1 Aug 2006

August 2006

  • Foreword
    President Thabo Mbeki
  • Editorial
    Mbulelo Goniwe
  • Memories of the great women’s march
    Sophia Williams -De Bruyn
  • Women and the ANCWL
    Nosiviwe Mapisa -Nqakula
  • The strength of a woman
    Albertina Sisulu
  • A glimpse of women’s prison life under apartheid
    Thandi Modise
  • Making government work for women
    Susan Nkomo
  • Malibongwe!
    Gertrude Shope
  • Challenges of “Girl-Child”
    Bertha Gxowa
  • Perspective Of A Young Woman
    Thandi Tobias
  • Women in the Military
    Jacqueline Modise
  • Women in International Struggle
    Gertrude Shope
  • Progressive Women’s Movement of South Africa
  • Women in the Trade Union Movement
    Noluthando Mayende -Sibiya
  • “We need to move from Revolutionary Declarations to Revolutionary Practice”
    Or Tambo


Mbulelo Goniwe MP– Editor-In-Chief
Moloto Mothapo – Editor
Mpho Lekgoro, MP
Kiki Rexwana, MP
Makhosazana Njobe, MP
Molefi Sefularo, MP
Beatrice Ngcobo, MP
Ma-Storie Morutoa, MP
Connie September, MP
Dumezweni Zimu

Special thanks to Mayibuye
for Pictures provided

ANC Parliamentary Caucus
PO Box 15
Cape Town 8000
Tel: 021 403 3107
Fax: 021 403 3130
Email: ntoto@parliament.gov.za

Views expressed in this publication might not represent those of the ANC or ANC Parliamentary Caucus.
Produced by ANC Media and Communications Department

50th Anniversary of Women’s March

This year, 2006, marks the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Women’s March to the Union Buildings to protest against the extension of pass laws to African Women by the Apartheid government. In that historic march, thousands of women united with the singular purpose to register their determined opposition to Apartheid and gender oppression. In so doing, they helped to shake the system of Apartheid to its very foundations and held aloft the banner of freedom that reassured all of us that we would indeed achieve freedom in our lifetime.

And now, as our country forges ahead with the task of the transformation of our society, national development and reconstruction, that milestone in the struggle for freedom inspires all of us to do more for the emancipation of women.

As we remember the courage, determination and sacrifice of the countless numbers of our mothers, the heroines who defied the might of the Apartheid system we should, from all stations in life, spare neither strength nor effort to ensure that women occupy their legitimate positions – in our legislatures, judiciary, government, business and all organs of civil society.

Further, we should draw inspiration from these heroines to face the challenge to ensure that as a nation, we develop conscious interventions towards women’s empowerment and the full attainment of gender equality in every sphere of life.

We take this opportunity during this historic year to salute all South African women for the work they continue to do to transform our country and create the caring society for which many heroines sacrificed their lives.

Aluta continua!
Thabo Mbeki


This edition of Sephadi is a very special one, as it contributes to our national celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Women’s March on Pretoria, an heroic effort that consolidated the role of women as one of the central players for our liberation, and also contributed finally to place the task of the emancipation of women as one of central tasks of the national democratic revolution (Jan 8 Statement).

The March is one of the important historic milestones born of struggle during our long journey towards the birth of freedom and democracy in our country.

Through this special edition of Sephadi, the rich heritage of women in the struggle is highlighted. Contributions by the giants of our struggle including Albertina Sisulu, Sophie Williams-De Bruyn, Bertha Gxowa and others makes this edition a mustread for all of us.

Contained herein are the experiences reflecting on the events, mood and activities leading to and after the 1956 Women’s March. There is also a comparison and contextualisation of the challenges faced by women then and now.

What were the specific challenges that confronted women in apartheid prisons? How has freedom and democracy changed that situation? How did women’s struggle against the system of apartheid, their defiance and detention, bolster the struggle and the effort to mobilize women against the system? In this edition, comrade Thandi Modise opens up these and other similar questions.

The publication also affords us the opportunity to interrogate critical questions in regard to the role of women in the trade union movement, Parliament, the Women’s Movement, the office of Status of Women and the challenges facing the national gender machinery in addressing issues of women.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child asserts the inherent dignity and the inalienable rights of all members of the human family as a foundation of freedom, justice and peace.

Section 28 of our Constitution, and consistent with the perspectives contained in the international Convention and other instruments, not only entrenches the rights of our children, but also outlines the tasks before us to ensure that these declarations become lived reality. Against this background, Ma-Bertha Gxowa investigates some of the challenges facing our society in respect of the girl-child, the role of women’s organizations in this regard, and the progress we have made in attending to these tasks.

We must express our sincerest gratitude to the President of our country, and all the comrades who made contributions to this special edition of Sephadi.



This year marks the 50th anniversary of the historic 1956 Women’s March on Pretoria by thousands of women cadres against the brutal and inhumane pass laws imposed by the apartheid regime. The march injected a new impetus to the cause for women emancipation and the struggle for freedom in general. Today, the march remains an historic milestone, born of the liberation struggle that has led to the creation of a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic, united and prosperous South Africa.

In this commemorative edition, we relive the day that revolutionised the cause for women’s rights through personal experience of one of the four women who led the 20 000 women to the Union Buildings.Iwas among the fortunate women who participated in a march to the Union Buildings, the centre of the apartheid domination on 9 August 1956. I was even more fortunate in that I was one of the four women chosen to lead the march and to take thousands of passes to the Nationalist Prime Minister Strijdom. The Prime Minster was a coward, he was afraid of us and made himself scarce – he ran away. This was 50 years ago and the memories of that day are still clear and fresh in my mind. I never thought but only hoped that one day women of this country will be free. As the African Idiom goes: “You free a woman you free a nation” This month we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the march. We look back at the events of that day and the courage and bravery of women of that time. We are also examing how far we have come and assess if these struggles bore fruits to our new democratic dispensation. Indeed, as our President aptly put it, it is the Age of Hope.

Looking at the faces and complexions in our National Parliament, the Provincial Legislatures and other sectors of our society, it surely does not need a rocket scientist to see the successes brought by the long journey our women have travelled. It is also evident even in the local government front that the journey embarked upon so long ago, was the right one - it has paid off.

There were thousands of us with 20 000 history records. Those of us who were there knew the number of attendees could have been more had the regime not banned and barred many others who wished to attend. Many were told by the police to go back where they came from while others were manhandled and strategically arrested for a day and released in the afternoon to ensure that they did not attend the march.The thousands that turned out for the march covered all of the vast grounds. They sat on the lush, immaculately manicured lawns, some with their babies besides them while others had their babies on their backs - carrying their meagre lunches.

Something of interest on the day, I remember, was that when word did rounds inside the Union Buildings that there was this huge invasion of women taking over the grounds, Afrikaner male clerks, administrators and a number of white female employees, flocked out of the doors and began to perch themselves on the window sills, the balconies, on the stairs and even on the roof. In fact, every nook-and-cranny was occupied.

It was the first time ever in the history of the rule of the apartheid government, that black people, especially women, ever sat foot and walked on the “holy grail” forbidden soil - the Union Buildings. Therefore for them it was indeed a “wonderlike ding”.

It would indeed be interesting to know what actually went through their minds now fifty years later. John Robbie interviewed me on 702 on the Women’s Day of 2004 and I related to him and the listeners this aspect of the day and I further asked him to invite any of those employees to phone in and just share with us exactly how they felt and what went through their minds.

Unfortunately no one responded.

It is also important to reflect on the conduct of the 20 000 women on that day as they proudly, with a sense of purpose, with all the dignity, discipline and grace, marched up the steps of the Union Buildings. There was no jostling, pushing or any form of ill behaviour.

The four of us (who led the march) walked together down the middle path which the women had left open. When we came to the end of the path and turned, the women fell in line graciously behind us, following us up all the way and across the terraces.

There was not even loud talking amongst themselves even though none of them was informed of any ground rules to observe. They knew and recognised what they stood for and the seriousness of the event.

I remember marvelling at the beautiful sight that met my eyes as I looked upon the multitude of women. Some women carried babies on their backs, Indian women in their colourful saris, rural women and others in their colourful traditional garments, some in the popular black, green and gold colours of the African National Congress while others were in their ordinary outfit.

There I was, standing with Helen Suzman, Lillian Ngoyi and Rahima Moosa with thousands of petitions in our hands about to be dispatched to Strijdom’s office. As we sang the national anthem and observed half an hour of silence before dispatching the petitions, I marvelled at the historic reality of what was happening. It was unbelievably exciting to see women of all races from different parts of our country coming together for a common cause.

The four of us were ready to carry out the mandate of thousands of women, which was to deliver their demands to Strijdom’s office.

