On 9 August 1956 one of the most historic events in the struggle for freedom and women’s rights in South Africa, took place in Pretoria. It was on this day that more than 20 000 women of different races staged a march on the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against the proposed amendments to the Urban Areas Act (commonly known as the pass laws) of 1950.
They left petitions containing more than 100 000 signatures at prime minister J.G. Strijdom’s office doors. Outside they stood silently for 30 minutes, many with their children on their backs. The women sang 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 58 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.
The march was organised by the Federation of South African Women (FSAW) and was led by four remarkable women: Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophie Williams De Bruyn.
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.
Today, we also use the public holiday to celebrate the remarkable achievements and the tenacious spirits of the fearless females who continue to advocate for change, defy norms and stand up for what they believe in.
…We are women from every part of South Africa.
We are women of every race, we come from the cities and the towns, from the reserves and the villages.
We come as women united in our purpose to save the African women from the degradation of passes…
In the name of women of South Africa, we say to you, each one of us, African, European, Indian, Coloured, that we are opposed to the pass system. We voters and voteless, call upon your Government not to issue passes to African women.
We shall not rest until ALL pass laws and all forms of permits restricting our freedom have been abolished.
We shall not rest until we have won for our children their fundamental rights of freedom, justice, and security.
– Taken from a Petition presented to the Prime Minister on 9 August 1956.
Join us on August 12th as we celebrate South African women