On 9 August 1956, more than 20,000 women staged a march on the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against the proposed amendments to the Urban Areas Act (commonly known as the pass laws) of 1950.
They left bundles of petitions containing more than 100 000 signatures at prime minister J.G. Strijdom's office doors.
Outside they stood silently for 30 minutes, many with their children on their backs. The women sang 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 in South Africa.
Since 9 August 1994, the day has been commemorated annually and is known as "Women's Day" in South Africa.
In 2006, a reenactment of the march was staged for its 50th anniversary, with many of the 1956 march veterans. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Women's_Day
In September 1955 the issue of passes burst into the public eye again when the government announced that it would start issuing reference books to black women from January 1956. Women, now politicised and well-organised into a powerful resistance movement, immediately rose to the challenge. In October 1955 and August 1956, Women marched to the Union Buildings carrying petitions to protest against the pass laws. Both marches were organised by FEDSAW and led by four women who came from the white, coloured, Indian and black communities. (from left) Rahima Moosa, Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, and Sophie Williams.
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