Today in History: South Africa celebrates first Women’s Day

A group of women demonstrating during the march on 9 August 1956. Image: Twitter.

Sixty-two years ago today, on 9 August 1956, in what was one of the largest demonstrations staged in this country’s history, 20 000 women challenged the status quo by marching to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to send a message that they would not be intimidated by sexually unequal rights. Their mission? To present a petition against the carrying of passes by women to the then Prime Minister of the Republic of South Africa, JG Strijdom.

The march against the pass laws was organised by the Federation of South African Women. The Federation famously challenged the idea that ‘a woman’s place is in the kitchen’, declaring it instead to be ‘everywhere’.

Although Strijdom was not at the Union Buildings to accept the petition himself, the women of South Africa sent a public message that they would not be intimidated and silenced by unjust laws. After the petition was handed over to the Prime Minister’s secretary, the women sang a freedom song, entitled Wathint` abafazi, Strijdom!

Since then, the phrase ‘Wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo’ (You strike a woman, you strike a rock) has come to represent the courage and strength of South African women.

The first National Women’s Day was eventually celebrated in 1995. South Africa had just become a democratic country at the time, and the day was declared a national holiday.

Since then, annual celebrations continue to take place throughout the country. It has become one of the national holidays where activities are organised with women in prominent positions making appearances and giving speeches at different venues across the country.

August has also since been declared National Women’s Month.

Information source: SA History.

Do you perhaps have more information pertaining to this story? Email us at northsider@caxton.co.za  (remember to include your contact details) or phone us on 011 955 1130.

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  AUTHOR
Blake Linder
Journalist

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