After Lilian Ngoyi had addressed the women, we marched in a dignified manner to hand over the petitions. But when we got into the office we were told by a certain male clerk that Strijdom was not there. We just dumped the petitions in his office and left.A significant factor that characterised the march was that with few exceptions, women who attended were drawn from the most poor and humble backgrounds, with little knowledge of their entitlement to things such as justice, equality, freedom and right to share in the resources of the land. Those were women whose state of oppression was so severe that they almost had no concept of their self worth.

It was in that respect that August 9 was a cataclysmic event. It burst through all the barriers of race and patriarchy that smothered the hearts, the souls and intellects of those women and set them free in one great song. After Lillian Ngoyi informed the women that Strijdom was not there to receive their demands, that he had instead run away, they instantly and spontaneously broke into singing: “Wathinta abafazi wathinta imbokodo…” (Strijdom you strike a woman, you strike a rock and now you will die) This song was never pre-composed or even rehearsed. The strength of the women was embodied in this song. We were quite aware as women that our destination was not easy to reach. We overcame mammoth obstacles and marched to victory. This is why August the 9th will always be an event of monumental proportions.

The day will remain in our memories forever. The march was not independent of other struggle events, but it was a culmination of a series of events that preceded it.

Everything was over after the singing. In the same manner the women graciously and dignifiedly marched up the steps of the Union Buildings to deliver their demands, they walked down the steps. As much as they were angry and disappointed, they contained their anger. Not a single one of them thought of trashing the grounds and the immaculate lawns of the Union Buildings. They did that not because they were afraid of getting imprisoned, but because of their respect for their fellow comrades and their leadership.

Disrespect and ill discipline was never part of their nature.

The celebration of the 50th anniversary of the women’s march this month brings pride and joy to us. It is significant that the celebration is taking place in the same year as the 30th anniversary of the June 16 uprising and the same month as the historic launch of the Progressive Women’s Movement. The women’s movement will build and unite women into a massive organisation to strengthen and consolidate the gains they made over the years.

As we celebrate these events, we are reminded to dip our banner in memory of some of our women comrades who made supreme sacrifices and paid with their lives. These are women such as the late Dulcie September, Ruth First, Janet Schoon, and Mary Mini (daughter of Vuyisile Mini) who were assassinated by death squads of the apartheid regime.

We also remember other martyrs, the giants of our struggle who made us who we are today. These are comrades such as Francis Baardt, Francis Matomela, Ama Naidoo, Ellen Kuzwayo, Anna Salinga, Mary (Watson) Moodley, Dorothy Nyembe, Chrissie Jasson, Liz Walton, Doloris Telling, as well as Saratjie Baartman -the Khoi woman whose remains were returned for a decent reburial. As a Khoi woman, she was trafficked out of the Eastern Cape, taken to Europe where she was paraded naked. Her life reflects the sad history of all kind of oppression that African women were subjected to.

Women have survived the injustices of racism and have emerged in a phoenix fashion from the ashes, stronger better and more matured. We need to take stock, and dedicate ourselves to Ubuntu, the African Renaissance, which will reclaim the African ethos and place it on par with that of everyone in the world.

Malibogwe iGama labafazi.

Sophia Williams-De Bruyn, one of the leaders of the heroic Women’s March in 1956, is Deputy Speaker of the Gauteng Provincial Legislature.



For decades women’s struggle for gender equality, the advancement of women’s rights and the eradication of the repressive and unjust apartheid policies were fought under the revolutionary banner of the African National Congress Women’s League. Even after the advent of democracy more than 12 years ago, the tried and tested women’s movement continue to champion the women’s cause. In this article, we look at the historical role of the ANCWL and the achievement of women today under its stewardship.In the struggle for liberation in our country, women have played a leading role in resisting and eventually eradicating the oppressive and unjust laws of the then racist South African government.

It was in 1954 when they clearly put forward their programme and adopted a resolution that confirmed and committed women to be side by side with men.

Incensed by a number of injustices regulated by numerous laws and regulations, and enforced by brutal state machinery, South African women were inevitably forced to relinquish their traditional role of children and family minders to reinforce the national cause of the liberation struggle whose trenches were predominantly occupied by men.

Women from different cultural and political backgrounds forged unity in the struggle and demonstrated their strength and courage, and stood up for what they believed was the thing to do for their beloved country. Their most distinguished contribution was noticeable in the enhancement of the momentum of the (famous) roaring 50`s. Many of them formed part of the Defiance Campaigns Volunteer leadership. This, in effect, ushered in a period of hope in the history of our liberation struggle.

Through the women`s collaborative leadership role, our people heeded the clarion call of riding and using the Whites-only transport and toilet facilities with the scorn and defiance that was required.

Following the sustained defiance campaigns throughout our country, women at the helm of it, the momentum of the roaring 50`s ushered in, within the broad ANC ranks, a critical need to come up with a comprehensive programme of action that will map out the nature of the democratic aspirations as envisaged by our oppressed people. This need brought about the historic document of the people - the FREEDOM CHARTER of which women were at the centre stage of petitioning the freedom loving people for ideas that were to form the democratic state.

Women came with a document for the Charter that indicated: “What Women Want”.

Earlier on, women, in their natural state of being household and family organizers, they were perturbed by their own husbands and brothers who were avoiding participation in the people`s struggles by loafing away and indulging in all-day shebeen drinking. This also led them to be violent. Subsequently, they organized themselves countrywide to courageously drive their men and brothers out of the shebeens with sticks and whips.

Indeed, this was a successful campaign that yielded the result for which it was meant. They also defied the then government on selling the same sorghum beer that the government was selling and be arrested. As women did not have permits to work in the urban areas the majority had to sell the sorghum beer for economic reasons. This served as a mobilsation strategy.

The incarceration of the entire ANC leadership, dubbed the people`s parliament, following the successful production of the FREEDOM CHARTER, unleashed the wrath of women that quickly closed the political void created by the incarceration.

Women, propelled by the progressive and the militant slogan: “Wathint` abafazi, wathint` imbokotho - uza kufa Strijdom”, organized the ever-historic march against the infamous pass laws in 1956 where more than 20 000 women participated. In this political engagement, women made a lasting statement of the inherent sterling political leadership in them. By this act of enormous courage, the political stature of the ANC as a formidable liberation force was once again elevated. It might be correctly argued here that the FREEDOM CHARTER itself and the veritably articulated aspect of the abolishment of sexism in its preamble was, indeed, also the driving force behind the antipass campaign march.

The aspect of sexism, among other things, had since been focused by the ANC, in general, and the ANCWL, in particular, to the ideal of women emancipation from the triple oppression and traditional practices that made the women to participate openly without the burden defined by the tradition and culture.

All the ANC conferences came up with relevant and powerful resolutions that never excluded the critical issue of visible women`s participation in governmental and non-governmental leadership positions including and all other strategic formation of the society. If it was not for the ANCWL’s robust engagement of the ANC alliance partners, the agenda of leadership participation of women would not have gained the momentum it has attained over the recent past.

It is a fact that it was the ANCWL that progressively took a resolution on quota and later the whole organization on leadership.

As a ruling party they further influenced the government policies and this resulted in South Africa becoming one of the countries with more than 40% women in the Parliament and ±50% in the Local Government.

The ANCWL has been at the forefront of leading campaigns that fought for women`s rights in South Africa, raise awareness and consciousness about women`s issues.

A lot of progress has been made to ensure that government has gender equality structured policies. Based on our democratic constitution adopted in 1996, it is committed to the principle of human dignity, the achievement of equality, advancement of the human rights and freedom, non-racial and non-sexism and that everyone is equal before the law. Legislative framework were promulgated to strengthen the equality in our democracy:


The Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act was passed to recognise women`s reproductive health rights and prevent the sometimes fatal consequences of illegal backstreet abortions.


The Domestic Violence Act was passed to extend the protection provided by its predecessor, the Prevention of Family Violence Act.

The Act recognises that domestic violence is not a private matter but is a serious crime against society. The legislation broadens the definition of domestic violence to include not only married women and children, but unmarried women who are involved in relationships or living with their partners, people in same-sex relationships, mothers and their sons, and other people who share a living space.

The Acts sets out what police must do when they arrive at a domestic violence scene.

It recognises that abuse may take many different forms: domestic violence, sexual abuse, economic abuse and emotional and psychological abuse.


The new Act, a response to problems with the old maintenance laws, makes some major changes. Maintenance may be automatically deducted from a person`s salary. If maintenance is not paid, a magistrate can seize property belonging to the person who is supposed to pay.


This Act provides for the recognition of customary marriages, specifies the requirements for a valid customary marriage and regulates the registration of customary marriages. It sets out some of the consequences of such a marriage and gives spouses in a customary marriage equal status and capacity. The Act also regulates the dissolution of customary marriages.

