Rewriting the alphabet to represent South Africa’s iconic women

 
 
 

The icons of South Africa are a treasure trove of wit, courage and wisdom. But often, the stories of women fall by the wayside. Cape Town-born writer Ambre Nicolson noticed that their tales were just outside of our reach. “Women’s history is neglected history,” she says. Putting pen to paper, Nicolson drew up a vision for the book she wanted our youth to read. “I imagined a bright 13-year-old, just learning about who she was in the world,” she says. Inspired by strong personalities like ex-public protector Thuli Madonsela and queer artist Dope Saint Jude, Nicolson cultivated a collage of role models.


With dedicated precision, Nicolson details their stories in her book, A-Z of Amazing South African Women. “We really wanted to show just how courageous, compassionate and resilient South African women are,” she says. Nicolson traversed every range of human endeavour: scientists, artists, entrepreneurs, athletes, and activists. They’re all represented, true to the diverse personas in our daily lives. Even Mrs Ples gets a mention. Each letter of the alphabet represents a revolutionary figure who has shaped our country today. The vivid illustrations on each page are the work of her husband, Jaxon Hsu. Nicolson also collaborated with the FunDza Literacy Trust to improve reading among teens and young adults. Donors were able to pre-order a book, and donate a second copy to readers with less resources.

From iconic Afropop singer Brenda Fassie to late anti-apartheid activist Fatima Meer, Nicolson has immortalised our female icons through colourful imagery and beautifully-worded biographies. Though the range of books celebrating them might be limited, the number of incredible women is endless. The success of Nicolson’s publication proves just how hungry the country is for relatable role models. “The stories we read to young women are very important, because you can’t be what you can’t see,” Nicolson says. Her contribution to the nation’s literary landscape not only puts our past into words, but is rewriting the perception of our present and future.

 
Nuraan Shaik