of isiXhosa written literature has largely concentrated on men's contributions to its development, with little mention of women's contributions. As a result, women were silenced and erased from public records. This thesis aims to make visible the identities of Kakaza and Swaartbooi by providing their biographical information and background information of the different institutions that they were part of. The study explores how both writers interrogate language, identity, womanism, and education in their writing. As part of the study, a film has been created that explores the themes that are discussed in the paper. This thesis and the accompanying film project, Ndokulandela, reimagine the histories and experiences of black women writers. By speaking back to narratives that erased women’s voices, this re-imagining sought to correct the lens that only maintained one view of the history of isiXhosa literature. The thesis also raises questions on how biographical films depict women's experiences. The film incorporates both the past and present by including letters and manuscripts by both Kakaza and Swaartbooi as well as the current isiXhosa women writer's experiences. The study will also trace the literature written by the women and an analysis will be conducted of their work. Based on the analysis of the three novels, Intyantyambo Yomzi (1913), UTandiwe wakwa Gcaleka (1914) and UMandisa (1975), the thesis examines the themes that Kakaza and Swaartbooi discussed as well as the political context of the early twentieth century. These books irradiate how both women viewed a woman’s life during the time as well as the idea of womanism.
A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Film and Television at University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
isiXhosa written literature, Black men, Black women, Letitia Kakaza, Victoria Swaartbooi