The extraordinarily brave events of August 9, 1955 will forever be embedded on South African minds as one of the most courageous efforts by the oppressed masses of South Africa to challenge the inhumane and unjust system of institutionalized racism which was entrenched in South Africa for over four decades – apartheid.
On that day, thousands of Black women marched to Pretoria to protest against pass laws which required them to carry their passports – or dompas – as they were infamously known, which contained information on where one was born, stayed and where one worked. This also severely limited the movement of black people in and around the country.
August 9 saw women finally mustering enough courage to stand and be counted among history makers. They embarked on a journey that would change the course of the liberation struggle forever.
However, one has to ask whether South African women today can emulate the courage which the women of 1956 exuded. Is the sense of bravery and courage still as prevalent as it was in 1956? Have the women of South Africa upheld and cherished what those of 1956 fought for?
These questions rise in a society which seems to be characteristically biased towards patriarchy and misogyny. Did the women of 1956 achieve what they were striving for? Are women still struggling in our society? To a certain extent, it can be said that the sense of transformation that characterized the liberation struggle of the women of 1956 is still persistent in a male-dominated society like South Africa but one must realize that the dynamics have evolved dramatically.
The current environment is a much more complicated terrain for the women of today than it was for those of 1956. Today there exist more opportunities that the women of 1956 could only dream of but at the same time the women of today still face similar challenges as of those in 1955. Women’s current struggles in South Africa are characterized by concepts such as sexism, racism and misogyny. A women has a better chance of being raped than going to school and getting a qualification.
To a certain extent, the battle was much clearer for the women of 1956 than it is for them now. However, one shouldn’t underestimate the strides women are making in society. Today we have women in top leadership positions. An example not so far away from home is the current Student Representative Council (SRC) President at NMMU is a female – the first woman to hold the top SRC position at NMMU.
As we continue to celebrate women’s month, we continue to celebrate and acknowledge the struggles women face from day to day, from sexism, racism, misogyny, inequality and an array of other issues. We continue to commend them for the mammoth contribution they make in society.