News / Africa

South Africa Marks National Women’s Day

During Apartheid blacks and mixed race people were excluded from many places, for example, at the bayside like indicated on this sign-post. (06/23/76)(AP PHOTO)
During Apartheid blacks and mixed race people were excluded from many places, for example, at the bayside like indicated on this sign-post. (06/23/76)(AP PHOTO)

Multimedia

Audio
  • Listen to De Capua report on South Africa National Women's day

Joe DeCapua
Friday, August 9th, is National Women’s Day in South Africa. It commemorates the 1956 march by 20-thousand women against the country’s apartheid era pass laws. The laws severely restricted travel by non-whites and segregated society. The only surviving leader of that march remembers the struggle for equality not only for people of color, but for women.


Sophie Williams-de Bruyn was 19 years old when efforts to stage the march began.

“Well, South Africa in 1956 was a very polarized country and a very oppressive place to live in. And as you know the laws didn’t allow race groups to live together. We had all sorts of laws keeping us apart. We were all grouped into our own places of abode,” she said.

Whites, blacks, coloreds – these were official government designations to classify South Africa’s population. She was classified as colored.

“We were not allowed to mix with one another that much. We had our own buses. They had their own buses. We had our own schools. They had their own schools, white schools. And that kind of thing. So that was the way in which we grew up, in which we lived,” she said.

But Williams-de Bruyn said that among all the discriminatory laws, the pass laws were the worst.

“The men were supposed to carry a pass and produce it when the police asked them for it. So if you don’t have it you get cast into jail as a man. And this law was now being extended to women. And that was where the women just revolted.”

She said women feared the same treatment and humiliation that the men had faced for many years. If the proper documents were not produced quickly enough when demanded by police, a man’s very life was endangered.

“Many of the men disappeared and they were taken from jail to the Afrikaner farms. They had these huge tracts of farmland and these men would be taken to the farms to dig the potatoes, sometimes with their bare hands. A study was made into the disappearance of prisoners and that is where they were discovered,” she said.

The various segregated groups had formed their own political organizations known as congresses and they were joined by whites sympathetic to their cause. The women began to organize the march to the Prime Minister’s office in Pretoria. They planned to present stacks of petitions protesting the pass laws. The efforts came to the attention of famed activist Walter Sisulu, who was then secretary-general of the African National Congress.

He expressed his concerns for their safety to the leaders, including Helen Joseph, Rahina Moosa and Lillian Ngoyi.

She said, “Walter Sisulu asked them – and he was a little bit annoyed – and he said, you women, do you know what you are doing? And Helen and Lillian were nonplused and he says don’t you think you are putting the women to danger? And Helen and Lillian said no, we’re not putting them to danger. And Walter insisted: But what will you do if you are all arrested? Lillian said if we are arrested we know what we will do. We have other leaders in our place. We have a second contingent of leaders.”

However, women did not tell Sisulu all of their contingency plans.

“The truth is Lillian didn’t tell him the real plan that we had. The real plan was that if the police come for us to arrest us women will all be kneeling down on top of us and they will not be able to arrest everybody. And they will sing and pray. She didn’t tell Walter that part,” she said.

The march of 20,000 women made its way to Prime Minister J.G. Strijdom’s office. The four leaders were ready to present their petitions.

“Lillian knocked on the door. The door was opened by a white clerk. And when Lillian asked to see Strijdom this clerk said that Strijdom wasn’t there. And she said but he should be here because he knew that we were coming. So Lillian took her bundle and she pushed it on top of this clerk. And he was reluctant to take hold of it and so Helen also pushed her bundle on him. So he was flooded with all these bundles and some of them dropped on the floor and the rest of us dumped it on the table and we left. Lillian said this you can give to your boss,” she said.
Williams-de Bruyn said the courage showed by the protesters paved the way for women to hold positions of authority.

Ten years after the march, anti-apartheid leaders urged her to leave the country for her own safety. She and her two children went to Zambia where her husband, Benny, a target of the South African government, had already been living in exile. While they didn’t return until 1990, both continued their anti-apartheid efforts and had the opportunity to meet Nelson Mandela upon his release from prison. Her husband died in 1999 after a distinguished career.

Williams-de Bruyn has received many honors and awards over the years and has held many prominent positions. She was presented with the Mahatma Gandhi Award by President Mbeki in October 2001.

She said that it is time now to pass the torch to the younger generation of women.

“Women’s emancipation has not become a reality yet. There are all sorts of good things that have come to women because of what we started and what women before us started. Because there were marches in the early 1913s – hundred years ago.”

She added it’s vital for girls and young women to complete their education.

“You can say to them the sky is the limit, but from what I know there are more things beyond the skies that they can reach for.”

To honor those who took part in the 1956 march, thousands of women recreated the event this year with a three and a half kilometer walk to city hall.

You May Like

Video Video Claims to Show Shi'ite Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

While not yet independently confirmed, brutal killing already has gotten attention of Islamic State followers on social media More

After Six Years, Little Change for Niger Delta's Former Militants

Nigerians who laid down arms in exchange for government amnesty subsidies fear program may end with upcoming presidential elections More

Vietnam Pushes for More Educated Drivers to Curb Road Deaths

Transportation officials hope that making a greater effort to get drivers to learn the rules of the road will reduce fatal crashes More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planeti
X
George Putic
March 04, 2015 8:51 PM
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960's Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7th to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960’s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More