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New book alert: Mothers of the Nation – Manyano Women in South Africa


Wits School of Governance lecturer, Lihle Ngcobozi wrote a book, Mothers of the Nation – Manyano Women in South Africa. We chat to her about her book.

In this interview, we learn more about her work on Manyano women and her decision to write this book. Representation matters, says Ngcobozi. “It matters who is remembered in history and it is important to insert footnoted histories into the grander narratives of South Africa’s history. This is exactly what this book attempts to do, and that is important.”

For those of us that don’t know, what is the Manyano Women Movement about?

In the mind of many South Africans, the Manyano are often symbolised by their distinct church uniforms which can be seen on Thursdays and Sundays, when Manyano women are moving between their homes and their respective church groupings. The Methodist Manyano, which is the focus of  my book, is the dominant iconography of Manyano Women in South Africa with their red, white, and black uniforms. Many South Africans know of uManyano as a women’s church organisation which is often the heartbeat of the Black church in South Africa. Not so much a movement, uManyano it is one of the most critical matriarchal organisations in South Africa which was primarily conceived out of the colonial traditions of Christianity, missionary indoctrination, and Eurocentric ideas of devout womanhood. However, with Black women making use of African spirituality and indigenous forms of worship, the Manyano have now evolved into an indigenous matriarchal Christian organisation within the church and the Black community at large. The history and evolution of this dynamic organisation is far more complex than what I have alluded to, but the nature of this evolution goes beyond its Christian outlook.

What are some of the main themes that emerge from the book?

The book explores a number of themes which enable us to have greater insight into this complex and multi-dimensional group of women. It offers key reflections of the implications a bifurcated South Africa has had on the ways in which Manyano women conceive of, and ultimately express their citizenship. The book also considers the varied ways in which Manyano women form part of the larger  liberation movement in South Africa through the use of their matriarchal identities under the broader umbrella of the Black Church. Further than this, the book attempts to expand our feminist theoretical tools in understanding the ways in which Manyano women have contributed to post-apartheid feminisms, and subsequently collapsed rigid theorisations of ubufazi, motherhood, and the workings of spirituality for Black women.

Why did you choose this as a research area?

Academia has inherent biases, specifically around gender and race, in relation to whom it recognises as producers of knowledge. These biases are not only reflected in the politics of methodology and ‘scientific research’, these biases are implicit in the type of academic work that is produces about and around black women’s subjectivities. Research specifically about black women sometimes fails to glean crucial nuances due to cultural and racial mismatches between the researcher and those being ‘researched.’ Oftentimes, these mismatches result in mis-readings and absurd theorisations of Black women’s subjectivities. Because of this, and the strange characterisations of uManyano, it was important for me to explore this area of research in order to provide alternative readings of what uManyano represents for women in South Africa. I approached this with the intention of making the voices of the Manyano the dominant knowledge producers and positioning their narratives as theoretically rich contributions in expanding the historiography of uManyano, and further using their life histories a repositories of knowledge as opposed to anecdotes.

This must have been an honour to have the culture represented in a book, how do you and your family feel about it?

I’m not part of the Manyano yet, nor do I think I will be when I come of age. However, I do come from a long line of Manyano women and women who were missionaries in the former Cape Colonies. Much like several families whose family routes and roots are in the Eastern Cape, the Manyano is imbedded in the way of life for many South Africans beyond my family. With that being said, this book is a reflection of the lineages of Manyano Women who have shaped and contributed to the evolution of this organisation and its significance to South African history. It was a dauting task given the significance of uManyano however,  I believed Toni Morrison when she said “if there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it”. It was definitely an honour to document the life histories of the women who shared their journeys and knowledge with me.

*The book is available for purchase at all major books stores: Exclusives, Bargain Books and CNA.

You can also buy them online: