Defining Women’s Day

2016-08-04 06:00

PICTURE what it must have been like – over 20 000 women of all ages and races from all across South Africa marching together towards the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

Though each marcher must have thought about the risk of arrest, they bravely came together on 9 August 1956 as a formidable force to protest against the pass laws that proposed further restrictions on the movements of women. This 9 August we celebrate the anniversary of this landmark Women’s March.

It is an ideal time to celebrate and reflect on the status of women today and the advances made since that historical day when South African women organised one of the largest and most successful protests in the country’s history.

“The situation on the day (9 August 1956) was very electrifying as everybody was looking forward to a serious confrontation,” marcher Amina Cachalia recalls.

“As a young person at the time, the march was a learning curve for a journey that finally came to the election of the new democratic government.”

The Federation of South African Women (Fedsaw) organised the March, led by four women; Helen Joseph (pictured above), Rahima Moosa, Sophy Williams and Lilian Ngoyi. The leaders delivered petitions to Prime Minister JG Strijdom’s office within the Union Buildings. Women throughout the country had put their names to these petitions indicating their anger and frustration at having their freedom of movement restricted by the hated official passes.

Many women wore traditional clothing while others displayed the green, black and gold of the African National Congress. Some of the women marched with babies on their backs, or were accompanied by small children. Rahaba Mahlakedi Moeketsi recalled, “Some were carrying the white children with them, those who were working for whites.

“We were all enthusiastic to get there and see this Boer baas and tell him that we are not going to carry those things (passes).”

The Women’s March was a spectacular success. We need to applaud and recognise the bravery of these women who risked official reprisals including arrest, detention and even bannings. The March showed that the commonly accepted stereotype of women as politically inept and immature, tied to the home, was outdated and inaccurate.

Women proved that they were not powerless to make significant changes to a way of life that discriminated against them primarily because of their race, but also because of their class and their gender.

They had the ability to organise themselves and to be a political force to be reckoned with.- Women24


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