What’s the word? Sister/woman have you heard from Manenberg?

Rock Girls in Manenberg

To honor the June 16, 1976 Soweto Uprising, aka Youth Day, the Rock Girls are on a five-day road trip, from Manenberg to Port Elizabeth. These girls embody all that is powerful and hopeful about Youth Day. They live the injunction of organizer Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living!”

Based in Manenberg, Rock Girls was begun in 2010 by human rights lawyer and activist Michelle India Baird, who has worked for decades for women’s and children’s rights in the United States and in South Africa.

In 2010, Baird was volunteering at the Red River School in Manenberg, on the Cape Flats. Established in the mid 1960s as a Colored `enclave’, Manenberg has increasingly become identified with gang violence, which means among other things with intensifying gender-based violence. It’s a hard place for adolescent women to negotiate gender and personhood … but they do, every day, and that’s where Rock Girls comes in, making change in Manenberg.

In 2010, Baird saw, in her words, that “girls were not participating in the after-school running programme because they did not feel safe on the sports field. [We] began documenting the conditions around and at school, and created a plan to make their environment safer, starting with a safe place to sit at school when the older boys and gangsters harassed them.” So, Grade 6 girls designed a bench, painted murals, planted a garden, and organized like hell to make their school a safer place. They put the bench near the tuck shop on the school grounds, and declared the space a Safe Space. There are now eight benches around Cape Town, with another five pending.

The girls started meeting regularly, and organizing, at the Manenberg People’s Centre Library. Last year, when they heard about the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria, they said, “Let’s go find them.” That began a conversation about pan-African women’s and girls’ rights and situations, especially as regards everyday safety for women and girls. Meanwhile, the meetings became more difficult, due to increased gunfire nearby.

Undeterred, the girls decided to hit the road, to see South Africa, to meet girls in communities like their own, and to organize like hell. This week, it’s a five-day trip. The girls have studied reporting with the Children’s Radio Foundation and photography with Iliso Labantu photographers. According to Baird, this is a test drive. The next trip, they hope to drive north … to Rwanda. Stay tuned.

Further Reading

A power crisis

Andre De Ruyter, the former CEO of Eskom, has presented himself as a simple hero trying to save South Africa’s struggling power utility against corrupt forces. But this racially charged narrative is ultimately self-serving.

Cinematic universality

Fatou Cissé’s directorial debut meditates on the uncertain fate and importance of Malian cinema amidst the growing dismissiveness towards the humanities across the world.

The meanings of Heath Streak

Zimbabwean cricketing legend Heath Streak’s career mirrors many of the unresolved tensions of race and class in Zimbabwe. Yet few white Zimbabwean sporting figures are able to stir interest and conversation across the nation’s many divides.


After winning Italy’s Serie A with Napoli, Victor Osimhen has cemented his claim to being Africa’s biggest footballing icon. But is the trend of individual stardom good for sports and politics?

The magic man

Chris Blackwell’s long-awaited autobiography shows him as a romantic rogue; a risk taker whose life compass has been an open mind and gift to hear and see slightly into the future.

How to think about colonialism

Contemporary approaches to the legacy of colonialism tend to narrowly emphasize political agency as the solution to Africa’s problems. But agency is configured through historically particular relations of which we are not sole authors.

More than just a flag

South Africa’s apartheid flag has been declared hate speech by a top court. But while courts are important and their judgments matter, racism is a long and internationally entrenched social phenomenon that cannot be undone via judicial processes.

Resistance is a continuous endeavor

For more than 75 years, Palestinians have organized for a liberated future. Today, as resistance against Israeli apartheid intensifies, unity and revolutionary optimism has become the main infrastructure of struggle.

Paradise forgotten

While there is much to mourn about the passing of legendary American singer and actor Harry Belafonte, we should hold a place for his bold statement-album against apartheid South Africa.