The Border Historical Society's November 2022 talk - in association with the Friends of the East London Museum - will be presented by Dr. Stephanie Victor, Curator of History at the Amathole Museum in Qonce on Tuesday 15 November 2022 at 19:00 in the classroom at the East London Museum.
Historians of colonialism are increasingly using petitions as a pertinent historical source, specifically as a mechanism to explore contestation, negotiation, and resistance. Framing petitions as spaces of female agency, however, remains largely unexamined. The erasure of female voices in the canon on South African petition-writing is countered by five petitions from Xhosa royal women, dated 1839 to 1899, and addressed to figures of authority.
The talk examines and compares the five petitions in terms of content, format and outcome. Specifically, it explores the circumstances under which the female elite was able to negotiate power and challenges the notion of women as powerless and passive.
Several noteworthy findings will be presented. Firstly, the petitions were all successful in achieving redress from the colonial government – an extraordinary feat in an unequal colonial society. Furthermore, the earliest petition, dated 1839, is remarkable because, in the period between 1833 and 1841, for example, only five petitions from the Cape Colony were sent to the House of Commons in Britain. The 1839 petition thus represents a rare and rather novel occurrence which requires further analysis. The petitions are also significant because, with one exception, they all originate from illiterate women, none of whom were missionary-educated.
As a body of evidence, the five petitions thus contribute to the canon on petition writing and challenge the existing historiography which foregrounds the African missionary-educated male elite as the exclusive writers of grievances to government. What transpires is a more complex understanding of the act of petition-making. Written grievances were an avenue of redress which was employed by both Xhosa-speaking women and men in a colonised Eastern Cape.
Dr Stephanie Victor works as a historian at the Amathole Museum in Qonce (King William’s Town). She has recently been awarded a Ph.D. in History from Rhodes University. Her thesis is entitled: “A Study in Female Power: Xhosa-Speaking Women of Royalty in South Africa’s Eastern Cape.” It was a true labour of love – the culmination of ten years of research.
“Petitioning Power” forms part of Dr Victor's continuing efforts to disseminate the narratives of royal women through presentation, publication, display and applied history.
All are welcome to attend and there will be time for questions. Tea will be served after the talk.
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