National Women’s Day is a South African public holiday celebrated annually on 9 August. The day commemorates the 1956 march of approximately 20 000 women to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to petition against the country’s pass laws that required South Africans defined as “black” under The Population Registration Act to carry an internal passport, known as a pass, that served to maintain population segregation, control urbanisation, and manage migrant labour during the apartheid era.
The first National Women’s Day was celebrated on 9 August 1994. In 2006, a reenactment of the march was staged for its 50th anniversary, with many of the 1956 march veterans.
On 9 August 1956, more than 20 000 South African women of all races staged a march on the Union Buildings in protest against the proposed amendments to the Urban Areas Act of 1950, commonly referred to as the “pass laws”. The march was led by Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophia Williams. 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.
The women left bundles of petitions containing more than 100 000 signatures at the office doors of prime minister J.G. Strijdom. The women stood silently for 30 minutes and then started singing a protest song that was composed in honour of the occasion: Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo!(Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock.).
In the 54 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 inSouth Africa.
President Jacob Zuma will later today deliver the national message at the 60th anniversary of the women’s march to the Union Buildings and National Women’s Day celebrations.
This year’s Women’s Day marks 60 years since the iconic 1956 women’s march against the discriminatory pass laws, which had restricted the movement of black people in the country.
Hundreds of people have been gathering at the southern lawns at the Union Buildings for the celebrations since early this morning.
Ahead of the celebrations at the Union Buildings, the President and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa will unveil the Women’s Living Heritage Monument depicting leaders of the 1956 women’s march at the Lillian Ngoyi Square.
The women’s monument as well as a heritage site will honour the women for their contribution and the role they played in the struggle for freedom, democracy and development of South Africa.
It will include a multi-purpose centre that will provide space for formal and informal training for women; market access for local crafts; provide information to the youth about the women’s struggle for emancipation and also serve as a leadership training centre where women will be taught about political and developmental issues.
Women from all walks of life will then embark on a symbolic celebration walk, run and cycle from Lillian Ngoyi Square to the Union Buildings.