This legislation repealed the infamous section 11(3) (b) of the Black Administration Act of 1927, the mechanism that gave married black women the legal status of children.


The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act seeks to advance equality in public and private life. It provides a framework to tackle unfair discrimination, harassment and hate speech, and works towards the transformation of South African society in line with the ideals expressed in the Constitution.

It prohibits unfair discrimination on any grounds, including the 16 explicitly listed in the Bill of Rights.


Women in the previous system were classified as dependents and would not have the right to participate in employment. This act is therefore creating environment that promote equal opportunity for both women and men and fair treatment in employment through the elimination of unfair discrimination.


South Africa is a signatory of the International Instruments such as Cedaw, African Union Charter on Women and SADC Declaration to commit towards Education and training of women that included women given strategic attention as a target to address the inequality on skills and education.


The constitution established Chapter 9: State Institutions Supporting Constitutional Democracy. Its mandate is to promote respect for gender equality, protect and educate gender equality. It is also to monitor evaluation and investigate all gender discrimination and gender equality policies. The institution is expected to report annually to the parliament and make submissions to the portfolio committees on all laws that are tabled.

The ANCWL will continue to ensure that issues affecting women are brought to the forefront. The Women`s League will continue to fight for the rights of women. It is the only women`s organization jointly with the alliance that unites and leads the South African women. Consciously making sure that women and gender equality issues are in the countries agenda.

* Mapisa-Nqakula is the President of the ANC Women`s League and Minister of Home Affairs



Nontsikelelo Albertina Sisulu is one of the county`s most revered women liberation struggle icons. She is a founder member of the Federation of South African Women, former leader of the United Democratic Front, and former member of the National Executive Committees of both the ANC and the ANC Women`s League.

A profoundly strong and resilient cadre of the movement, Ma-Sisulu`s life embodies the hardships and brutality women endured in the apartheid South Africa. She was arrested a number of times and even sentenced to house arrest while her husband and some of her children were arrested and banished.

Despite the repressive regime`s brutality against her and her family, she continued to play an active role in political activities, which included assisting with the organising of the historic women`s march in 1956 while under house arrest.

Ma-Sisulu spoke to SEPHADI Editor, MOLOTO MOTHAPO, on her family life in the context of the liberation struggle and her role in the fight against apartheid.The apartheid system in the country has imposed immeasurable hardships especially to African families, with women at the helm.

Being one of such women, can you share with us the nature of such difficulties? There were so many difficulties, too numerous to mention. As a young nurse I experienced discrimination in my professional work. No matter how much experience and knowledge a black nurse had, she would always be junior to a white nurse. As a young black mother, I suffered from the shortage of housing in the urban areas.

As our families flocked into the urban areas as a result of apartheid laws which crowded people into newly-created Bantustans, we were forced to house them because there was nowhere else they could go.

As a result our houses were always overcrowded. We suffered greatly from the political repression that sent our husbands to jail and our children into detention and exile.

In your life you have endured the worst brutality of the oppressive regime which includes systematic harassment, banishment, detainment and arrests. What kept you strong? When people used to ask me this question, I would always respond, “There is a man in my room who helps me”. They would get shocked because they knew that my husband was in jail. I would then tell them that man was God. Although I was not a regular churchgoer, I always prayed and often my prayers would be answered.

I remember getting home from work very tired one day, only to find my children hungry and nothing in the house, not even a cup of tea. I went to my bedroom in despair and I prayed. Then my daughter came to tell me that one of my neighbours wanted to see me. I went out and this woman pressed ten rand into my hands, saying “Mama, I thought you might need this`. Ten rand was a lot of money in those days and I was so relieved as well as deeply moved by her kindness. My neighbours were very kind to me and supported me through the darkest days.

You also had to endure the pain of not knowing where some of your children were and forced to survive for years without uTata-Sisulu. Can you share this with us? Yes, it was very difficult for me when my husband went to prison in 1964. He had been in and out of prison ithroughout the 1950s. Things got worse during the State of Emergency that followed the Sharpeville massacre in 1960. In 1962 Walter was in and out of jail until finally he was arrested in Rivonia in 1963. I had been detained after he went underground because they wanted information from me about his whereabouts.

What was worse was that they detained my 17-year old son Max. At the time he was the youngest-ever person to be detained under the 90-day laws. We were released after the Rivonia arrests and I immediately arranged for Max to go into exile because the police were targeting him and he would know no peace. Little did I know that more than twenty-five years would pass before I would see him again.

Over the years I got used to prison, banning and detention. I did not mind going to jail myself and I had to learn to cope without Walter but when my children went to jail, I felt that the Boers were breaking me at the knees. In 1975 my daughter Lindi was detained for 11 months where she was badly tortured. Walter even wrote a letter to Jimmy Kruger from his prison cell to protest against the torture of Lindi. After she was released she went into exile. My son Lungi was also detained in the 1970s. My other son Zwelakhe was detained several times in the 1980s, once for two and a half years. Jongumzi Sisulu, who I brought up as my own child was also jailed for MK activities. In 1986 Max`s son Lungi was detained for nine months for his role in the Soweto Youth Congress. We even had a joke that the government was not happy unless there were at least two Sisulus in jail.When you got married to uTata-Sisulu, Anton Lembede said at the wedding that you were getting married to someone who is already married to the nation. Looking back, how has your marriage been to him? My marriage to Walter, with all the difficulties we faced, was wonderful.

He was the kindest, gentlest and most brilliant man. He was like a prophet. In the 1950s he used to explain to me how the struggle would progress and tell me that one day he would be going to Robben Island.

That helped to prepare me to survive when he was sentenced to life imprisonment. While he was in jail he would write loving letters, encouraging me every step of the way. I was blessed to have him at home after he left prison and I treasured those years together.

Your passion was not only for the liberation of the oppressed people of South Africa, but for the emancipation of women. What instigated this passion? When my father was dying we children were called to his deathbed.

He told me that I must look after my younger brothers and sister. It was very unusual for a Xhosa man to give such a responsibility to a daughter who was not even the eldest child. I felt sorry for my older brother but at the same time I felt proud that my father had such faith in me and I made sure that I kept his promise. This is what gave me strength to believe that as a woman I can overcome. I also admired one of the lady teachers in our school. Later on I met great women like Lilian Ngoyi who showed how a woman could be a powerful leader.

The struggle for women`s emancipation was not limited only to Black women, and this was evident with the introduction of the inclusive Federation of South African Women, which you led in the 1980s. To what extent has this federation created unity of purpose to fight apartheid and women oppression? FEDSAW (Federation of South African Women) brought together women from all walks of life. It made us strong together and helped us to make ourselves heard in the male-dominated political world. It mobilised huge numbers of women, old and young, rich and old and black and white.

The 1956 women`s march in Pretoria remains a highlight of national struggle for liberation and also serves as a turning point in women`s struggle. As one of the organisers of the march then, can you recall what happened? I will never forget the day of the march. At the end of 1955 the ANC Women`s League held its first National Conference. Shortly thereafter the ANC Women`s league and Fedsaw set up a joint working committee to coordinate the women`s anti-pass campaign. Over the next few months women organised networks and held regular meetings in the townships. The depth of popular resentment against passes convinced the joint working committee that it should organise a gigantic protest at the Union Buildings involving tens of thousands of women from all over the country.

Some of the men tried to stop us, saying that women were being too ambitious and that we would not manage such a huge action. I was proud that Walter stood up to these men and said “No, the women must be given a chance. Let us see what they can do.” His faith in the women was vindicated when the event was a great success, a historic testimony to the courage of South African women. Women made huge sacrifices to get to Pretoria, traveling at their own expense.

Some of them even sold their furniture to raise the required funds. In Soweto we were warned that police were planning to stop women in groups of more than 10 from traveling to Pretoria.

I was one of the leaders who had to see that the message was quickly passed through the ANC Women`s League`s networks so that women could go by train instead. By 2am on the morning of 9 August 1956 I was at Phefeni Station buying tickets to give to the women leaving from that station. The train was full to the brim with singing women. I will never forget the emotional atmosphere as the train approached Pretoria. I have tears in my eyes even thinking about it. I was so proud to see Lilian, Rahima, Sophie and Helen taking those petitions to Union Building. We stood in silence for a full 30 minutes and then 20 000 of us sang in one voice: “Strydom, wathint`abafazi wathint`imbhokodo.” I do not think there is an example anywhere in our history that better describes the spirit and meaning of unity in action.

To what extent would you say the march contributed to the attainment of freedom and enhancement of women`s rights? The march had a huge impact on the confidence of the women. The men had doubted us and we said we could do it. Women could proudly cry “Wathint` abafazi, wathint` imbhokodo” for generations afterwards. That image of 20 000 women together as one had a powerful impact on the psyche of our nation. It certainly helped mobilise women`s resistance to the pass laws over the next two years. It was a bitter battle all over the country and though we were eventually forced to carry passes, the embers of that resistance remained and kept us going in the decades ahead.

