‘Wathint' Abafazi, Wathint' Imbokodo'
(you strike the women, you strike the rock)
These words from the famous resistance song have come to symbolise the courage and strength expressed at the Women's March of 1956 as South African women refused to give into increasing oppression without some form of protest.
Before the 1950s, only black men were required to carry passes. This gave them permission to be in an urban area. Only people who could find work were given a pass. This allowed the government to control the influx of black men into the cities. The pass law was one of the most hated of the apartheid laws. Men were repeatedly arrested under this law and it had the effect of turning the majority of the population into criminals.
In 1952, the government announced that Black women would also have to carry passes. Women actively resisted this. The idea began in 1955 at a meeting of FSAW, where a suggestion was made: "Let us go to Pretoria ourselves and protest to the Government against laws that oppress us."
On the 9th of August 1956, over 20 000 women of all races marched in unison to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to hand over a petition to the then South African prime minister Hans (JG) Strijdom.
This was a significant turning point in the struggle against unjust apartheid laws. Though the march was against the restrictive pass laws, it led to significant changes towards the emancipation of women.
Exhibitions in the classroom
Reading into the past
Although the exact date is unknown, this report was written in the late 1980s.
Read the report and answer the questions.
1. How did the government respond to the Women’s March?
2. In the years after the Women’s March, how did women respond to growing oppression?
3. Make a list of the issues that women organised around during the 1980s.
Listen to the radio documentary about Lillian Ngoyi, available on the SAHA CD Voices from our past and online at: http://www.saha.org.za/publications/voices_from_our_past .htm