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Centre of African Studies: Events


She Turned Everyone's Head, But Mine Not for Long?

She Turned Everyone's Head, But Mine Not for Long? : Performing the Memory, Place, and Biography of Cissie Gool
Speaker: Nadia Davids # School of English and Drama, Queen Mary, University of London
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Date and Time
8th Feb 2012 16:00 - 8th Feb 2012 18:00
Seminar room 2, CMB, 15a George Square


In September 2011, I staged a play in South Africa that imagines the life, times and political influence of the anti-colonial, anti-apartheid, feminist activist Cissie Gool. Between 1935 and 1963 Gool was possibly the most politically powerful woman of colour in Cape Town, yet her history remains largely undocumented and unknown, even within the parameters of her own city. The story of her life has not been lost, instead it has been absented from public view in an enactment of a disappearance that is not merely problematic, but emblematic, both of South Africa's history and of the legacy of the political mechanisms of its historiographic practices. The archives formulated under colonialism and apartheid were deceptive affairs, populated by absences, silences and carefully constructed mythologies that complied with the state's version of history. Since the demise of apartheid there have been tremendous (and often successful) efforts to address, repair and transform those national narratives. With these broad, factual outlines re-constructed and re-situated, artists have been able to turn towards aestheticising, problematising and interrogating those histories. Theatricalising Cissie Gool's untold story invites the opportunity to document, reassemble, and re-imagine history.

In the small pockets of people who continue to remember her, Gool's memory is a vexed and contested thing. Her multiple identities as Muslim, atheist, 'Cape Malay', 'black', politician, activist, daughter of prominent parents, wife of a community leader, lover of a known Communist, frugal and hedonistic, privileged and oppressed, dictatorial and egalitarian, all combine to present an image of a complex being who refused and refuses easy categorization.

This paper/presentation will reflect on the process of researching, writing and workshopping this play by staging a series of questions around the relationship between biography and memorialisation, theatre as a 'redemptive' post-colonial historiographic practice, and the often-troubled interface between South African archives and oral memory.