Swimming with Cobras

Rosemary Smith

Swimming with Cobras is a memoir about a journey to find a foothold in a foreign land grappling with its own identity, offering rare and important insight into a corner of South Africa’s past.

PRINT VERSION Buy the print version (hard copy) from Modjaji Books directly      


DIGITAL VERSION Buy the eBook via Glassboxx (off-site)   









Swimming with Cobras

Rosemary Smith could never have imagined the trajectory her life would take the day she met her husband. She would find herself in Grahamstown, at a crucial point in South Africa’s struggle. Joining the Black Sash, the white, women-led anti-apartheid organisation, of which she would one day become a national vice president, gave her the opportunity to engage with a country in, often violent, transition.

Rosemary Smith

Smith’s life as an activist in the Eastern Cape began when she moved from England with her South African husband in the 1960s. They made their home in Grahamstown where they raised four children. As a member of the Black Sash she participated in events spanning 3 decades in an intensely politicised province, her involvement made her at home in this alien and strange land.

Rosemary Smith's author page

“In providing a vivid, and highly personalised account of the activities of a few extraordinary, white, middle class women in the small towns of apartheid South Africa, this book provides a new understanding of the anti-apartheid struggle.”
Jacklyn Cock (Professor Emeritus, University of the Witwatersrand).

“The Eastern Cape, for all its rugged landscape and cruel apartheid divisions, worked its way into the heart and head of a young English social worker. Facing its challenges, she nurtured her family, threw herself into working for justice and peace, and found herself dealing with forced removals, detentions of political activists and the viciousness of the state security system. “Found herself” indeed: Rosemary Smith’s book reveals her as a woman of warmth, courage and strength.”
Mary Burton (National President of the Black Sash 1985 to 1990 & TRC Commissioner)

“…. a biography of socialisation and struggle on South Africa’s ever-troubled Eastern Cape Frontier…written with both candour and courage… the finest modern book written about Grahamstown…”
Peter Vale (Professor of Humanities, University of Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Professor of Politics Emeritus, Rhodes University)

“The book shows how a principled lifelong commitment to non-racialism, peace and justice enabled the author to find her feet – and her sense of herself.”
Rob Gaylard, The Sunday Independent

“An important story – in depth, written by one of the deeply committed. The reader will feel almost a part of the struggle against apartheid with Rosemary Smith. Her way of telling the tale of her role through all those years is engrossing. Be warned, you may be emotionally sapped after reading the dramatic sections.”
Sheridan Griswold, Mmegi

“A captivating memoir… Smith has a strong personal connection to all the stories discussed throughout the book. A well-balanced and valuable read.”
Monica G. Fernandes, Historia

Titles featuring this author