“Wathint’ abafazi! Wathint’ imbokodo! Uzo kufa!” (now you have touched the women! You have struck a rock. You have dislodged a boulder! You will be crushed!) was the rallying cry 60 years ago when 20 000 women stood on the Union Buildings grounds in Pretoria in protest against apartheid laws forcing black women to carry the hated “dompas”.
And struggle veterans and organisers of that massive march, Sophie Williams-de Bruyn and Rita Ndzanga, made it clear yesterday it was time for the younger generation to step up as they passed on the torch of activisim.
Struggle royalty in the form of De Bruyn, Ndzanga, Ahmed Kathadra and Laloo Isu Chiba paid their respects to their fallen comrades in remembrance of that incredible women’s march on August 9, 1956, to present a petition against the carrying of passes by women to then Prime Minister J G Strijdom.
Anxiety was the order of the day in 1956, “Ma Rita” said.
“But we didn’t think about fear. At that moment we were just thinking of the women, were they coming? And it was such a relief when we saw the Union grounds full of women,” she added.
Today, there is a new war, the war on women’s bodies.
Sexual violence against women, girls and babies is a conversation largely on the back-burner, and it took four women holding placards in front of President Jacob Zuma while he delivered his speech at the Independent Electoral Commission at the weekend to put it back on the front pages.
The 1956 march forms the basis of the modern Women’s Day in South Africa and a plethora of speeches are planned to show how far modern society has come.
Yet violence against women is still perpetuated daily, brutally illustrated this week by a Germiston warrant officer who gunned down his estranged wife in Vosloorus, Ekurhuleni.