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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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;
- 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!