Have you ever wondered why we celebrate Womens Day on the 9th August in South Africa? It has nothing to do with honouring women just because we need another “Mother’s Day”, this day commemorates the 9 August 1956 when women participating in a national march petitioned against pass laws …
(For anyone who does not know the history – “pass laws” were legislation that required African persons to carry a document on them to ‘prove’ that they were allowed to enter a ‘white area’ during the Apartheid regime).
On this day in 1956, over 20 000 women of all races and ages from every corner of South Africa marched together towards the Union Buildings in Pretoria. These brave women were marching in protest against the pass laws that proposed even further restrictions on the movements of women.
Organised by the Federation of South African Women, the March was led by four brave women; Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa, Sophie Williams and Lilian Ngoyi. The leaders delivered petitions to Prime Minister JG Strijdom’s office within the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
Women throughout South Africa had put their names to these petitions indicating their anger and frustration at having their freedom of movement restricted by the hated official passes.
To conclude the Women’s March, the women sang freedom songs such as Nkosi sikeleli Afrika, however, the song that became the anthem of the march was “Wathint’ abafazi, Strijdom!”
When you strike the women,
you strike a rock,
you will be crushed [you will die]!
The march was a resounding success and South Africa recognises the bravery of these women who risked arrest, detention and banning by declaring 9 August National Women’s Day.
Women’s Struggle in South Africa – For anyone interested in reading up more on this topic, this link will take you to the SA History site’s page on “The turbulent 1950s – Women as defiant activists”. There is a lot of interesting information available on this site.
This link – The Women’s March, 9 August 1956 – gives a very comprehensive account of the preparations for and events of this day we now commemorate every year. Interesting reading! We salute these wonderful Women.
Photograph of Lilian Ngoyi © Robben Island Mayibuye Archives
Photograph of Women’s Monument by and © Kalden Ongmu for Africa News Network
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