In your life you have witnessed women`s lives under the oppressive apartheid regime, and you have also witnessed their lives under the democratic rule in which you participated as Member of Parliament. Do you think women are now better off? Yes, definitely women are better off. South Africa today has one of the highest proportions of women in cabinet and in parliament. I am also told that soon women will be in the majority in the diplomatic service.

I see my daughters and grandchildren doing things black women could never have dreamed of doing before 1994. We have a constitution that promotes gender equality and progressive laws which promote women`s advancement.

However, much as we are happy about all these achievements, we must also acknowledge that we have not won the struggle against poverty, joblessness and violence and abuse. It breaks my heart that women and children are being abused in the most terrible ways. It is a challenge to our society to stop this abuse. Our greatest challenge is the struggle against HIV/AIDS and as a society we must do all we can to meet this challenge.




The systematic harassment, perpetual arrest and detention of anti-apartheid activists and their
immediate families by agents of the apartheid regime sought to tactically frustrate the unity and
strength that pillared their resistance. At the core of family structures were brave women who kept
the struggle for liberation going. It was this brave and heroic resistance waged by such women that
led to their continuous harassment and arrestment. We publish an insight into the ordeal such
women undergone, through the eye of one of them.

They said we deserved every moment of every little bit of indignity, humiliation, deprivation, verbal, physical and emotional assault they heaped on us. They said nobody cares because we were “ungodly and unwomanly women, unnatural and meddling bitches”! We knew we deserved dignity and respect. We knew we carried the responsibility to fight for freedom and equality. We recognised that we came from a bloodline of the fighters of the 1913 women of Winburg; we carried the proud bearing of Maxeke and the organising and challenging women of the 1930`s -1950`s. Through the eyes of our mothers; the bent backs of our grandmothers; the uneven gait of our fathers and the shamed brows of our grandfathers we knew apartheid. In 1956 we had charged “ wathint` abafazi wathint` imbokotho”. In 1976 our blood and tears flowed to nourish the tree of liberty.

We had to join the struggle for freedom. That meant possible exile, banishment, imprisonment, or death.

Imprisonment meant being in the hands of the enemy who respected no laws, conventions or international rights of prisoners.

We understood why we were being debased. This understanding did not, however, lessen the pain and the indignity of the treatment we received as women. We understood that our struggle against apartheid was justified and have over the years confirmed that this struggle was the most conspicuous feature of the history of our country.

We understood that any people would struggle to remove a government imposed upon them and that the supremacy of such a government had to be removed by those who suffered from it. We also understood that the limits to whichever government set by the will of the majority of South Africa, would be determined by that majority. We understood that this exercise of limitations would also come with the recognition of rights and duties of all citizens. We were part of those citizens.

We understood ourselves, as women of South Africa, black and white as part of communities and people affected by any and all opinions and acts at all social, physical and economic matters.

We joined the liberation struggle fully understanding that even amongst the oppressed majority the position of women was accepted as socially and legally inferior.

The reaction of the apartheid system to women in detention was harsher. Was it simply because in addition to being freedom fighters we were disturbing the neat social structure/ ladder designed to reflect women and black women in particular at the lowest rank? Or being mostly of the farming origins, could it be that the regime recognised that the females of every species tend to fight the fiercest to protect the survival of their young? Or was it the usual method of targeting women to demoralise and denigrate the rival troops? Most women remember their detention as horrible; no chance to pack up a toilet bag; no sanitary pads. Most women cannot remember being allowed to wash themselves during the first week of detention.

Most of us remember the embarrassment of female body odours after the 3-4 days of not washing and changing clothes.

Most women do not even recall thinking about needing a bath because they were too busy worrying about avoiding more torture and verbal abuse. They were too worried about keeping focus - to avoid being pushed out of the 10th window of John Vorster Square. Stay alert lest you said something within a week that could lead to some comrade being arrested.

The threat of rape also drove all thought of personal hygiene out of their heads - if you were pregnant the threat of rape to abort pregnancies was worse than the physical beatings.

Going to the toilet was a big police operation. Women officers had to be found to escort you, but if none was found a man would stand over you as you tried to do your private business, mocking, taunting , belittling and insulting you . One woman says she did not even bother to ask for a toilet. She would simply hope she was on Col. Crownwright`s Persian carpet to let her pee flow! She would be beaten of course, but she would also be sent off to her cell whilst the carpet was being cleaned, earning herself time to rest and think.

Interrogations were mental battles. Sometimes you conceded an event to hide another one, or you suffered amnesia until your unit figured out your absence and detention and took off to safety.

Women were put in cells far from one another. That made communication difficult. Later on even the cell became part of torture -electronic monitoring devices took away what little privacy and dignity was left.

During the trial women were usually transferred to nearby prisons.

It was a relief to receive visitors, food and newspapers.

The “thausa” (stripping off your clothes, jumping up and squatting so that your private parts could be examined by the prison guards) was fought off by political detainees and prisoners. The revenge of the prison authorities was to ensure that we witness this awful practice being done to women who were charged for criminal offences.

We also had to see women being forced to exchange a used sanitary pad for a clean one. This was not just the question of handing over a soiled pad they had to show that it was used.

The sight of women kneeling in the middle of winter scrubbing the tarred walks and paths at the Old Fort Women`s prison was always heart wrenching.In prison we heard, via the grapevines, how politicians flocked to Robben Island to visit and hear complaints. We heard about church ministers going over water to counsel and minister to the souls of our comrades. We dreamed of just seeing each other for an uninterrupted hour in the courtyard. We dreamed of discussing and singing together instead of having to scream news at each other.

When Mrs Helen Suzman, came to see us, we thought finally South Africa was waking up to the fact that there were women political prisoners. We were prepared and raised issues like:

  • Our need to communicate with our children so that we could bond and build relations with them. The rules prohibited children between the ages of two and twelve from visits in prison for us, but allowed it for other categories of prisoners;
  • We wanted our families to know where we were kept; (I had spent more than a year of imprisonment without a single visit or letter because my family did not know where I was kept. To keep sane, I had asked for the bible and only received it after applying for it from Minster Le Grange!)
  • We were allowed to change clothes only once a week (that meant four times a month! We later went on a hunger strike to be able to change a dress twice-a-week instead of once.]
  • The food was bad. Food poisonings were common. [We only dreamt of eggs, milk and fruit. Sometimes the food was kicked into our cells, and many fights were fought over this].
  • The doctors were always in a hurry and treatment was almost always the same for all manner of sickness. We also had the experience of a woman who was taken to hospital for surgery, who regained consciousness alone in her cell.
  • We wanted to study, we wanted the prison authorities to stop confiscating or simply refusing to let us buy prescribed study materials; we knew that exam time always coincided with punishment so that prisoners mostly did not write their exams.
  • We wanted the security branch to stop using prisoners to spy on others as often we faced further charges arising from remarks made inside cells.
  • We wanted to do some work, any work, instead of being locked up for 23 hours a day.

Either we overwhelmed Mrs Suzman or we were just not career enhancing enough, but we just never got any benefit from that visit - except for the tray of the sandwiches prepared for her which we attacked with gusto. And of course we were able to see each other that day.

We discussed rehabilitation and concluded that the regime only wanted to break our spirits and reform our politics. We concluded to do everything in our power to stay loyal and to continue with what political empowerment as could be screamed across the passages of the different prisons we occupied.

Whether the humiliations and deprivations were aimed at us as individuals or they were a general strategy to humiliate and discourage other women and the masses of our people from fighting against the racist regime, the results were not what the regime bargained for. For out of the indignity grew a determination not to forget and to fight harder for freedom.

None of us opted for early release when this was offered on condition that we disavowed the violence.

For us, South Africa`s former women political prisoners, the prize has been the progress South Africa has made and hopefully will continue to make in the promotion women in all spheres of life.

Ironically, we who would “never cry in front of ibhunu”; who heard but could never attend close family funerals, and cried together in collective sadness and impotence, are often all alone in the aftermath of prison.

The impact of our absence from our children is now being felt.

Sometimes you surprise a look that asks whether it was all worth it.

And we often rush in almost instinctively to reaffirm our dedication.

For we had the opportunity to meet and test ourselves, and to learn from the greatest women our country ever produced-the likes of Dorothy Nyembe, Esther Maleka, Fezile Bookholane and Ntombi Shope.

We had the chance to draw from the experience, age and sometimes downright naughtiness of Elizabeth Nhlapo and Elizabeth Gumede who despite ill- health would often lead the charge against the battles of will and often physical ones in prison! The roar of the young lions reverberating in song and poetry throughout the prison corridors, loved by common prisoners, hated and feared by prison warders, reminded us all of the just war outside!! We prided ourselves then, as we do now, that any system that subordinates people on the basis of race, sex, culture or creed, was bound to fail. We understood that laws and systems of polity always begin by recognising the relationships they find already existing between individuals. That is why we know that South Africa will continue to grow and improve the conditions of women.

