Black Looks - Including an African LGBTIQ+ Archive


Rurual Women’s Movement

The Rural Womens Movement is based in Kwa Zula Natal. The organization began in 1998 but was not officially launched until 2000. The RWM grew out of the need to address gender inequalities in the rural areas in post Apartheid South Africa,

RWM works to enable women to access, own, control, use, and manage land and natural resources in their own right. They work mainly with indigenous, poor and landless women and at present there are some 500 community based organizations with a membership of some 15,000 women. of whom 50 percent live below the poverty line.

Whilst at the WSF, I spoke with Olivia Nomzamo who is a young agricultural activist with the Rural Women’s Movement and who lives in a small village in Kwa Zulu Natal called Underburg. She left school in 1994 and worked in a garage for one year but then decided she wanted to learn about farming as a way of supporting herself so she went to work on a farm. In 1999 Olivia joined the RWM and began to talk to other women in her village about the possibility of acquiring some land and using it to set up a collective farm project and cultivate the land which would bring some income for the women and enable them to feed themselves.

They approached the Traditional Authority in their area which is managed by local chiefs many of whom had been imposed on the community by the Apartheid government. The land is actually held on behalf of the people but the Chiefs act as if they own the land and in many instances people have to pay bribes of 3000 rand plus gifts of beer and vodka in order to receive an allocation of land.

The women of Underburg were given 10 acres for their farm project by the Chiefs and with the help of other local farmers who taught them how to cultivate the land and also lent them equipment they were able to begin the project. The women are divided into 5 groups each with between 20 and 25 members. They all contribute to the purchasing of seeds, one group manages the seedlings and the other 4 groups manage the transplanted seedlings on the main farm where they grow potatoes, beans and vegetables. They have still not been able to purchase any of their own equipment and totally rely on borrowing from male farmers in the area. Most of the food is sold to local markets and a small amount is divided up between the women and used to feed their families. The money they make has enabled them to improve their lives generally including sending their children to school. There is a local clinic in the area which has recently had a change of staff and who are providing a much better service.

Many of the women in the farming project are AIDS widows and some 90 percent of the women are HIV positive so access to decent health care is a huge priority for the village. There is also a large number of orphaned children some who live with relatives but quite a few who live on their own as street kids with no support and have to fend for themselves.

The women of the rural communities in regions like Kwa Zulu Natal and the Eastern Cape have benefited the least from the New South Africa. Many of the women in these areas who were ANC activists or part of families who were ANC activists were hounded, beaten and killed by the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). The regions have the largest numbers of illiteracy due to the poor educational provision during Aparteid and not much has changed for them since then. In fact many are suffering and starving due to lack of unemployment and HIV/ AIDS. Women are particularly vulnerable as men blame them for the spread of HIV. Women have been evicted from their homes by their husbands or dead husbands male relatives when they have revealed their HIV status as it is the women that go to get tested whilst the men refuse to do so.

Sizani Ngubane is the founder and director of the Rural Women’s Movement and you can listen to an interview with her on Pambazuka Broadcasts or read the transcript here to get a fuller understanding of the life challenges face by this group of women making a difference.

Sizani lives in Pietermaritzburg, is self-educated and has been an ANC and Women’s activist for most of her adult life. If you wish to contact the RWM you can do so at rwm at mail dot ngo dot za

Over the next few months I shall be writing more about the RWM and hope to visit them in Kwa Zulu Natal.


Related story: White farmers, black land hunger: sparks fly in the tinder box