The church bells pealed,
tinsling the air
with their chimes.
But it was not there
that I saw the saints,
not traditional icons
but portraits nonetheless
that moved me to tears.
Women, some named, some not,
who lived and worked
and held together
Despite brutality.
Despite censure.
Despite misanthrophy.
Hardened for the cause of
But hearts
open wide to children
and their own -
see the joy in their faces,
brimming with life and hope
in her presence.
I didn't go looking for saints.
But they found me anyway.

These are A Few South Africans 1983, depicted by Sue Williamson, women who played a role in opposing the injustice of apartheid.  I like how the portraits depict aspects of each woman’s character through the added details around the photo.  And I also like the decorative borders which themselves imitate the creative ways the women in the townships had of adding simple beauty to their homes, however rudimentary.  Next to each women’s portrait was a short profile of the part she played in the struggle for justice – not only in being teachers or being involved in trade unions, but also in building home and stability and hope for the young ones – often the unsung heroes that is the bedrock of people.  And I thought that each one of these women was beautiful, having a beauty far deeper than convention, but beauty of spirit, beauty of fire, beauty of grace.

From the right: Nokukanya Luthuli, Caroline Motsoaledi, (top left) Case No 6831/21 – to the State she was simply a case number, (bottom left) Lilian Ngoyi

Exhibited at the Tate Modern Gallery, in the standing exhibition ‘Citizens’


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