May we never see women leaving their children to take up arms to fight for freedom and democracy in this country ever again!


This piece is dedicated to all women who were political prisoners in the different prisons at different times. Quite obviously it does not reflect the experiences of our white comrades because we were segregated. Women prisoners were only integrated during the TEC period. Their stay together was very short. It must also be remembered that women were never kept in groups of more than four (4) in any prison. The experiences of one group are therefore not necessarily the experience of all. I am however hoping that most former women political prisoners will own a reflection, a memory of their experiences in this piece.

** Modise, currently a Speaker for the North West Provincial Legislature, is one of many women who endured perpetual imprisonment by the apartheid regime.



“The National Office on the Status of Women has been constructed as the nerve centre for developing and maintaining a national gender programme. It is responsible for developing national action plans or frameworks for mainstreaming gender within government structures, to advance women`s empowerment and gender equality; as well as to monitor the implementation and progress in this regard. As part of its mandate, the office also plays a pivotal role in liaison with civil society organizations to advance the national gender programme.”

South Africa`s approach is based on the recognition that women empowerment is critical to the achievement of gender equality and sustainable development. Believing that women empowerment is essential for the realization of a better life for all, the South African approach draws on the strategy of mainstreaming gender, which underscores the responsibility of all government structures, agencies and civil society, in directing the development agenda within governance in a way that ensures the realization of gender equality.

Government together with civil society has achieved significant legislative and policy gains for women in the early years of democracy. The first democratic government addressed many aspects of women`s political participation and social citizenship.

The early legislative gains addressed issues pertaining to personal autonomy, reproductive choice and gender-based violence.

The laws addressed women`s economic and political participation (law reform relating to parental rights, sexual harassment and discrimination, and in local government and through the Commission on Gender Equality, respectively).

While the extensive legislative framework was in place by the second democratic election (1999), intractable problems of transformation surfaced. The South African government is acutely aware that not all women have benefited in the same ways or to the same extent. The socio-economic indicators of inequality suggest that the new policies and the enabling legislative framework have not as yet impacted on women`s lives on the ground. The difficulty in implementing the new laws exposed the widening gap between legislative and policy frameworks and the reality of the daily lives of women. At the end of the first decade of freedom the legacy of structured and entrenched inequalities which characterized apartheid is still manifest in the lives of all South Africans. The picture of poverty amidst plenty remains and the marginalization of women continues, despite progressive measures implemented by the new democratic government.

The National Office on the Status of Women has been constructed as the nerve centre for developing and maintaining a national gender programme. It is responsible for developing national action plans or frameworks for mainstreaming gender within government structures, to advance women`s empowerment and gender equality; as well as to monitor the implementation and progress in this regard. As part of its mandate, the office also plays a pivotal role in liaison with civil society organizations to advance the national gender programme.

Following the robust legislative and policy making phase, South Africa has shifted focus to implementation and strengthening of the government`s capacity to deliver services as a key priority.

To this end, the OSW works very closely with gender focal points to facilitate and assist in providing their departments with the necessary technical support to ensure that they comply with both the national and international imperatives on gender mainstreaming.

However non-compliance by government departments with regard to the appointment of Gender Focal Points (GFPs) at the appropriate level has meant that departments do not have internal capacity to review their policy frameworks or programmes from a gender perspective. This in turn has an impact on national reporting processes and in priority setting at departmental level.

Since capacity building is a key strategic focus for government, the OSW has been involved in a process of developing a training manual for Public Sector managers, on gender mainstreaming.

The manual will be rolled out by The South African Management Development Institute to the public sector management so that this strategy of government is better understood and internalized in Government`s work. The rationale is that South Africa has adopted gender mainstreaming as a strategy to enable it to achieve women`s empowerment and gender equality. The expectation, as stated in several State of the Nation Addresses, is that it is the responsibility of all Public Sector managers to mainstream gender within government`s day-to-day work.

The emphasis is that an effective government able to deliver on its key priorities will ensure that all women have access to all basic services and enjoy their full human rights as stipulated in the South African Constitution.

The National Gender Machinery

Before 1994, all South Africans lived in a society split by the cleavages of apartheid. One`s race, sex, geographical location and economic class determined one`s status in the apartheid era. African women in particular bear a heavy brunt of discrimination and disenfranchisement which is further exacerbated by the impact of discriminatory customary norms and practices. In reality African women faced triple oppression - as Africans, as women and as workers. Because the legacy of this oppression persists, the South African government recognises that a key aspect of transformation is redressing class, gender and racial discrimination.

South Africa has adopted a human rights driven approach to development. This underpins South Africa`s adoption of the goal of gender equality and the entrenchment of this goal as a fundamental tenet under the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (Act 108 of 1996).

In December 2000, Cabinet adopted the South Africa`s National Policy Framework for Women`s Empowerment and Gender Equality. The vision of the Policy Framework is that of a society in which women and men are able to realise their full potential and to participate as equal partners in creating a just and prosperous society for all. The vision is that of gender equality. However, there are critical challenges to the realization of gender equality, in this regard and in keeping with its international commitments; the South African government created appropriate mechanisms to advance women empowerment and gender equality in the country. The Government`s commitment has been demonstrated by the establishment of a comprehensive National Gender Machinery (NGM) for the advancement of gender equality in South Africa composed of different structures. At the National level, the coordinating structures consist of the Office on the Status of Women (OSW), Commission on Gender Equality (CGE) and the Joint Monitoring Committee on the Improvement of the Quality of Life and Status of Women (JMCQLSW). It is important to understand that these are facilitative agents of the NGM. The three main goals of South Africa`s NGM are to:

  • Achieve equality for women as participants, decision makers and beneficiaries in the political, civil, social, economic and cultural spheres of life
  • Prioritise the needs of those women who benefited least from the system of apartheid
  • Transform all national, provincial and local institutions by mainstreaming and integrating issues of women`s empowerment and gender equality into their work. These include institutions of government, independent statutory organisations, the private sector, the labour movement and organs of civil society

The national Office on the Status of Women, located in The Presidency, plays a vital role as the principal coordinating structure for the national machinery on gender equality. Nkomo is the CEO in the Office on the Status of Women in the Presidency of the Republic of South Africa



Gertrude Shope is one of the icons of the women`s struggle and a veteran cadre of the African National Congress. Born in Johannesburg in 1925, Ma-Shope grew up in Zimbabwe and worked for the ANC in various countries within Africa and beyond. Ma-Shope held many leadership positions within the movement including that of Head of the ANC Woman`s Section in 1981, President of the ANC Women`s League in 1993, Member of the ANC National Executive Committee and ANC Member of Parliament in 1994.

Together with other women leaders such as Albertina Sisulu, Sophia Williams-De Bruyn and others, Shope helped in the organising of the historic women`s march in 1956 to protest the inhumane pass laws of the apartheid regime.

In an interview with SEPHADI, Shope shares insight into, among others, women`s role in the ANC and the liberation struggle.

On the battle for equal gender representation in the ANC The battle for gender representation in the ANC gained momentum in the late 1980s leading up to the ANC Conference. As women we wanted to produce an official document which any government in power should adhere to. It was a plus for women that the majority of our men comrades supported the document, which outlined the political rights and role of women. As it turned out, the document resulted in women being represented considerably in national conferences of the ANC.

However, the battle for representation in the ANC and to get the document adopted as an official policy of the movement did not auger well with some comrades at the Durban ANC conference.

Women were pushing for a 30 percent representation in the National Executive Committee, Delegations, Premiership, Cabinet and all other representation of the country and at party level. The night at which the document was tabled had a stalemate. Some of the high positioned men in the movement were dead against our suggestions - with an exception of the likes of the late comrade Phokanoka. He actually stood up and said: “I hear that women are asking for 30 percent representation, I suggest they deserve 50 percent”. (There was applause)

Nevertheless, that night we as women organized ourselves to discuss urgent strategy to mobilize women around our suggestions to the conference. The impromptu mobilization was necessitated by the fact that because of time constraints and the holding of the ANC conference women in various sectors were not properly briefed on the document and that fragmented the force behind the tabled suggestions. Therefore we agreed that after conference, we embark on an extensive mobilization around the aims and objectives of equal representation, which yielded more than we expected.

When the elections of the executive came at the end of conference, women representation was far beyond the suggested 30 percent. The point I am making here is that, standing together, women have been able to win even most of the toughest battles.

