1956 Women's March remembered

A crowd gathering for Women’s Day celebrations in Pretoria. (Karabo Ngoepe, News24)
A crowd gathering for Women’s Day celebrations in Pretoria. (Karabo Ngoepe, News24)

Pretoria - A 21-gun salute at the Union Buildings on Tuesday marked 60 years since a group of women marched to the apartheid government's offices there to demand an end to the pass laws that severely restricted the movement of black people.

Earlier, statues of the four women recognised as leaders of the march - Lilian Ngoyi, Rahima Moosa, Sophia Williams-de Bruyn and Helen Joseph were unveiled at the Women's Living Heritage Monument in the Pretoria CBD.

A parade from the square to the Union Buildings followed, retracing the route of the 1956 march and celebrating achievements of women in all sectors.

"Those women didn't have money but they used the little they had and achieved results. Let's follow in their footsteps," said African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in her address to those gathered on the South Lawn of the heritage buildings for the commemorations.

In his address, President Jacob Zuma praised the role played by women in ushering in democracy and defeating the apartheid regime.

He said the march helped people take on the apartheid government.

"Their march was not in vain. We recognise many others who dared the apartheid government. We also recognise women who have contributed to building this country, the factory workers, domestic workers, farm workers, those who work on our roads and every other sphere."

Zuma said it was through their achievements that government has policies and mechanisms to ensure that women prosper in the country and are not marginalised.

"It is because of their historic achievements that today government continues to work at improving the living conditions of households including those headed by women.

"They wanted a better life, the extension of basic services such as water, sanitation, electricity, education, health and other benefits," said Zuma.

He admitted that government had not been able to ensure everybody had access to basic services, but promised that government would continue to strive for the delivery of services.

Social Development Minister and ANC Women's League president Bathabile Dlamini came in for flak on social media for again criticising the women who staged a silent protest against Zuma at the IEC results centre in Gauteng on Saturday.

Her call for a bank that offers financing specifically to women and that women be given more opportunities, was overshadowed by complaints over her unrevised stance that the IEC function was not the right place for the protest.

On Saturday, a group of women took the IEC and Zuma's guards by surprise when they held up hand written signs in remembrance of ''Khwezi'', the woman who accused him of rape in 2006. Zuma was acquitted.

Sophie Williams-de Bruyn, the last surviving leader of the 1956 march called on young women to become more active and lobby for their rights.

"It's time for the youth to take the baton which we have already handed over to them to fight the ills and the injustices in our country right now which include the increase in the abuse of women, violence against women and children and the wage gap," she told the audience at the Union Buildings.

She said the the inequalities of poverty and the increasing gap between the rich and the poor should be tackled head on to ensure that the country gets to where many people would like to see it.


Meanwhile, the DA held its victory rally further afield in Tshwane by paying tribute to some of the party's women leaders such as Western Cape premier Helen Zille and Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille.

Maimane said the face of poverty in South Africa is mainly female.

"We can't just say happy Women's Day while so many women are being raped, while so many women still face poverty,'' said Maimane after the party received the majority of the votes in the 2016 municipal elections for the cities of Cape Town, Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane.

The Economic Freedom Fighters called for a review of women's salaries to make sure they are paid the same as men.

In its Women's Day statement, spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi added that the levels of violence and rape make women feel their movement is still restricted.

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