For decades, South Africans aspiring to make the perfect biryani have turned to Indian Delights, the best selling cookbook produced by Zuleikha Mayat and the Women´s Cultural Group. This is the story of the women behind the recipes; it is an account that brings to life the changing, gendered worlds of Muslim women in 20th century Durban.
Through a blend of scholarly rigour and compelling biography, this book reveals how a group of women, who were formally excluded from both political and customary power, nevertheless forged a vibrant citizenship and public life for themselves. In the midst of unfolding global and local transformation – apartheid, feminism, doctrinal shifts in Islam – the members of the Women’s Cultural Group were themselves agents of change, not only within the local communities that benefited from their proficient and varied labours, but in the making of South African modernity.
Academic historians Goolam Vahed and Thembisa Waetjen have constructed a multilayered narrative that captures the spirit and housewifey appeal of their subjects. A fascinating read for anyone interested in local history, gender identity, and Islam in the Indian-Ocean region.
Goolam Vahed and Thembisa Waetjen are colleagues in the Department of Historical Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban and their collaborative research has appeared in journal articles and the book Dear Ahmedbai, Dear Zuleikhabehn: The Letters of Ahmed Kathrada and Zuleikha Mayat, 1979–1989.
Waetjen writes about gender and culture in South African politics with articles in journals such as Theory and Society, Ethnic and Racial Studies and Theoria. She is the author of Workers and Warriors: Masculinity and the Struggle for Nation in South Africa (2006).
Vahed has published extensively on the history of Islam / Indians in South Africa, and the role of sport and culture in South African society including several the co-authored and co-edited books, such as Blacks in Whites: A Century of Sporting Struggles in KwaZulu-Natal, 1880–2002; The Making of a Social Reformer: Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa, 1893¬¬–1914; Empire & Cricket: The South African Experience 1884–1914; Monty Naicker: Between Reason and Treason; and Inside Indian Indenture: A South African Story, 1860–1914.
“A rare and gratifyingly rich glimpse into the world and inner lives of not just Afro-Indian Muslim women, but also into the century-old presence of Indians in South Africa. The diversity of the Afro-Indian experience is given the weight, attention and texture it deserves; we are made to understand the imperatives of importing cultural and religious traditions, the superimposition of Indian class, caste and ritual onto the South African landscape and the way in which those practices, in turn, have shifted through diaspora and the immigrant experience.”
- Nadia Davids, playwright and lecturer, Department of Drama, Queen Mary, University of London
“This gem of a book opens up a little-known area of South African social history and simultaneously speaks to wider international concerns with themes of diaspora and transnationalism. Innovative, well written, and beautifully crafted, it is a pleasure to read.”
- Isabel Hofmeyr, Professor of African Literature and Research Associate, Centre for Indian Studies in Africa, University of the Witwatersrand
“This is a fascinating story of a woman’s group in Durban and its founding member. A veritable tour de force, it looks at private lives in a complex and changing public domain and captures the myriad ways in which women sculpted their identity and claimed their citizenship through informal mechanisms. Delightfully written, it opens up new and exciting ways of reading women’s voices in the diaspora and makes an invaluable contribution to the making of an archive.”
- Lakshmi Subramanian, Professor of History, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolata, India
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