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Modjaji Books

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Swimming with Cobras Reviewed in The Sunday Independent


Rob Gaylard gives Rosemary Smith’s Swimming with Cobras the thumbs up in The Sunday Independent.

SA letters has found a fresh, new voice. Rosemary Smith’s memoir, Swimming with Cobras (Modjaji Books) covers just over 30 years of a very active life, from her arrival in Grahamstown as wife of a newly appointed English lecturer, to her “retirement” in 1999. This rich and interesting narrative is several things at once.

Liberal, middle-class women are sometimes patronised or diminished by those who move in more ideologically correct, left-wing circles; this book may help to revise these kinds of rather unthinking judgements. As this memoir makes clear, there were many women who, like the author, spent long hours in Black Sash advice offices. They may not have been manning the barricades but they were keeping the score, and their work made a considerable difference to the lives of the poor, black working class people who found their way to their door. Their patient work was also part of the Struggle against oppression. “It was a kind of war we were waging,” she comments – a war against a callous and indifferent bureaucracy.

In these ways, then, this memoir is more than the story of one woman’s journey: it contributes to the political and social history of our country. It places on record the work of the small group of women in the Black Sash who continued to protest against injustice and to work in the townships, even during the darkest years of apartheid.

Rosemary Smith will be at the Open Book Book Festival talking to Eva Hunter about her book, her life and the Black Sash. Come and meet this remarkable woman on the 20th September at 12 noon at the Fugard.

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