We musn't leave our sisters behind - leader of 1956 Women's March

2016-08-08 22:29
Lebanese citizens rally making International Woman's Day demanding that parliament approves a law that protects women from domestic violence in Beirut. (Bilal Hussein, AP)

Lebanese citizens rally making International Woman's Day demanding that parliament approves a law that protects women from domestic violence in Beirut. (Bilal Hussein, AP)

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Cape Town - Women must continue fighting for a non-racial South Africa and work together, struggle stalwart Sophia Williams-de Bruyn said on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the 1956 anti-pass march.

"There were four faces at that march: Coloured, African, Indian, White," said Williams-de Bruyn, a leader of the historic march.

"This is very significant for women to know today, because we are trying to build a non-racial society and it does seem it is slipping from our hands. We must continue with nation building and cohesion."

She was speaking to News24 after she had laid wreaths for her now departed friends and fellow activists - Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Albertina Sisulu.

She, Ngoyi, Joseph, and Moosa defiantly led a massive march to the Union Buildings on August 8 1956, in protest against the draconian apartheid pass laws which severely restricted the movement of black people.

'Operate like silos'

Williams-de Bruyn said when the women of 1956 - many of them unsung - were organising that historic march, they did not expect to find a packed lunch at their destination, or a bus to transport them, as many people attending rallies do today.

"They never entertained the thought that they would ride in luxury buses like they do when there is a rally today," said Williams-de Bruyn.

The women raised money to cover costs by selling tea and scones at branch meetings, and made and carried their own lunch boxes to the march.

She said many women today had achieved incredible things that they could only have dreamt of in the 1950s - from owning their own businesses, to becoming pilots. But, they had not harnessed their own power yet.

Women's groups in the country "operate like silos", with no one clear women's movement, she observed.

"I think the women in the grassroots should really show their mettle and should go about organising and mobilising," she said.

'Long haul'

Laying the wreaths for her fellow march leaders on Monday was very emotional for Williams-de Bruyn.

"It was like reporting back to them."

Although she would not be able to pick one issue in particular, trafficking, rape, and violence against women all concerned her.

People should find ways to improve other people's lives and make the country work better, she said.

"I think it's still going to be a long haul. It's going to take a long time for these things to be overcome. During our time, even in other situations, we were never that advanced.

"There is a great life for women now, and women demanded this. But what women are not doing, is to take their sisters with them and elevate them as well."

On Tuesday, Williams-de Bruyn will be the guest of President Jacob Zuma for a Women's Day rally at the Union Buildings, where a statue commemorating Ngoyi, Moosa, Joseph and herself would be unveiled.

Read more on:    gender equality

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