We were united and behind a common goal. I remember during his time as ANC President, Chief Albert Luthuli remarking after seeing women in action that `these women have gained confidence in themselves as a people`. We used to quote such comments in meetings, as well as those by OR Tambo that `a country can never be free until women are free and the freedom of women is not the task of women alone but of men alike`. Women in Mozambique told us of Samora Machel`s quote when he said: “The emancipation of women is not an act of charity, the liberation of women is a fundamental necessity for the revolution, a guarantee for its continuity and a precondition for its victory”.

Although we were fighting patriarchal stereotypes, we worked together with men. We did not say we are fighting against men but that, as one family, we need to fight together.

On the ability of the Women`s League to mobilise women of all backgrounds The ability of the Women`s League to mobilize women of all colours and from all levels of social life is evident in many organized events in history, including the 1956 women`s march, the demand to be included in the Planning Committee during discussions of the Government of National Unity, the drawing and adopting of the Charter for Women`s Rights, among others. Women went on a mobilization campaign calling all women from various sectors such as trade unions, NGOs, churches stokvels and so on. When the women marched to Pretoria, it was not just the ANC women but women from all walks of life. It sent a strong message to the apartheid regime that its repressive policies were being rejected by all women, irrespective of race. Women made an impact.

The same spirit of unity could also be seen in our demonstration at the World Trade Centre where women demanded that they form part of the Codesa talks in 1994. We had women from various churches in their uniforms, nurses also in their work uniforms, ANC women in their colours as well as many others in their ordinary clothes. That is an example on how we managed to include the great masses of our people.

At a conference held in December 1989, one of the discussions held centred around the formation of an organization for all South African women. The objective was to unite all women irrespective of party affiliation to collectively confront challenges facing women.

Because of talks to form a Government of National Unity, this had to be set aside. Although this never bore fruit, we at least managed to engage all women`s movements including those in the National Party and the Women for Peace. All these organizations agreed on the need for the introduction of the charter for the women` rights.

The National Party, Women for Peace and many other organisations played a role in providing office space and other necessities for the purpose of the development of the Charter. This body organized a huge gathering on the following year where the charter was adopted by women attendees from different backgrounds.

The gathering further reiterated the need for introduction of a movement for all women of South Africa. I am glad that the Women`s Movement will finally be launched in August 2006.

On the contribution of the women`s march to the liberation of women First and foremost, the women`s march was ground breaking as it brought together different women from different backgrounds to speak in one voice. It made women realize that the battle against apartheid and for women`s emancipation can be defeated if attacked in a united form. It is indeed such spirit that brought women to where they are today.

On what young women can learn from the history of women`s struggle Young women have a lot to learn from the struggles waged by women over the years, which they can use in the new challenges that confront them today. To help young people understand the role of women in the struggle; I have compiled an individual women`s history book entitled Malibongwe. This book is dedicated to our young women and men so that they can know their heritage and honour their mothers and grandmothers.

On whether women, especially those that are young, understand their rights as enshrined in the constitution? To be very honest with you some of them take the rights for granted, in the same way most of the youth take our liberation for granted.

Perhaps it is because some of them were very young during the struggle. But really I think there is a need for the youth to respect the current democratic order and honour the men, women and the youth who made it possible.

We have come to a stage whereby we need to re-teach our youth about the policies of the organization.

Ma-Shope was interviewed by Moloto Mothapo and Mpho Lekgoro



This month South Africa celebrates an historic 50th anniversary of the women`s day. In commemoration of this important milestone in our history, we also celebrate amongst other things, the essence of womanhood; what it means to be a woman. We celebrate our true nature and essence; the integrity and dignity of womanhood. We celebrate the concept of being a woman in the world of today. We thus highlight and place great emphasis on the varied meritorious struggles and achievements that have been undertaken by women in their journey to justified emancipation and total freedom. We address these facts, not only in some peculiarity, but tend to mirror being a woman in our present society, in all its ramifications and samples.

We celebrate, not only the fruits of our past struggles as women, but also mark out many foreseen challenges we are accustomed to face in our progressive society; and hereupon proffer remedy to a better tomorrow.

Making a significant historic dating, our occasion coincides with other anniversaries of our rich memorable past. In this year we also commemorate 30 years of the 16th June 1976, which of memorable assistance to the freedom we enjoy today. But above all, we celebrate this month a 50th anniversary of the Women`s March to Pretoria, a historical past that significantly recorded the voice of women in the freedom struggle; the adoption of the Women`s Charter.

We are making the important day special and significant in the life of every woman of our present in our country, not only to link the struggles and achievements of South African women with all the women of the World, but also to launch a year long programme of commemorating and celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Women`s Anti-pass March to Pretoria in 1956.

The aphorism goes, `the child of today is the man of tomorrow`. Yes! But in the context of our present occasion, one can equally highlight that `the man of tomorrow was the child of yesterday`. Thus, we uniquely recognise and sample the nature, struggles and achievements, pains and joys, affluence and misery, and in fact the being of an average African youth as sampled in the `Girl-Child`.

The Concept Of The Girl-Child
Understanding the concept of the `Girl-Child`, as part of our celebration, can hardly be made lucid without a proficient analysis of the experiences of the prototype of a true South African woman. The mirror of a true South African woman can generally be addressed as multifaceted, owing from their diverse involvement in liberation struggle.

Women took a lead in the fight for land after the promulgation of the Land Act. At this time, they were not even full members of the liberation movement. Yet, they fought for their rights and identified their role within the struggles of the South African Society when they were associate members of the movement. They formed their organisation under the auspice of Charlotte Maxeke, who worked with the Liberation Movement (because of her deep understanding of the challenges facing women in South Africa as at the time). Thus, the liberation movement ended up realising that women are a strong resilient/motive force in winning the war against the malignant system of the apartheid regime.

Even when they became full members of the ANC, they registered their impact, forming solidarity with women from other racial groups, rural, professional, peasants and so on. They formed a Federation of South African women that organized the 1956 Pretoria Women`s March, a march which brought the country to a standstill. The conference was for South African women from all walks of life. Conditions at the time demanded that women form a coalition to articulate their demands through representation in negotiations and Women`s Charter for effective equality, which was a build up from the Women`s Charter of 1954.

The Women`s Charter for Effective Equality was presented to the first democratic government, under the leadership of President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. And this raised the hopes and aspirations of women to build a stronger solidarity and unity as women.

More still, the youth uprising of 1976 and the concurrent mobilisation of young women and men against the apartheid policies and racial oppression, negatively redefined the concept of the girl-child to include characters as violent, unruly, undisciplined and/or underdeveloped.

Thus building enormous challenges militating against the being of the girl-child.

Consequently, the prototype of the `Girl-Child`, like her mother counterpart, has multifaceted definition and dimensions. She is isolated, poor, ill-treated, abused, miserable and homeless. Yet she remains resilient, enduring, original, goal-oriented, vibrant, talented, initiative and productive. The Girl-Child owes in her inherent feature everything that is originally `African`. Our present democratic society still broods obstacles militating against the well being of the girl-child: education, employment, hunger and poverty, health, environment, drug abuse, juvenile delinquency, discrimination, homelessness, physical disability, poor orientation etc. Inter alia, these obstacles constitute great challenges to, not only the girl-child or average South African woman, but also women everywhere in the world today.

Key challenges facing the girl-child amongst other things are as follows:

Following from a past characterised by many denials and isolation, the girl-child remain uninformed about most aspects of life to better her tomorrow. Most young girls have no access to formal education. Again, the many education enhancement programmes have failed to address succinctly the illiteracy of the girl-child. And owing to the truism that knowledge is power, the girl-child are undermined in various ways and lack the potential and capability to measure up to academic challenges of our present society.

It is an obvious fact that education, skills training and technological advancement remain the cornerstone for development and improvement of people`s lives. It is sad hence that many women especially the young ones lack basic education, have no skills and have limited access to modern technology. In this regard therefore, educating the girl-child is not only critical in redressing the imbalances of the past, but also essential in poverty eradication, especially the feminisation of poverty.

Poverty is one of the main challenges facing the girl-child. Our ugly past witnessed lots of homes and families disrupted. Thus, we have many poor families and homes, some of which are run by children; predominantly girls. In a minute definition, the girl-child has been often tagged poor and miserable. A condition which has often lured them into crime and many abuse, including prostitution, rape, and drug abuse. Many of these children eventually turn out to become mothers at a very tender age; and have to struggle perpetually to cater for their different families.

Unemployment is a reality facing an ordinary South African youth. But in relation to the girl-child, we recall situation made worse by stereotypes that are far from being favourable to women.

The health condition of the average South African young woman is not something we can write home about. Bedevilled by factors such as poverty and illiteracy, the health condition of the girl-child is pitiable. We all are informed of the rampage of HIV/AIDS in our society today, a plague that has recorded more vulnerability on the part of women than men.

