60th Anniversary: Women’s Month 2016
South Africa commemorates Women’s Month in August as a tribute to the thousands of women who marched to the Union Buildings to demonstrate against “pass laws”.
Before the 1950s, only black men were required to carry passes. This gave them permission to be in an urban area. Only people who could find work were given a pass. This allowed the government to control the influx of black men into the cities. The pass law was one of the most hated of the apartheid laws. Men were repeatedly arrested under this law and it had the effect of turning the majority of the population into criminals.
In 1952, the government announced that Black women would also have to carry passes. Women actively resisted this. The idea began in 1955 at a meeting of” Federation of South African Women (FSAW), where a suggestion was made: “Let us go to Pretoria ourselves and protest to the Government against laws that oppress us.”
On the 9th of August 1956, more than 20 000 South African women of all races staged a march on the Union Buildings in protest against the proposed amendments to the Urban Areas Act of 1950, commonly referred to as the “pass laws”. The march was led by Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophia Williams. The women left bundles of petitions containing more than 100 000 signatures at the office doors of Prime Minister J.G. Strijdom. The women stood silently for 30 minutes and then started singing a protest song that was composed in honour of the occasion: Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo!(Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock). In the 60 years since, the phrase (or its latest incarnation: “you strike a woman, you strike a rock”) has come to represent women’s courage and strength in South Africa as women refused to give into increasing oppression without some form of protest.
Strike The Woman Strike The Rock: Wathint’ Abafazi Wathint’ Imbokodo (grinding stone) (2002), national monument at the Union Buildings, South Africa.
This was a significant turning point in the struggle against unjust apartheid laws. Though the march was against the restrictive pass laws, it led to significant changes towards the emancipation of women. The historic march was a turning point in the role of women in the struggle for freedom and since that eventful day, women from all walks of life became equal partners in the struggle for a non-racial and non-sexist South Africa.
The first national Women’s Day was celebrated in 1995 and since then annual celebrations take place throughout the Country. The PSCBC proudly supports National Women’s Day on the 09 August 2016. We commend the role that women have played towards the liberation of our beautiful country. Women were at the forefront of our struggle, championing the cause and are responsible for transforming our society into the non-racial, non-sexist democracy that we all enjoy today.
South Africa has one of the most progressive Constitutions in the world, a constitution which recognises fundamental importance of gender equality and recognises women as equal citizens, with equal rights and responsibilities. Let us use this month to reflect on the importance of the contribution that women have made to our country and also to review how far we have come with regard to the emancipation and advancement of women in our society. Let us further pursue the vision of our Tata Madiba which is the respect of human rights and dignity.
Our Mothers, Our Pride- we salute you