Narratives of women detained in the Kroonstad prison during the Apartheid era: A socio-political exploration, 1960-1990

  • N. P. Z. Mbatha Department of Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation, Free State Province, South Africa
Keywords: Women, Kroonstad Prison, Apartheid, Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Solitary confinement, Liberation struggle, Trauma, Vroue, Kroonstad-tronk, Waarheids- en Versoeningskommissie, Alleenopsluiting, Vryheidstryd


Seen as taboo by society to have women arrested, could this factor perhaps have played a role in how women were treated in prison? One can assume that conditions in women prisons during apartheid were much better than those in male prisons, but that might not have been the case. Male prisons, such as Robben Island, received international condemnation. Yet, there was scarce attention given to the conditions in women prisons. Although the Kroonstad Prison is located in the Free State Province, it used to serve the whole country during apartheid. This was evident in the case of Dorothy Nyembe, sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, who served her time in the Kroonstad Prison where she experienced harsh treatment and little support from her family and society. In the struggle for freedom, often seen as a job for men, society perhaps was unsure how to deal with, and provide support to, incarcerated females. This article’s emphasis is on the narratives of women detained under apartheid and the Kroonstad female prison will be used as a case study. While the focus of this article is on the Kroonstad Prison, it is important to record that the experiences and stories of female political prisoners who served their time elsewhere, should equally deserve attention. To provide evidence for this article, testimonies during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa (TRC) will be scrutinised, as well as the biographies of women who served their terms at this prison. For the purpose of this article, the qualitative research method has been employed, as well as the oral history methodology and the traditional methods of historical research.


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