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Wathint' abafazi, wathint' imbokodo – you strike a woman you strike a rock.
This Zulu chant has become synonymous with women’s resistance to apartheid and is still used to protest gender violence today.
This week it takes on added significance, as South Africa celebrates Women’s Day tomorrow, 9 August. In this we are completely separate from the rest of the world, which celebrates global Women’s Day on 8 March – an old Socialist Soviet bloc event that was eventually adopted internationally to promote gender equality and infused into the culture of many nations.
So why is it 9 August in our country?
It’s the anniversary of the legendary women’s march on the Union Buildings in Pretoria on that day in 1956, to protest the notorious pass laws of the apartheid regime. The demonstration was led by Helen Joseph, Lilian Ngoyi, Rahima Moosa and Sophie Williams, and 20 000 women from different races and cultural groups risked detention to march with them.
They came from as far as Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. Some, like political activist Amina Cachalia were heavily pregnant. Others had children on their backs. Many carried signs with slogans such as, “With passes we are slaves”.
They all sang ‘Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika' as they delivered a petition with over 100 000 signatures to the offices of then Prime Minister Hans Strijdom.
He and his officials did not receive the women, but for the first time ever, the everyday women of our country flexed their political muscle and voiced their disquiet with openness and courage.
A great day indeed; and worthy of annual commemoration.
In 1994 the anniversary of that day was officially recognised as Women’s Day in South Africa. A re-enactment of the 1956 march to the Union Buildings was staged in 2006 to celebrate the its 50th anniversary. It was attended by several women who had been at the original event.
The first national Women's Day was observed on February 28, 1909, in the US, following a declaration by the Socialist Party of America.