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Women's Day in South Africa 9 August 1956

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  • Sophia Williams - de Bruyn
    Sophia Williams-de Bruyn THE LAST OF THE MATRIARCHS By Khubu Meth THE WOMEN WHO MADE US The only surviving leader of the 1956 march, Sophia Williams-de Bruyn - then barely 18, together with Lil...
  • Rahima Moosa (1922 - 1993)
    Moosa, Rahima Born: 14 October 1922, in the Strand, Cape Town Died: 1993 In summary: Shop steward for the Cape Town Food and Canning Workers’ Union, member of the Transvaal Indian Congress...
  • Lilian Masediba Ngoyi (1911 - 1980)
    Lilian Masediba Ngoyi Born: 1911, Pretoria, Gauteng (then Transvaal), South Africa Died: 13 March 1980, Orlando Township, Gauteng (then Transvaal), South Africa In summary: Politician and anti-ap...
  • Helen Joseph (1905 - 1992)
    Helen Beatrice Joseph (née Fennell) (8 April 1905 – 25 December 1992) was born in Easebourne near Midhurst West Sussex, England and graduated from King's College London, in 1927. After ...

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.

The march was led by Lilian Masediba Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophie Williams. Other participants included Frances Baard, a statue of whom was unveiled on National Women's Day 2009.

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

Project Photo: The leaders of the 1955 Women's March holding the petitions against passes

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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