National Women’s Day – 9 August – “You strike a woman, you strike a rock"

On Tuesday, 9 August, we’ll be having a public holiday, National Women’s Day, to commemorate the national march of women on this day in 1956 to petition against legislation requiring black Africans to carry the “pass” (special identification documents). This “pass” scarred the human rights of these people and harshly restricted their freedom of movement during the “Apartheid” era.

On 9 August, 1956, 20,000 women staged a march at the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against the proposed amendments to the Urban Areas Act (commonly known as the “pass laws”) of 1950. They took bundles of petitions containing more than 100 000 signatures to Prime Minister J.G. Strijdom’s office doors and stood there silently for 30 minutes, many with their children on their backs. Those who were working for white people as nannies were carrying their white children with them.

The women sang a protest song that was composed in honour of the occasion: Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo! meaning “Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock”. In the 54 years since, the phrase “you strike a woman, you strike a rock” has come to represent women’s courage and strength in South Africa.

The march was led by Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Albertina Sisulu and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn. Other participants included Frances Baard, a statue of whom was unveiled by Northern Cape Premier Hazel Jenkins in Kimberley (Frances Baard District Municipality) on National Women’s Day 2009.

Since August 9, 1994, the day has been commemorated annually as “Women’s Day” and in 2006, a reenactment of the march was staged with many of the 1956 march veterans for its 50th anniversary.

Information for this blog post was found on Wikipedia.

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