Imagine over 20 000 women of all races and ages from every corner of South Africa marching together towards the Union Buildings in Pretoria. On 9 August 1956 these brave women were marching in protest against the pass laws that proposed even further restrictions on the movements of women.
The Federation of South African Women (Fedsaw) organised the March, led by four women; Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa, Sophy Williams and Lilian Ngoyi. The leaders delivered petitions to Prime Minister JG Strijdom’s office, petitions that women throughout the country had put their names to indicating their anger and frustration at having their freedom of movement restricted by the hated official passes.
To conclude the Women’s March the women sang freedom songs such as Nkosi sikeleli Afrika, however, the song that became the anthem of the march was “Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo! (Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock.) In the 56 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.
The march was a resounding success and South Africa recognise the bravery of these women who risked arrest, detention and banning by declaring 9 August National Women’s Day.
Today, we also use the public holiday to celebrate the remarkable achievements and the tenacious spirits of the fearless females who continue to advocate for change, defy norms and stand up for what they believe.