People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 34

August 21, 2011



The Other Women’s Day, A Reminder


Bratati Pande


THE Women’s Day in South Africa is celebrated on August 9 every year though world over it is celebrated on March 8. In 1994, the day was declared as women’s day and a national holiday to commemorate the day in 1956 when thousands of women walked on the streets in protest against a draconian “Pass” law in the Apartheid era. Under this law the black Africans were required to carry a pass which restricted their freedom of movement severely. The new amendment was trying to impose more restrictions on movement by extending it to women as well.

In a huge procession women walked the path of Pretoria and placed bundles of petitions signed by thousands of their compatriots at the door of the then prime minister J G Strijdom’s office. They were all singing a song of protest “now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock! You will be crushed! ”This song became the anthem of protest, a symbol of courage and perseverance of women in SA. The participants were wearing traditional dresses and some of them were donning colours of African National Congress - green, black and gold.


Many were carrying their children on their backs. Those who worked as ‘nannies’ in White homes were carrying their wards. The atmosphere was electrifying! They were not scared of being arrested. In any case how could the jails accommodate such a huge number? Many participants still remember the day vividly. The march was a big success. And what is most remarkable – no one was arrested!

The petition left with the prime minister described how the Pass laws have brought untold suffering to each South African family and deprived people to live a normal family life as every year innumerable people were thrown into jails for breaking the law, the women have seen their men suffering punishment and even torture not for any crime but for not having the pass! If it is now extended to women as well the family life would be totally destroyed! The march got such huge support from all sections of the public that the government did not resort to arrests immediately. The petition concluded with a warning to the prime minister, “African women would not rest until all Pass laws and all forms of permits restricting our freedom are abolished. We shall not rest unless we have won for our children their fundamental rights of freedom, justice and security!’

The protest got momentum over time and in a march in 1960, the protestors, both men and women , faced the police boldly announcing that they were not carrying any pass . The huge protest march unnerved the police and there was shooting on the procession killing 69 people.


Despite adverse public opinion world over, the regime banned both ANC and PAC and the leaders were thrown into jails. That, of course, could not kill the spirit of the movement and second rung leaders came forward to give the leadership. A number of women leaders played heroic roles in the movement, Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophy Williams were prominent among them. Obviously the leaders were detained. Women’s movement got a temporary jolt but the movement continued on a slow pace. Some women leaders went on exile.  Relentless struggle of all South Africans, men and women ultimately got them freedom from apartheid under the leadership of Nelson Mandela after long years of repression and torture but democracy can fruitfully survive only when people remember the price they had to pay for it! The first huge organised protest by women sowed the seed for the united struggle for freedom. The significance of the Day is different today –it is to reaffirm the faith in unity and carry forward the march towards real equality in the society both amongst races and genders. It is still a long way to go – the fight against Apartheid is formally over but equality is still a far cry! But remember that South Africa is still very young on its democratic path; democracy is only 17 years old! A beginning towards real equality has started and the determined people of South Africa will not stop short of a new era of equality, justice and freedom which were the key words in the fight against Apartheid.

An Indian Salute!