OPINION PIECE BY SEFORA “SISI” NTOMBELA – YOU STRIKE A WOMAN; YOU STRIKE A ROCK!!!
Today marks the beginning of what is known as the Women’s Month in our country. This is in remembrance and honor of the selflessness demonstrated by more than 20 000 strong women who took a stand against the illegitimate apartheid system on the 9th of August 1956.
These formidable women organized themselves in a true demonstration that indeed women can never be left out of political decisions which in the main affected them directly. They demonstrated that contrary to what patriarchal thinking dictated and still dictates, women can indeed lead from the front.
They engaged in a memorable demonstration of leadership during a very difficult time in our struggle, against a fierce and brutal regime which killed children and adults alike, so long as they were African. This month truly represents a vivid glance at the power possessed by women but also, the formidable future which can and must be crafted by women.
It is my intention to demonstrate through this opinion piece that women have always led our revolutionary program many times before that history changing moment of 1956. This is important because this history of heroism by women is not spoken or written about often. It remains my hope that women, particularly the young women, will research our historical contribution and document it.
There are three main revolutionary moments in our collective history which shaped the kind of society we enjoy today, where women led from the front. This is in no-way intended to suggest that other critical moments are less significant, however, for the purpose of this input, I will confine myself to these three.
The first of these history changing moments was in our very own province, the Free State, where our revolutionary movement, the African National Congress was formed. In 1913, women in Bloemfontein confronted the illegitimate and racist regime which declared that black women living in townships must buy new entry permits on a monthly basis, in an attempt to “protect” the increase in the number of the poor-whites against labor competition from our people. Those who refused to comply, were to be sent to the reserves in the rural areas, with no consideration about their families.
The decision was taken in a women’s meeting in Waaihoek on the 28th May 1913 to confront the regime and demand an end to the repressive residential permits they were forced to carry. This resulted in about 80 women being arrested, but this did not demoralize them. The protests and demands spread across other towns in the Free State with hundreds more women incarcerated in the Kroonstad women prison.
This was a clear demonstration of strength and militancy by these giants of women struggles who hailed from Waaihoek location under the control of the Bloemfontein town council. Ultimately, this repressive and permit requirement was withdrawn.
This important moment in the history of women struggles made way to the formation of early women’s political movements, such as the Bantu Women’s League, which was led by our icon, whose centenary we are celebrating this year, Mama Charlotte Maxeke. This organization served as a “branch” of the ANC, to advance issues affecting women.
This was despite the fact that our own movement, the ANC, did not accept women as its members, as a result of patriarchal nature of our society. Unfortunately, patriachy continues to rear its ugly head to date, and it must be defeated by all of us, men and women combined.
The second historic moment took place in 1930 at Potchefstroom, which was a demonstration against lodger’s permits imposed upon women who worked as domestic workers in this small white dominated town. The municipal officials demanded that women must pay the so called “lodger’s” permits for them to stay in the urban area.
This led to a massive program of resistance by women under the leadership of struggle icons such as Cde Josie Mpama, who was a prominent member of the Communist Party of South Africa. This initiative by the women mobilized the entire black oppressed to take to the streets, with the cowardly regime responding with force, killing and arresting many Africans.
The main message and slogan which was used to mobilize our people was: You have no guns and bombs like your masters but you have your numbers, you have your labor and power to organize and withhold it.
This radical posture which was initiated and led by women resulted in the intervention by the then department of native affairs for the repeal of the oppressive legislation and acceptance of the women’s demands.
The third confrontation, which I will confine this opinion piece on as indicated earlier, was against the brutal apartheid regime, which was led by women of our country from all walks of life which took place on the 09th of August 1956.
Thousands of the South African women demanded an end to the repressive compulsory carrying of the “dom-passes” by Africans. This resulted in the historic march to the union buildings, with over 20 000 women, who tore and torched their “dom-passes” in a clear demonstration of defiance and willingness to go to prison for their convictions.
It is my view that these important moments, including many which I did not touch on, present us with both something to celebrate as well as motivation to continue with the baton from these gallant fighters.
Women continue to face many challenges to date, the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment affects us as women more than anyone else. We continue to face patriarchal tendencies from our male counterparts and experience the most brutal gender based violence and femicide as women.
Women continue to serve in junior and inferior positions as deputies and assistants to men with less capabilities than them to date. Our own movement, the ANC, is yet to have true gender parity in so far as the provincial chairpersons and secretaries are concerned. Women remain glorified deputies and this must and will change, only if we stick together and ensure that we learn from those who led the struggles I have mentioned above.
We must ensure that we always fight for our inclusion in all areas of leadership and celebrate other women when they attain milestones instead of working against each other. We must do so because we know our capabilities and qualitative contribution we can make collectively.
We must have more women Ministers, women Premiers, women MEC’s, women Mayors and I dare say a female President in this country. Our battle is far from over, but we must soldier on. We are capable as women. By the way, all world wars fought were never started by women, in actual fact, the contrary is true.
Unfortunately, we had to be the ones more affected, as we continue to experience to date.
My message to all the women in our country, particularly the younger generation, is that we must unite and have a common purpose. Build each other and not rejoice at the destruction of one another. Let us celebrate our individual and collective successes and hold each other’s hands when we falter.
Unity has always prevailed even under the most difficult conditions as demonstrated by our forebears, like Mama Charlotte Maxeke, whose statue will be erected in the province this year. We must be guided by the fighting spirit of Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who was banished to Brandfort, here in the Free State by the apartheid regime in an attempt to silence her. Little did they know that they hardened her commitment to the struggle. It is for this reason that we established a museum in her honor and will soon be naming the area in her name.
Let us ensure that we fight against gender based violence and child abuse in our country. At times we as women indirectly condone such actions by not reporting them to the authorities. Let us ensure that we stand together and unite.
The battle against patriarchy is not over, we must wage a formidable battle and I for one, commit to do so consistently! We will be engaging in a number of programs in honor and celebration of our exceptional women in government, private sector and our communities broadly.
This will be done in an effort to encourage other women to occupy their rightful space in history as our leaders did in the past.
Let us take full advantage of the opportunities presented by the democratic government of the ANC and empower ourselves, let us ensure that we arm ourselves with skills and excel academically as Mama Charlotte Maxeke did when she became the first African female to graduate abroad!
Let us inspire the young generation of women who look up to us as the same way those who came before us did.
Indeed, you strike a woman, you strike a rock!!!
Sefora Ntombela is the Deputy President of the ANC Women’s League, Deputy Convener of ANC IPC in the Free State and the Premier of the Free State Province. She writes in her personal capacity.
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