The objective of this project is to provide a platform for women workers in the Western Cape to tell their life stories in a book and through other media. The project aims to:

  • record and archive the life stories of women workers who have contributed to transformation in their workplaces, unions, communities and South Africa;
  • contribute to the preservation of South African labour history in a multi-media form; and,
  • raise awareness and educate the youth and society in general about the contribution women workers have and continue to make.

The book project was funded by the Ford Foundation for Southern Africa, the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund and Hoskin Consolidated Investment. Funding for other media including community radio programmes, a children's book and short video documentaries is ongoing.

Project Development

Trade unions were invited to identify storytellers, others were selected by the HRMC. Shehaam Appoles, the project coordinator from January 2003 to November 2005, interviewed 11 women workers. Afrikaans interviews were translated into English. Rachel Visser was employed as the project coordinator from October 2006 to June 2007 to finalise the production of the book, Labour Pains for the Nation. Rachel Visser and Shirley Gunn edited the eight stories.

Myrtle Witbooi, Florence De Villiers, Rachel Visser, Pat Van Voore and Charlotte Petersen signing the consent form at the final consultative workshop, May 2007.

The HRMC held nine workshops from 2003 to 2007 with the storytellers and four meetings with the reference group who read the interviews and gave guidance to the book project. Through this consultative process the decision was made to publish eight of the 11 stories for Labour Pains for the Nation.

Book: Labour Pains for the Nation:
Eight women workers tell their stories (2007)

Eight women workers share their stories about the daily challenges of working, child-rearing and their contribution to the struggle as members of trade unions, community organisations and political parties. The book was launched at Industria House, SACTWU Hall, Salt River on 16 June 2007.

  • Forward – Pregs Govender
  • Introduction – Shirley Gunn and Rachel Visser
The 8 stories:
  • The Silent Sufferers - Charlotte Petersen
  • Hardegat for my Rights - Lizzie Phike
  • Away with Slavery - Florence De Villiers
  • Phantsi Pondokkies Phantsi! - Darlina Tyawana
  • The White Apron - Myrtle Witbooi
  • Nothing Comes on a Silver Platter - Pat Van Voore
  • Struggle Shapes Character - Rachel Visser
  • Vir Botter of vir Wors - Sarah Claasen


Labour Pains for the Nation is one of the most powerful accounts of the South African experience that I have ever read. It is our real history, told by eight women workers, but it reflects the lives so many South African women had to lead.The stories educate and remind us of the sacrifices women workers made in the fight against Apartheid, and racial, gender and class oppression.They raise in a gentle, non-judgmental manner the weaknesses of so many South African men and their inability to support the women in their lives.The stories are about the loneliness and challenges of leadership and the lifeblood, sweat and tears it extracted from them in their bold stand for justice.Thank you for your courage and your legacy.Viva!

Book cover

Storytellers at the book launch. Back row from left to right are: Florence De Villiers, Rachel Visser, Charlotte Petersen, Myrtle Witbooi and Lizzie Phike. Seated from left to right are: Darlina Tyawana, Pat Van Voore and Sarah Claasen.

Tony Ehrenreich – COSATU provincial secretary

This book challenges us.The storytellers are not just talking about those things society is comfortable with.They take us out of our comfort zones, into areas which we are all taught should not be spoken about.Telling one’s story inevitability involves a process of pain and reflection. It takes courage to follow memory back, even into those corners of your mind which have not seen the light of day for decades. I salute Charlotte Petersen, Lizzie Phike, Florence De Villiers, Darlina Tyawana, Myrtle Witbooi, Pat Van Voore, Rachel Visser and Sarah Claasen who have taken this gigantic step. May many people, men and women,working class and middle class, young and old, read this book and may it inspire courage in them to tell their own stories.

Pregs Govender – feminist activist


The Labour Media Awards 2009 was awarded to the Human Rights Media Centre for Best Book Production “Labour Pains for the Nation” by Workers World Media Productions. The award ceremony took place on 15 May at Community House in Salt River, Cape Town.