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National Women’s Day – 9th August

August 15, 2011

National Women’s Day is an annual public holiday in South Africa, which commemorates the day on August 9, 1956, that 20,000 South African women of all races and ages took to the streets of Pretoria in protest of pass laws.

They came from all corners of South Africain buses, trains, cars and even bakkies. It took some of them more than two days to get there but they were determined to take part in order to protest against the use of passes. Pass laws required all non-white men and women to carry a pass book to prove that they were allowed to enter certain areas in South Africa, including the cities.

Organised by the Federation of South African Women, the march was led by Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Radima Moosa, and Sophia Williams. When they reached the Union Buildings, the women handed over a petition containing more than 100 000 signatures indicating their anger and frustration at having to carry passes and having their movements restricted.  They stood silently outside for 30 minutes, many with their children on their backs. Those who were working for white families as nannies were carrying their white charges with them.

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 54 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.

Since August 9, 1994, the day has been commemorated annually and is known as “Women’s Day”. In 2006, a re-enactment of the march was staged for its 50th anniversary, with many of the 1956 march veterans. Every year, South Africans commemorate National Women’s Day, in honour of those brave and fearless women.

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