Homelessness and Discrimination
The apartheid regime is over and democracy come, but we are yet to live with some unhealthy conditions generated in this regard among which we have homelessness and discrimination. Our past struggles produced dozens of homeless children, greater number of who are girls. They live as careres and orphans in their respective survival environments.

They are indeed objects of ridicule and discrimination in our
community today.

In our present South Africa, `abuse` as a word finds better meaning when allusion is made to it from the view point of the girl-child. Exposed to insecurity, poverty, illiteracy, homelessness, the girl-child has been profoundly sampled as victim of various forms of abuse; human, drug, gender, and sundry. In her, we see the dignity and integrity of womanhood marred.

Nevertheless, we address the pitiable condition of the girl-child who lives as disables in our community. These are part and parcel of our women polity left with little or no future. Only a little is given, proffered or even said about the disabled especially when it has to do with women. The diverse governmental alleviation steps have failed in many ways to address on the grass root level, the needs and aspirations of this latter group.

But all the same, much has been achieved in our twelve years of democracy.

In 1994, the first president of our democratic South Africa, Nelson Mandela made it very clear, two years before our constitution was adopted, that there can be no genuine freedom without the total liberation of the women in our society. In his very words, we read: “It is vitally important that all structures of Government, including the president himself, should understand this fully that freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression.”

This statement therefore affirms that the form of degradation of women with regard to culture or other undermines the principles, values and ideals enshrined in our constitution. With this mindset, lots of efforts have been made by our present government to remedy the condition of women and grace women`s empowerment.

Advancements & Achievements
Comrades, in our twelve years of democracy, we recall great achievements and advancements made by our present government towards a better world for women. Our president Thabo Mbeki in the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Soweto uprising of 16th June 1976, titled his speech as `The Age Of Hope`, to give meaning to our achievements of today and in view live with a vision of a better tomorrow. Inter alia, some of these achievements are in form of policies or programmes undertaken by the government to the betterment of the female section of the polity.

Through the Multi Plan Implementation Strategy for Adult Education and Training, the South African government has set targets to reduce the illiteracy rate by half in 2005. Overall, Ten-Year Review indicates a significant increase in the literacy rate in South Africa from 83% in 1996 to 89% in 2001 for the general population, while for the 15 - 24 year olds, the literacy rate increased from 83% - 96%.

The Maintenance Act, 1998 (Act 99 of 1998), and the social Assistance Act, 2004 (Act 13 of 2004), stipulates that both parents have a duty for the maintenance of their children, which in turn ensures that children have access to financial support during their years of upbringing. Besides, many learnership programmes have been made available by the government to alleviate the condition of the youth, and the girl-child in particular.

Employment Equity
The South African government has gone along way to establishing the equity status of employment of women, the latest step of which include the appointment of Ms Phumzile Mlambo-Ngucka in the position of the deputy president. Counted as part of HDI, the counting composition of women has assumed one of the significant point-scoring factors in evaluating tender proposals and contracts.

Four years ago, Cell C initiated the Take a Girl-Child to Work Day programme.

This year, it has decided to take its level of commitment up a notch by giving this day added social value. Apart from giving girl learners the opportunity to experience the working environment, they also decided to assist educators and parents tackle social issues directly impacting on the development of girl-children through carefully selected discussion topics.

In the address given by the deputy president, Ms Mlambo-Ngucka at the Youth Sector consultative workshop on ASGI-SA on the 17th January 2006, we record the emphasis on ASGI-SA (Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa) as aimed to half unemployment and accelerate economic growth. It highlights that youth and women should be the primary and major beneficiaries of the programme.

Many other processes have been set in step as part of the women emancipation programme. There have been varied formation of NGOs solely established to foster the needs and aspiration of the South African women. For instance, Malibongwe Women Development Organisation, a national-level NGO, was established to specifically address the needs of women`s soci-economic needs and furthermore proffer help to varied NGOs, CBOs, FBOs that has the interest of women at heart, and above all OVC. It has participated in a number of economic development projects and programmes.

Poverty Alleviation Programmes

The government has invested much into varied public works and poverty-relief programmes to address and improve income-generation capacity and opportunities for poor people, particularly women. In 2003, government announced the Extended Public Works Programme (EPWP) aimed at creating more job and skills opportunities. In policy, women, especially black women, constitute a group to be given priority in the implementation of these programmes. Most of projects are guided by the following criteria:

  • 90% to temporary jobs created must be given to local communities
  • 60% of temporary and permanent jobs created should be reserved for women
  • 29% of employees should be between the ages of 18 and 25
  • 2% should be disabled

The response to HIV in South Africa has thus taken a holistic and comprehensive approach, as the problem of HIV-infection has been generally understood as not extensively a medical or health issue.

Thus, in response to the spread of HIV and the impact of AIDS, the South African government has introduced two important policies: Government`s HIV, AIDS and STD Strategic plan was adopted in 2000 and the Comprehensive HIV and AIDS Prevention, Care, Management and Treatment Plan was also adopted in November 2003.

The programme combines lots of strategies like prevention, capacity building, studied mainstreaming, social mobilisation, homebased care, support care, treatment and reorientation for behavioural change to better remedy HIV and AIDS-associated conditions.

The size of the programme is evident from its financing which has increased from R342 million in 1994 to a projected R3.6 billion in the 2005/06 financial year.

Violence Against Women
To better combat gender-based violence, the South African government has gone a long way to adopt policies that better assure security on the part of women and guidelines geared to improve the health conditions of women and children who are survivors of gender-based violence. In this regard, the Department of Health finalised and implemented; the National Sexual Assault Policy, Management Guidelines for Sexual Assault Care and Sexual Assault Examination Forms. The Department of Health has organised and participated in a number of awareness campaigns and other programmes to fight violence against women and children.

The campaigns and projects include a 16-day activism programme, 16 Days of No Violence Against Women and Children, which is commemorated from 25th November - 10th December every year.

Besides, the campaign has been extended to beyond the 16-day period to a 365 day programme to end violence against women and children, and thus enhance government effort to eradicate all forms of gender-based violence.

We celebrate the essence of womanhood; the paid struggles of our fallen heroes and heroines, we should be mindful of the fact that, as much as our many past and present merits, we still have enormous challenges ahead. Besides the government effort to better the situation of women in our community, each woman is called upon to respond in her own little way to address to the needs of our tomorrow as women - the girl-child.

As a matter of contribution, there is great need for grass-root research of the ways of proffering help to women, and from the research report develop a mainstreaming strategy to better upscale on the projects geared towards women`s emancipation and empowerment. Different NGOs are called upon to respond succinctly to nationwide call against HIV/AIDS, violence against women and abuse; and work to build up self-help projects aimed at alleviating poverty, balancing employment opportunity and particularly work towards eradicating the plight of the girl-child.

** Gxowa is a veteran women activist and ANC MP in the
National Assembly.



This year marks the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the 1956 Women`s March to Pretoria against an unjust system that introduced Pass Laws by the organic and progressive women of our beloved country, South Africa.

As we celebrate this historic event we will remember the following sung and unsung heroes of our people, namely, Lillian Ngoyi, Winnie Mandela, Albertina Sisulu, Annie Silinga and Mom Rita Ndzanga and many more women and mothers who carried themselves with high esteem and commitment to rid South Africa of inhumane and brutal Apartheid System.

These cadres and many others sacrificed not only their own lives but also the lives of their families and children to liberate our people from the ruthless apartheid system. A classical example in this will be the case of Mom Rita Ndzanga, who was detained together with her husband Cde Lawrance Ndzanga and other 17 comrades on 21 charges under the Suppression of Communism Act in December 1969. She was incarcerated in solitary confinement and tortured daily by being pulled and lifted up by her hair until there was a bunch of her hair in the hands of the inhumane members of the security police. This demonstrated police brutality at its best and this also saw the perishing of her husband under the hands of this system. As a young woman and mother of four (4), her children were left to suffer without parental love and guidance.

On the 9th of August 1956, 20 000 women from all walks of life marched to Pretoria to demonstrate against Pass Laws. History should reveal the fact that some of those women who participated were youth themselves, either through the current or the past definition of youth. Part of the campaigns that the ANC and its Leagues were leading in the 50`s against Bantu Education, Pass Laws, etc, were beneficiary to youth and this bears testimony that indeed young people participated in the liberation struggle against triple oppression and for the general emancipation of our people.

The formation of the African National Congress in 1912 ushered in the formation of the ANC Women`s League in 1948 and the formation of the ANC Youth League in 1944 respectively. These leagues of the ANC became platforms for dealing with issues of women and youth, and in both these structures, young women were found leading the struggles to liberate our people.

