Women’s Day, South Africa


South Africa’s sunshiny skies will be celebrating their rainbow nation’s achievement by women on the 9th August. Before I hear men groan again, “Not another day for Women and Mothers!”, let me advise that is a day of remarkable accomplishment by women for women. It was the day 20 000 women marched peacefully to the South Africa’s Union Buildings to protest against the punitive pass laws. That act of solidarity and sisterhood paved the way for the women of “black” women of South Africa to enjoy freedom and equality.

Back in the day, it was determined that women needed a collective voice. As a result, the  Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW or FSAW) was launched on 17 April 1954 in Johannesburg. It was an attempt to establish a broad-based women’s organisation, the brainchild of Ray Simons  who garnered support from stalwarts such as  Helen Joseph and  Lillian_Ngoyi.


Image courtesy of sahistory.org.za

One hundred and forty-six delegates were roped in by the FEDSAW committee which represented some 230 000 women from all parts of South Africa.  Other leaders of the Federation included trade unionists, from the clothing, textile, and food industries.

Why  :

“Black” South African women were angry against the pass laws that restricted their movement. They petitioned against the pass laws that required the “black’ South Africans to carry an internal passport. The pass laws were enforced to control urbanisation and manage migrant labour during the apartheid era.   The idea was to unite the women of South Africa to gain equality for all women, irrespective of race and colour. The aim was to provide protection for women and children and remove social, legal and economic disabilities.  Women wanted equal pay and equal rights.  They insisted on being paid for maternity leave and demanded compulsory education for all South African children. Women had enough of being stereotyped. They were women of worth, mature of thought, despite having household chores and raising babies.  After all, were they not the women who would raise the babies, rock the cradles for those babies to one day, rule the world?  Why were they required to carry passes? Even though they went to prison briefly, they continued to protest.

Dora Tamana, a member of the ANC Women’s League and a founding member of the Federation of South African Women, declared:

“We, women, will never carry these passes. This is something that touches my heart. I appeal to you young Africans to come forward and fight. These passes make the road even narrower for us. We have seen unemployment, lack of accommodation and families broken because of passes. We have seen it with our men. Who will look after our children when we go to jail for a small technical offence — not having a pass?”

 What they did :

To get their points across, the Federation organised massive protests. At that time, the Minister of Native Affairs, Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, who was in charge of passing laws, absolutely refused to receive a multiracial delegation.

Finally after many protests,  20,000 women from all walks of life, led by , Rahima Moosa, Sophie Williams, Helen Joseph and Lillian Ngoyi, marched to the Union Buildings in South Africa. Women from far as the Eastern Cape came, Indian women clad in saris and some wearing the Congress colour. Other women came with their babies on their back and brought their charges, their employers white babies, all the while stoically maintaining decorum and dignity.

The intentions of FEDSAW, the Congress Alliance and the women were powerfully determined and like they did the previous year, the leaders left the 14000 signed petitions outside J G Strijdom’s door.  Apparently, it was removed by someone before he had a chance to see it.  Wisely, Lilian Ngoyi suggested that they wait and stand in silence for a fully half hour.


Image courtesy of sahistory.org.za

Success :

Such was the success of the peaceful march that 9 August was declared Women’s Day to commemorate the achievement. Since then, the day is acclaimed, declared and celebrated as a public holiday.

The victory song (that was composed especially for the occasion), “Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo! (Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock.) was sung.  Since then, the phrase “you strike a woman, you strike a rock”, was coined. It symbolises and represents the courage and strength of the women in South Africa.

Even today, women draw strength from that significant day ,9th August. Campaigns are run  to draw attention to the various  issues that Women, especially South African women still face, such as :

  • Domestic violence;
  • Single parenting;
  • Rape;
  • Non payment of alimony;
  • Sexual Harassment;
  • Pay discrimination;
  • Human Trafficking;

Women are committed to bettering their futures,  their children’s and South Africa’s children.  Many fund raising events are held.  Amongst them, paid breakfasts and luncheons that are compered by influential, motivational women (and men!) speakers, The proceeds are donated to charity.

Wherever you are, I invite you to share in our Women’s Day. After all, are we all not battling almost the same demons daily? To the men in our lives, thank you for being the special men, you are. We love and appreciate you.

Happy Women’s Day!

References :

31 thoughts on “Women’s Day, South Africa

  1. This is so very informative and inspiring! Happy Women’s Day. May we use equality in all respects of life.

    Did I tell you that I am fascinated by African Literature. From Coetzee, Dorris Lessing, to Chimamanda Adichie. I have been reading Nadine Gordimer now. I would be grateful if you can suggest some authors or books to me related to the history, struggles, movements in Africa. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • I know that you are an avid reader. I love the things you say. If only you were not so far away! Nadine is good. Try Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country. I was so inspired that I wrote a poem about it and won an award… Poem is in my Poetry on my blog.
      Andre Brink is good as is our Nelson Mandela’s The Long Walk to Freedom.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Pingback: 20 Reasons to make SA your next holiday destination : | Sunshiny SA Site

  3. I think that, in the 1930’s under British rule, no women had suffrage and that some activism back then also led to white women getting voting rights.

    All people were equal and could vote in the Cape, of course, until the British invasion of 1806.

    Liked by 2 people

      • There are many facts available in libraries, I read on average two non-fiction books per week. The politics and popular opinions you hear on the news are very far removed from truth. For exampke, have you ever heard whites express pain over their own slavery? Fact: four times more white slaves were raided from Europe, from Greece to Finland, than thers were black slaves taken to the USA! Four times more! Between 1600’s to the 1800’s. Does it ever get mentioned? Fact: the Arabs bought slaves for about 1500 years, why do only white people get the blame? Why are Africans not blamed for catching white people into slavery? Fact: African chiefs, in the most brutal ways, caught and sold their very own tribesmen into slavery. Gosh.

        These are just examples of how far popular opinion is from the factual position. Very few people have real knowledge but all have opinions, which they then use to make or break society. It happens the world over. Helen Zille worked for Black Sash since age nine and hid freedom fighters from Apartheid securith police, in her own home, for years, yet I see she is called a racist. I don’t like her but I also hate that lies are being spread.

        South Africa is a place far removed from popular opinion, so far that one apparently needs a virtual visa to get to the Truth.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Unfortunately some people are easily herded with their limited knowledge. Great that you are widely read and able to procure such knowledge. Looks like I’m going to have to add more books to my library… And make time to read more.
        PS. Looking forward to you input and posts.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, thanks. I can’t name the Springbok team, Proteas, nor Bafana Bafana. I keep myself as fit as possible since disability, that is my sports. Don’t ask me about Wayz of or Wivez, Sewende Laan, the scandal backstage or the muvhangu of isidingo.

        I believe in Truth, something rarer than saffron apparently. A friend is jealous of my supposedly superior intellect, but she never reads, have no general knowledge and her dstv is locked on murder investigations.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Truth is rare and very important. I think it was Voltaire who said, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it”
        Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us, it is appreciated.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting read. I must admit I didn’t really think about splitting out black women from the black struggle. I have always felt like the hatred black people felt was directed at both men and women. I feel like there’s an element of looking back and looking forward. I’m starting a blog soon (probably as a letter to my 2 daughters):- 1,000 accomplishments by Africans 3.3mya to 1800, 300 successful startups in Africa and innovative companies in Africa. I feel like I have to start epic to get the thoughts out then structure it. Btw I keep using the term black, not because I see us that way, but because that’s how the system worked from 1560 – 1990.

    Liked by 1 person

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