Brave Anti-Apartheid Women Inspire Women To Protest, Challenge And Disrupt Patriarchy’s Domination Of Women By Cheryl Roberts

7 Aug

As we recall and commemorate with honour and respect the historic and brave march on apartheid’s Union buildings in Pretoria, mostly by oppressed and black South African women, sixty years later black women in democratic South Africa are engaging resistance initiatives against all whom try to suffocate and keep them chained.

Sixty years ago the fierce and defiant oppressed women embarked on the women’s march, with the objective of disarming apartheid pass law legislation, of calling out the inhumane pass laws which kept black men in chains and threatened to also chain black women.

Organisational and underground resistance work was undertaken by black women who founded a woman’s voice through the formation of the Federation of South African Woman (FEDSAW) which was born on 4 April 1954. The memory archives of anti-apartheid activist Blanche la Guma recalls how ‘powerful, determined  Lilian Ngoyi was chosen to lead the FEDSAW, with Helen Joseph to assist her.’

Blanche La Guma tells us that ‘intense campaigning for two years ended in the Great historical march to the Union Building on 9th August 1956. Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Sophie De Bruyn and Amina Cachalia, led the dignified march carrying the banner of protest against the pass laws. More than 20 000 followed carrying petitions to be handed in at the Union building and singing freedom songs. The women were fighting for their future to live as decent, civilized human beings in their country – South Africa.’

Throughout the apartheid years of life in an oppressed society, black women have protested, demonstrated, stood on the frontline of battle with oppressed black men, struggled in the trenches to unchain the chains. In the post-apartheid, democratic life of our country South Africa, black women have dug deep, refusing to be sucked in, controlled and dominated by patriarchy, heterosexism, colour prejudice and class suffocation.

Today, at this juncture, black women’s voices, especially, young adult women are roaring. And this fierce roar is not being done in cohesion and collaboration with men. Its black women demanding their lives on a black woman’s terms; it’s about black women leading their struggle and contesting the litany of battles which confront, impact on and affect women.

These voices are phenomenal, supported with pride and respect by women who watch from the sidelines. However, these voices are also frightening to black and white men, especially men with power and those intent is consolidating male hegemony. Frightening because the young black woman’s voice is disrupting everything that props up and sustains patriarchy, particularly rape culture, misogyny, sexism, abuse and discrimination of women.

African women are warriors. They have challenged, resisted, fought domination over their lives by all domineering forces, most of these being men. Most of African women’s struggles are undocumented in print and written material because African women have been ignored and marginalised and left out of the privileged sphere of writing and publishing, dominated and controlled by white women. But these struggles over the centuries, throughout the apartheid years and twenty years of post-apartheid society have happened and are being engaged.

While black women fought together with black men to force out apartheid legislation and control, today the black woman’s struggle is being undertaken by the black woman herself who is refusing to be shackled by advocates of patriarchal and heterosexual society. Black women have waited too long for men ‘to free them’, to fight with them in their battles.

Today, the black woman’s struggles, protests and disruptions are not about getting ‘equality with men’. It’s about a society with no patriarchy, a society where rape culture doesn’t exist, where men are feminists and don’t support domination of women, where sexual orientation and identity is the woman’s voice and choice. Most importantly, it’s a demand for spaces and societal relationships and spheres where black women live their lives free of every chain that ever wants to control women.

We haven’t forgotten sixty years ago and the women’s anti-pass laws march. We should never forget this foundation which set us on the journey to believe in the strength and power of women’s resilience. But today, we can’t be settled and satisfied with gender equity laws in the constitution and on paper. A black woman’s life is about a black woman’s freedom, struggled for and attained by black women.

1956 womens march

1956 anti-apartheid women’s march (i do acknowledge the photographer)

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