6 June 2013 – 700 women from the region marched through the streets of Bloemfontein protesting against the requirement for Black women to carry passes (or the Dompas as it was referred to) designating where they could live and work. They were restricted mainly to the poor rural areas where work was in very short supply. If they tried to get work in an urban area to which they had not been allocated they faced heavy fines and/or imprisonment. Has much changed for these women in the past 100 years?
Sadly, this Bloemfontein event is almost forgotten BUT
9 August 1956 – over 10 000 women from all walks of life and all parts of the country, marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria. It was an extremely colourful occasion with ladies dressed in traditional African outfits, in saris and in westernised outfits. They gathered on that beautiful lawn to hand over a petition calling for the abolition of the Pass Laws in South Africa as there had been no improvement in the 43 years since the Bloemfontein march. No one from the government turned up to receive their petition but this did not deter the women from their efforts. Before leaving they all stood in total silence for half an hour and then sang what is now South Africa’s anthem, Nkosi sikeleli Afrika‘ (God bless Africa). It was described in many reports that it was a powerful moment in South African history. The amazing size of the march and the incredible determination of the women taking part has meant that this has not been forgotten.
7 December 1994 – Act 36 of 1994 was passed in the South African Parliament. This Act detailed all the Public Holidays for post-apartheid South Africa; a total of 12, with 9 August being declared Women’s Day. Since then each 9 August, banks, schools, universities and offices are closed while shops and amusement places enjoy a rise in turnover for the day. As with the other public holidays, for most South Africans it is a day to lie in, go to the beach, shop or somehow connect it to a weekend and take ‘a long weekend’. Anything but going to work and being productive. There are some rallies, music shows and flowers handed out as well as lots of talk shops – mostly Government sponsored. Just Google Women’s Day activities in SA and you will see what I mean. Of course, every radio show and TV broadcast will tell you what they are doing for women. The question is, for which women? Those of us who can afford to pay the fee for the lunch or conference, those who have cars and nearby shopping malls where the flowers are distributed – usually 1 rose per woman which may or may not still appear sharp and beautiful when you get home.
1 August 2012 – Lulu Xingwana, Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, declared the whole month of August as Women’s Month and so now for 31 days in a row there are radio programmes, lunches, conferences, music shows etc. This year I was invited to 2 lunches and a breakfast, all to celebrate Women’s Month and what a splash they turned out to be. The food was not only excellent but very plentiful as well. One of the lunches was described as a High Tea but started with hot offerings first – kebabs, cocktail sausages, fish, curry meat plus, plus. Most of the women had already eaten lunch so it certainly did not all get eaten. Then we had 2 excellent presentations, the main one being on Women and Financial Security which was not surprising as it was sponsored by a financial company. Also a number of times we were reminded that there were financial advisers in the room waiting to assist us. We finished with the High Tea and another load of food.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there is no doubt that it is a wonderful idea to remember those 700 women in Bloemfontein and the 10 000 who travelled to Pretoria. Without them we would not be where are today. But, sadly, the majority of South Africans neither remember the marches nor care that they took place; ‘we are free so let us get on with our lives’. Should this not really be a wonderful opportunity to uplift and honour those women who are currently struggling daily? What about your domestic worker? Did she receive anything special or some encouragement as a woman? What about the rural women who have to walk miles to collect water each day? Did any of these companies or government departments which offered lavish entertainment consider visiting and helping them with the collection of water and firewood, even for 1 day? What about all the grannies and young women/girls who are having to cope with growing households of children due to parents/children dying in their child-rearing years? Did any of us think to make just 1 day, even if not 31 days, easier for them in some way?
I would love to know what others think of how truly Women’s Day/Month uplifts any of these women.