On the 9th of August, a day dedicated to the celebration of women, and their contribution to the liberation struggle, South African President Jacob Zuma unveiled the Women’s Living Heritage Monument. The monument commemorates the story of women’s contribution to the liberation struggle and features four statues of the heroic stalwarts, Lillian Ngoyi, Sophia Williams-de Bruyn, Helen Joseph and Rahima Moosa, four women who along with thousands of other women from all over the country, led a peaceful protest march to the Union Buildings in 1956.
The women delivered a petition to the then Prime Minister, JG Strijdom, against carrying a pass book, referred to as a dompass in Afrikaans, meaning “dumb pass”. They also marched against the degradation of African women. This Women’s Day marked the 60th anniversary of the march.
“Women once more are gathered here to witness the opening of the living monument, where people can see the contribution of women across colour lines” Susan Shabangu, the Minister of Women in the Presidency
The last surviving march leader – Sophia Williams-de Bruyn was at the event. Also present at the event were the Deputy President of South Africa – Cyril Ramaphosa, and the African Union Commission Chairperson – Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Culture Minister – Nathi Mthethwa, and several women that marched on the day, 60 years ago.
“Today when I see what they’ve achieved, they’ve achieved a lot. They can choose their own professions, they can choose anything they want to do, and I often say to them that it’s no longer a case of the sky being the limit. But you can go beyond the sky because you can even become an astronaut.” Sophia Williams-de Bruyn
De Bruyn said that the monument and recognition of the struggle of women during apartheid gave her great joy, particularly seeing how far women have come in advancing their rights since 1956. She said she is proud to be South African and has had her spirit revived at the National Women’s Day celebrations.
Addressing the celebrations on Tuesday, she said she was pleased to see so many people gathered on the southern lawns of the Union Buildings to mark 60 years since the iconic 1956 women’s march against the discriminatory pass laws, which had restricted the movement of black people in the country. “You display the discipline and the dignity that is deeply impressive, that was also displayed in 1956,” she said to the cheerful crowds. De Bruyn said the launch of the Women’s Living Heritage Monument, which depicts leaders of the women’s march, had touched her.
“We were oppressed but fought for this liberation … I was shot on the left leg and detained in a police cell to free a black person who was not allowed to work in one of these offices.” Gogo Mita Motlolometsi from Mamelodi East, who was involved in the 1956 march.
The Women’s Living Heritage Monument also has a leadership development and training centre and dedicated walls for murals, artworks and artefacts. These tell the story of women’s struggles covering more than a hundred years.
LoveWorldSAT was present to interview attendees and dignitaries, and also covered the distribution of Rhapsody of Realities to thousands of attendees at the event, as well as soulwinning, such as in the video below:
Minister in the Presidency responsible for Women, Susan Shabangu said the day was an exciting but emotional reflection of the country’s history – where it has come from and what women have done to contribute to where it is today.
“This day is very significant … women once more are gathered here to witness the opening of the living monument, where people can see the contribution of women across colour lines,” Minister Shabangu.
She challenged women, especially young women, to visit the monument in order to reflect and inform their destiny.
“The women of the 1956 march played their role and today we have a Constitution which includes what women fought for.”
Minister Shabangu said it was now up to young women to protect the Constitution and ensure human rights, especially women’s rights, are not violated.
“you strike a woman, you strike a rock” Nkosazana Dlamini-ZumaAfrican Union Commission Chairperson
The march to the Union Buildings by 20 000 women was not only against the extension of carrying passes to Africa women, but also about the challenges and the oppressive system that sought to deepen inequality in terms of race and gender, which resulted in the current triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality which burden women the most.
“My heart was overwhelmed when I saw the statues of the women stalwarts. I think they are smiling wherever they are and I am proud to be a South African” De Bruyn.
The women’s monument as well as a heritage site will honour the women for their contribution and the role they played in the struggle for freedom, democracy and development of South Africa. It includes a multi-purpose centre that will provide space for formal and informal training for women; market access for local crafts; provide information to the youth about the women’s struggle for emancipation and also serves as a leadership training centre where women will be taught about political and developmental issues.
President Jacob Zuma says the women who marched to the Union Buildings in 1956 laid a firm foundation for the restoration of the freedom and the dignity of women.
Tuesday’s National Women’s Day marked 60 years since the iconic 1956 women’s march against the discriminatory pass laws, which had restricted the movement of black people in the country.
“It is because of their heroic achievements that today government continues to work at improving the living conditions of households, including those headed by women. They wanted a better life. The extension of basic services such as water, sanitation, electricity, education, health and others benefits to women and children.
“The struggles of women enabled the ushering in of freedom and democracy, so that these services can be extended to all.” President Jacob Zuma.
The achievements of the women of 1956 have also translated to the opening up of the leadership space for women. There is a marked increase in the representation of women in Parliament, government, the judiciary and other key positions in the public sector. President Zuma said the launch of the Women’s Living Heritage Monument at Lillian Ngoyi Square earlier in the day was a symbol of the bravery and patriotism of South African women, and a monument to their contribution to the liberation and democracy that South Africa has achieved.
“Their march was not in vain. We recognise many others who dared the apartheid state in 1956 and marched to Union Buildings, and also women in every part of the country, who contributed in various ways to the freedom we are enjoying today.
“We also recognise women who have contributed to building this country – the factory workers, domestic workers, farm workers, those who work on our roads and every other sphere.”
President Zuma, at the unveiling said while much had been achieved, there was still some work to be done.
“Some communities are still waiting for water, electricity, sanitation and housing. Women are still struggling as they travel long distances to fetch water.
“It is for this reason that work is continuing to improve the lives of our people each day. Government will not rest until decent basic services reach all our people.”
President Zuma said government would continue in its efforts to create an environment in which the private sector can create jobs.
“As we begin working towards the next 60 years, we must take the transformation of our country forward. Black women suffered triple oppression in terms of race, gender, class and other disadvantaging factors.
“Let us continue to work together to build our beautiful country so that every South African, especially girl children and women, can have a brighter future,” he said.