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Rosemary Smith’s Swimming with Cobras reviewed in Historia

Swimming with Cobras

Rosemary Smith’s memoir, Swimming with Cobras, in which she writes about her life in the Eastern Cape as a member of the Black Sash is reviewed favourably in the academic journal, Historia.

This is a captivating memoir. Smith has a strong personal connection to all the stories discussed throughout the book. She paints a vivid comparative picture, highlighting the contrast of life in the UK in the 1960s with her experiences in South Africa. Throughout the work, Smith successfully situates the Black Sash within the wider context of national political organisations, such as the African National Congress and the Progressive Party, as well as women’s roles in society, which she portrays as active, though limited. Smith also draws attention to other welfare organisations that she and the Black Sash were involved with, including GADRA, FEMSA and Christian Aid. The dominant themes in the book are those of violence, solidarity and family as they related to women under apartheid. The role of family units in particular is explored from Smith’s own close-knit family vis-a-vis the socio-economic impact on other families in rural areas who were broken up as a result of the political circumstances of the era. At times it is difficult to follow Smith’s recollections because they tend to be sporadic, but nonetheless, it is these memories that illustrate the unpredictability and fear which were part and parcel of life under apartheid for political activists. Although the work is a memoir written from a personal point of view, Smith has also consulted historical records ranging from those of the Black Sash to the volumes published by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). These insights make this book a well-balanced and valuable read.

Monica G. Fernandes
Brunel University

To read the whole review click here

Swimming with Cobras

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