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University of Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies


Ayanda Mhlongo

Cambridge Trust and Churchill College South African Scholarship

Exploring historical trauma in South Africa: from the perspective of black South African women

Supervisor: Dr Mónica Moreno Figueroa (Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge)


In South Africa, when apartheid ended, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established to help the country deal with the mass violence and gross human rights violations that took place during apartheid. In as much as the TRC did not solve all the challenges of a post- apartheid South Africa, it did try to disrupt the intergenerational transmission of trauma. However, the remorseful apologies by the perpetrators of apartheid were and are not enough to heal the continuing pain of those that are still disposed, poor and disenfranchised. In South Africa, it is women who experience the worst form of marginalization and oppression, especially black women. Black South African women struggle the most to deal with the imbalances of race, class, privilege, and power epitomized by South Africa’s history, trauma, and legacy of apartheid. Oppression and exclusion, based on race and gender, are responsible for circumscribing the lives of black women. As a result, this study explores historical trauma from the perspective of black South African women. Such an exploration will enable us to trace the ways in which historical contexts, such as apartheid, can create economic, social, and psychological disadvantages that persist across generations. This study considers the relationship between historical trauma and sustainable development in South Africa, critically interrogating what historical trauma does to a society and if questions of achieving development and growth are pertinent and to what extent. Such an exploration will provide a critical perspective that will be beneficial to South Africa (National Development Goals 2030), the rest of Africa (AU Agenda 2063) and the world (Sustainable Development Goals 2030). The study will also consider the relationship between historical trauma and a range of issues linked to inequality such as poverty, unemployment, education, health, sexism and gender equality, racism, peace, security and corruption.

Academic Background:

MPhil in Multi-disciplinary Gender Studies, University of Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies; Churchill College

Master of Social Sciences in Social Development (Distinction), University of Cape Town Bachelor of Social Sciences Honors in Social Development, University of Cape Town

Bachelor of Social Sciences in Organizational Psychology; Gender Studies and Social Development (with Distinction), University of Cape Town

Research Interests:

Gender Equality; Intersectionality; African feminism; Decoloniality; Historical Trauma; Sustainable Development; Poverty and Inequality; Racism; Ethical Leadership; Period Poverty; Menstrual Hygiene Management