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Womans Day
The Great March 9 AUGUST 1956

(Jeanette Hess)

9th August 1956 Event, is celebrated as National Womens Day in South Africa. JEANIUS is glad to share the story of this day with all women and appreciates the manner in which womens organisations and other South African structures have embraced 9th August as our National Womens Day and the tremendous effort that is made to cooperate with the Government institutions such as Social Services and Municipalities to make the day an annual success. JEANIUS is committed to improve the quality of life for women in particular. CEDAW is an international and legal agreement to ensure that womens problems and gender issues are addressed and to prevent any form of discrimination against women and girls. CEDAW is committed to anti- racism. The Beijing discussions are about the status of women and committed to the Beijing Plan Of Action to enhance the lives of women and girls.

The Background To Womans Day, 9th August

Women have played a major role in the liberation of South Africa. In March 1912 African and Coloured women from the Orange Free State sent a petition asking Minister Louis Botha to repeal pass laws for women. When there was no response they collected 5000 signatures and sent a delegation of 6 women from Bloemfontein to Henry Burton, the Minister of Native Affairs. There was no response. In 1913 the women began passive resistance campaigns and on 28 and 29 May they took a resolution to never carry passes again. The women were arrested and beaten. They were jailed in Kroonstad. Still they marched, sang songs and fought with the police. In 1914 the Government relaxed the pass laws and the campaign ended.

In 1918 the Government wanted to re- introduce pass laws for all African and coloured women. The women realised that they must be properly organised and formed the Bantu Womens League to fight for the rights of women, for housing, and the abolishment of pass laws. Charlotte Maxine led the women. She was born Charlotte Manye in April 1874. She later studied at the Wilberforce University in America and obtained a degree in Science. She was the first South African woman to graduate from a university. She married a priest and they did missionary work in Pietersburg. She founded the National Council of African Women and appeared before the magistrates in Boksburg and Benoni on behalf of youths. She died in 1939. In 1943 the ANC Womens League was formed and was led by Madie Hall-Xuma. Madie Hall was a graduate from Georgia, America. Vice President Xuma of the ANC met her on a visit to America and they fell in love and married. Her views on the rights of women were advanced and she criticised men that kept their wives at home all the time. The next woman that led the womens movement was Ida Mtwana and she became the president the of Womens League in 1948. In 1947and in 1948 the women were resisting the Governments restriction of Indian women. Dr. Kaisevello Goonam, Fatima Meer and Mrs N. P. Desai led this resistance against the need for Indians to carry permits when they moved from one province to another. At this time more than 2000 Indian activists were arrested and jailed. Amina Cachalia was another young Indian woman who strived to liberate Indian women. She formed the Progressive Womens Union. She supported the 1952 Defiance Campaign and she was banned for 15 years from 19 63 to 1978. She was placed under house arrest and was allowed to see only 3 people, one at a time, during the 15 years. In 1947 the women marched through the streets of Johannesburg to protest against the lack of housing. Dora Tamana was key in organising the march on International Womens Day, 8 March 1947 in Johannesburg. This march involved women across the social barriers. The women were beginning to know about the different groups that were struggling for a better life, and started to support each other more and more Dora formed the All- Womens Union, an early attempt to establish a national womens movement . All over South Africa women now mobilised against the pass laws. Members of the Congress Alliance, Robert Reship from the ANC and Norman Levy from the Congress of Democrats helped the women to campaign. They went to towns and villages and visited all the womens organisations that they could find. Meetings were held all over the country. In the 1950s women became a powerful force in the struggle for a better quality of life. Apartheid was established and the laws were affecting African, Coloured and Indian people

badly. In 1952 the people started the Resistance Campaign. Women were at the forefront of this Campaign. The Congress Alliance was formed. Annie Salinga emerged as a leader and up to her death she refused to carry a pass under the Apartheid pass laws. She was the first black woman to sit in a whites only waiting room on a station. She said, We defy bad laws. She could not get old age pension because she refused to carry a pass. On 17 April 1954, the women formed the Federation of South African Women. Their aims were based on a Womens Charter that stated: This organisation is formed for the purpose of uniting all women in common action for the removal of all political, legal, economic and social disabilities. The women who led this movement were: Ida Mtwana Gladys Smith Lilian Ngoy Bertha Mkize Florence Matomela Ray Alexander Hetty Mcleod Frances Baard Hettie Du Preez K Egelhof Christinna Jasson Helen Joseph Elizabeth Mafeking Fatima Meer Louisa Mtawana Connie Njongwe Cecelia Rosier Annie Silinga Winifred Siqwana Alberina Sisulu Dora Tamana Miss M.F Thompson Freda van Rheede Hilda Watts [Bernstein] and Katie White. On May 29, 1955, Josie Palmer chaired a meeting that took forward the incorporation of womans rights into the Freedom Charter. All over the country women were involved in formulating a Womans Charter that reflected the aspirations of all women.

In 1955 6 white women formed the Defence of the Constitution League [DCI]. They were: Ruth Foley; Jean Sinclair; Jean Bosazza; Helen Newton Thompson; Tercia Pybus; and Elizabeth MacLaren. They protested against the Apartheid Governments plan to remove Coloured voters of the Cape from the voters roll. They became known as the Black Sash.

1955 March
In 1955 the Government announced that all African women would have to carry a pass. On October 27, 1955 the women marched on the Government buildings in Pretoria. The police and the authorities harassed and beat the women but about 2000 women made it to the steps of the Union Buildings. Lilian Ngoyi, an African, Helen Joseph, a white woman, Rahima Moosa, an Indian; and Sophie Williams, a coloured, led them. The four women managed to evade the police and placed hundreds of signed protests at the doors of different ministers

The Great Historical Event

On August 9, 1956 twenty thousand women gathered on the steps of the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Some of them had travelled for hundreds of miles. They came from Cape Town, from Durban, and from all the small towns and villages across the country. They were young and old, some carried babies on heir backs. They were from all walks of life and crossed the colour and class barriers The women arranged to meet at Pretoria station and when they got there the police used a loudspeaker to tell them that their march was banned. The women decided that they did not come this far to be stopped and made a plan to walk alone or in twos and threes the Government buildings. 9 August is the celebration of the tremendous courage of South African women who strived against unfair discrimination, the pass laws and against the apartheid system. We know the names of a few women but 20000 women marched to the Union Buildings and though we will never know all their names we honour them.

We take courage from the Great March of 9 August 1956

We relate to the struggles and the victories of the women that led to the march and to the struggles and victories since then, and we draw strength from sharing this history with others and from learning new stories from each other as we continue the work of democracy and development. We celebrate the lives of all women and pledge again to support the development and liberation of all women and girls and to unite in a sisterhood that takes forward the cause of Human Rights, and the development of all people.
THE STORY OF Womans Day The Great March 9 August 1956 Produced by JEANIUS

(Jeanette Hess)