Intergenerational trauma, poverty, and abuse in Indian women’s history were the topics of discussion at the Wits writing centre. 

Two creators met for the first time at Wartenweiler Library on East Campus to share their sides of a stories forgotten by modern history on Friday, August 26.  

Joanne Joseph, a broadcast journalist and now author, released her first fiction novel, Children of Sugarcane in October 2021. Shanti, the main character, leaves India and goes to Natal in search of a better life. The novel follows her life in South Africa, working as an indentured labourer, a form of contracted labour without a salary and inhumane working conditions, under the British colony. 

At the book launch, Joseph said it is important to “understand why Indians don’t know their history”. Many stories had been told from the colonial British perspective, erasing those of the women in history. Joseph had seen her great grandmother’s archives and wanted to know her history and that of the indentured.  

The film, When the Moon Waxes, by Sharlene Khan, the head of department at the Wits school of fine arts, depicted the generational trauma of Indian women. The film had autobiographical aspects in which Khan told the story of trauma, poverty, and abuse through the various generations of her grandmother and mother. 

“I can’t watch it easily” Khan said, the intergenerational trauma of how Indian women lived in South Africa is still a major “gap in South African history”.  

Pamela Nichols, from the writing centre emphasised the importance of a book launch.

She said it is important that people read and learn because forms like literature and film are tools that “bridge the gap in history”. By interacting with these forms audiences can learn about the past that has not necessarily been told before.  

Busisiwe Nhlakathi, a postgraduate linguistics student who was invited to the book launch, said it was eye opening to learn about the generational pain of those women and not knowing the extent of it. She liked that the themes and discussions were a “celebration of women and their stories”.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Author of Children of Sugarcane, Joanne Joseph, signs the novel for attendees at the book launch at the Wits writing centre. Photo: Tylin Moodley