Influential women celebrated

2019-09-04 06:03

The National Museum’s exhibition of the Remarkable Women of Bloemfontein retold the unfinished story about the immense role women played to attain freedom in South Africa.

A public lecture was held at the museum on Friday (30/08). Some of the off-spring of the erstwhile heroines and members of the public were present.

The exhibition, themed “We’ve Been Here”, showcased the legacy of at least 12 Bloemfontein women who distinguished themselves during oppression.

Their immense roles range from socio-economy and socio-politics to sport.

Most of the heroines profiled have passed on, but their legacy remains for the present generation.

Derek du Bruyn, principal museum scientist of the history department, pointed out that some of the highlights included white women protesting to have the right to vote, which ultimately was granted in 1930, and black women’s anti-pass law protest dating back to 1913.

Du Bruyn said findings revealed that Rachel Thoka (1825-1940), as a community leader, had led a protest march of Waaihoek Women against the pass laws in May 1913.

He said it had been discovered that women’s achievements were attributed to men and thus men unduly received the glory.

“During the 1920’s South Africa remained male dominated, and women’s contribution to society firstly had to be approved by men and secondly had to happen on behalf of men,” explained Du Bruyn.

“It was expected of women to make the men look good and successful.

“Unfortunately, this social rule had a negative effect on women across South Africa. Despite this prejudice and male chauvinism, women were determined to enter the exclusively male dominated fields of law and politics.”

De Bruyn said Advocate Gladys Steyn broke the shackles of male dominance, becoming the first woman pioneer in law.

She was the daughter of Rachel Isabella (Tibbie) Steyn, who was elected the first chairperson of the Oranje-vrouevereniging (OVV) upon formation of the first women’s welfare body in 1907.

Although most of the icons are gone, Constance Tshabalala has survived the brutal oppression from her teenage years and she retold a tale of the apartheid regime from 1976.

Appearing emotional while addressing the audience, Tshabalala opened up about how she came to dislike Afrikaans – her home language.

“The Afrikaans language was utilised by our oppressors brutally, hence my resentment towards the language,” said Tshabalala.

“Protest to do away with Afrikaans fuelled the riot of the 1976 and got some killed, and I was imprisoned at Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison in Cape Town.”

Her parents relocated her to Bloemfontein to save her from the brutality of the apartheid regime, but she remained defiant and said: “I was fighting for freedom and justice for all.”

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