Normavenda Mathiane who was a black journalist in Soweto, South Africa, under the
apartheid in the 90’s wrote the short story Labour Pains in the year of 1990, when
Nelson Mandela was still imprisoned and later on released in 1994.
The short story starts in medias res and is written in past tense. We do not get an
introduction of the characters or where it takes place etc. But because of the background
information we know about the author it probably takes place in Soweto.
It starts out with a taxi/minibus picking up people from assumingly Soweto to drive
them to town, which we assume is Johannesburg because of the close distance.
There are eight men and three women sitting in the taxi, including the driver. The main
character is a woman whose name we do not get. She is sitting next to her neighbor who
is eight months pregnant. Suddenly the woman is in labour and the driver has to pull
over. She is sitting in the back seat with the other women around her trying to help her
through the labour pain and the birth. Meanwhile the men are standing from a distance
so they cannot see the woman giving birth but anguish was written all over their faces.
The women managed to help her give birth by telling her to push, stroking her on her
belly and holding each other’s hands and pray.
The whole incident is something the main character is looking back at. She is reflecting
about how all the people in the taxi shared this experience and suffered the pain with
the pregnant woman and even helped her through the labor without even knowing each
other. These initially strangers now share a memory of the struggle they witnessed. The
struggle of childbirth.
“I have lived with the ‘struggle’ all my life – long before I could understand its meaning
(…). To me, the struggle became synonymous with liberation. ‘When the struggle is
over…’ I heard as a young girl when Jomo Kenyatta was fighting the British in Kenya. I
heard it when Kwame Nkrumah...