Bread and honour: white working class women and Afrikaner Nationalism in the 1930s

Vincent, L.D. (2000) Bread and honour: white working class women and Afrikaner Nationalism in the 1930s. Journal of Southern African Studies, 26 (1). pp. 61-78. ISSN 0305-7070



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Women have occupied a central place in the ideological formulations of nationalist movements. In particular, the figure of woman as mother recurs throughout the history of nationalist political mobilizations. In Afrikaner nationalism, this symbolic female identity takes the form of the volksmoeder (mother of the nation) icon, commonly assumed to describe a highly circumscribed set of women's social roles, created for women by men. The academic orthodoxy holds that middle-class Afrikaner women submitted to the volksmoeder ideology early on in the development of Afrikaner nationalism but that the working class Afrikaner women of the Garment Workers' Union (GWU) represented an enclave of resistance to dominant definitions of ethnic identity. They chose instead to ally themselves with militant, class-conscious trade unionism. This paper argues that Afrikaner women of different classes helped to shape the contours of the volksmoeder icon. Whilst middle class Afrikaner women questioned the idea that their social contribution should remain restricted to narrow familial and charitable concerns, prominent working class women laid claim to their own entitlement to the volksmoeder heritage. In doing so, the latter contributed to the popularization and reinterpretation of an ideology that was at this time seeking a wider audience. The paper argues that the incorporation of Afrikaner women into the socialist milieu of the GWU did not result in these women simply discarding the ethnic components of their identity. Rather their self-awareness as Afrikaner women with a recent rural past was grafted onto their new experience as urban factory workers. The way in which leading working class Afrikaner women articulated this potent combination of 'derived' and 'inherent' ideology cannot be excluded from the complex process whereby Afrikaner nationalism achieved success as a movement appealing to its imagined community across boundaries of class and gender.

Item Type:Article
Uncontrolled Keywords:capitalism; clothing workers; Afrikaners; gender role; nationalism; social history; labour unions; twentieth century; South Africa
Subjects:Y Unknown > Subjects to be assigned
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Humanities > Political Studies and International Studies
ID Code:1463
Deposited On:04 Sep 2009
Last Modified:06 Jan 2012 16:20
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