Karl Marx once said: “The class which has the means of material time over the means of mental production in so far as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, they do this in its whole range hence among other things (they) also regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age thus their ideas of their age, thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch” (The German Ideology 1845: 64-65) The 1956 march was part of the implementation of the strategic objective of the ANC of building a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic, united and a prosperous South Africa. This we can achieve if we closely scrutinise the current juncture based on the above-mentioned quote by analysing whether the National Democratic Revolution is still on course and if yes what tools of analysis do we have in place to analyze this?

We should be able to position our organization to make inputs on mechanisms to engage with young women of our country beyond the coming of age and on the historical background of gender relations in our society in particular and South Africa in general. We also need to look at clear programmatic interventions that will ensure addressing of the current challenges facing young women.

The role of young women in the struggle for liberation and women emancipation has been a permanent feature in the national liberation movement. We have seen generations and detachments of young women in the national liberation movement, of the caliber of Cdes Thenjiwe Mthintso, Thandi Modise, Nozizwe Madlala, Baleka Mbete, Nkosazana Zuma and others as the then generation of youth who participated in the liberation struggle. They were followed by a generation of Hlengiwe Mgabadeli, Thoko Didiza, Febe Potgieter and Pemmy Majodina and the current generation of young women who are visible in the structures of the organization.

This generation of young women influenced policies of the ANC and its Alliance partners on gender issues and all other policy matters. The current generation should also be responsible for influencing the shaping of policy position of the ANC and to clearly map out a programme for the future.

The ANC Youth League in the meantime, is a relevant vehicle for the mobilization of the youth. It has a responsibility to champion youth interests, mobilize youth and rally them behind the vision of the ANC. It is continuing to do so through its biasness to young women empowerment.

The ANCYL as a preparatory school of the ANC derives its school of thought from that of the ANC: that of building of a nonracial and a non-sexiest society. Therefore its policies are reflective of this strategic objective; hence the last Congress of the ANCYL adopted a 40% clause to ensure that there is equal representation of gender in structures of our organization. The majority of its members are also women and women in different provinces continue to hold leadership positions and elsewhere in the liberation movement.

The 50s generation of women had different challenges and needs to those of the current generation of women. The previous generation experienced triple oppression whereas the current generation lives in a democracy where all our people are equal before the law and enjoy equal rights. But there are certain challenges that still exist, such as those relating to Women and Poverty, Women and Unemployment, Women and Health, Women and Skill development, Women and Economic Participation as well as Violence against Women.

Whilst we celebrate this paradigm shift, we need to map a clear vision of what should be a role of a young woman in our country in advancing the gains of our freedom and where do we place this role generally in society without limiting her role. And in the process, we need to acknowledge the historical background of gender roles in our society and the motive forces thereof.

In the current juncture societal evolution is characterized by challenges relating to dialectical materialism. Societal perceptions, attitudes, culture, tradition and communication are on the basis of the latter and they tilt the balance of forces to favour those with an economic muscle as opposed to those who are still vulnerable. As a matter of importance the following need to be in place to address the above-mentioned challenges:

  • The National Liberation Movement needs to build a strong cadreship of young women intellectuals in all racial groupings
  • Change power relations in our society generally
  • Address specific gender needs
  • Strengthen the Young Women`s Network

Given this brief background and based on the earlier quote by Karl Marx, the material condition on the ground is conducive now to build a prosperous society. Young women need to grab the opportunities ushered in by the democratic state. Freedom was not served on a platter but was fought for through blood and sweat and young women therefore need to fight for their rightful place in society to realize this vision of building a non-racial non-sexiest, democratic, united and a prosperous South Africa We also salute the generation of young women of the 50s who sacrificed their lives to liberate the South African people. Their legacy will continue to take the centre stage in terms of women mobilization to protect our democratic gains.

Tobias is a member of the ANCYL NEC and ANC MP in the National Assembly.



The involvement of women in both Umkhonto WeSizwe and the South African National Defence Force posed grave challenges relating to gender stereotypes and the difficulty by men to capably deal with the dynamics and tribulations of the question of gender.

Through the personal experience of Jacqueline Modise, a woman activist who played a role in both the MK and SANDF, we explore the plight, challenges and achievements of women in the military.

My early years and how I joined the MK The Liberation struggle was not alien to me in my youth as I was brought up by my uncle, whom I considered my father, and he was an activist in the African National Congress. What sparked my active involvement in the struggle was his continuous harassment and subsequent detentions by the Apartheid Regime particularly at the time of the state of emergency in 1953. For a long period the entire family was clueless as to his whereabouts or the location of detention. Although I was a young girl with no understanding of politics - I realised how cruel apartheid was. I could see how it affected people I knew. I felt I needed to help.

I remember that I was recruited by Mr. `Motsepe` into the underground movement. He came to me and said: “Now is the time to help your father”. I left everything to join the armed struggle including the nursing course I had intended to do.

We skipped the country and crossed into Botswana and eventually Tanzania. The initiation into the MK camps was not easy.

The place looked unusual and there were many of us, predominantly male, and a handful of female trainees. We shared everything, exercised every morning and were introduced to politics as a philosophy. Military life was unlike anything I had experienced.

Practices such as having to stand at attention every time a leader walked in were entirely new to me. Everything was done collectively and there was very little time to think of home which at certain times proved challenging. Although such things were demoralising, what motivated me was the fervent resolve to help my father.

We were later moved to Russia where we were trained further in both guerrilla and regular warfare. The training was not easy at all. We had to do the same things as our male counterparts. We did our best and as far as I could remember no woman in my group failed. We got used to camp life, and actually eventually enjoyed it. Necessity compelled us to adapt.

On our return to Kongwa in Tanzania, I remember whenever there were mock attacks in the camp; some men would run for cover whilst most women would run to the armoury for weapons to defend our camp. This gained us a lot of respect as our comrades could see that we knew how to protect the camp against any attack.

When we were on long marches women like Brenda Ndlovu carried other men`s loads for long distances. By the time she put them down; every man would be rushing to pick them up. In a sense, she boosted everyone`s morale. In my opinion, this should be the role of women in every situation, leading by example and transforming anger into something positive.

Longing for home became part of one`s daily life. In our minds we never thought we would spend so much time in exile. We thought the most would be six months. At times we would sing revolutionary songs and tell stories about the families we had left behind. It was not easy. We cried and laughed together, became angry with one another, despite all that we still remembered the cause that brought us together, and always believed that we would one day return home.

The rise of women through the ranks The number of women in the military was very small and it got even smaller as time went by due to some exploring other avenues in the movement. As a result very few remained in the military, making it easy to be seen. Personally I started as a driver and later ventured into radio communications. I excelled in the latter and ended up leading the section after the departure of Cde. Walter Mavuso who I worked under. The communication was initially between Morogoro and Zambia Lusaka, and then after I took over, I extended communication lines throughout Southern Africa. I think the reasons I did well in this position were my commitment, passion and desire to succeed.

Politics in the military camps The best part of my military experience in Umkhonto We Sizwe was the insight we gained on political analysis. Through debate and regular news briefing we were able to successfully formulate and present intelligent opinion on political developments around the world.

Although we were in the camp, we would organise our activities to mark political events such as December 16 and women`s day, etc. As we grew older, young recruits joined us and contributed interesting dimensions to our political discourse. Younger recruits had a slightly better life than we did. We made an effort to ensure that.

Female comradery in the Camps As the first group of women to join Umkhonto We Sizwe we had to double our efforts in everything we did to prove the sceptics wrong. With no ANC women`s section established in exile at that time, we were forced to create our own support structure to deal with the challenges we faced.

The situation in the camp compelled women to organize themselves into a united force to deal with everyday challenges confronting them, such as gender stereotyping. We organized ourselves and elected a representative who would talk to the leadership about our needs. As a result women’s needs were identified and addressed. Through the women`s support structure we were able to fight for issues such as gender equality. This we did without reading on the subject, it was through interaction with our male comrades that we were able to identify areas of injustice and worked to correct them. The whole notion of women doing chores for men came to an end.

The transition.

When Mr. Mandela was released there was a call for all comrades to return to South Africa. Convincing all cadres in the camps to abandon the armed struggle and go back home was not easy. Most of us were sceptical about the change of the status quo, nevertheless the collapse of the USSR and the unbanning of all political parties, were some of the reasons for our return.

The homecoming and the psychological adjustment After many years in exile coming back home was an experience of mixed emotions. Everything had changed. The young children I had left behind were now old and some even married. Social relations were not easy. I remember whenever I engaged people in discussion they would discuss anything except the struggle which I found extremely frustrating.

Most depressing for me was the realisation that our people had become even poorer. It was painful for me to find that most of my relatives were living in abject poverty. I experienced first hand the difficulty the system had brought to our people.

Joining the Defence Force and challenges of gender equity As women we fought our battles in the MK and won. The question of gender equality was no longer a challenge as it was generally practiced in the camps. I was surprised by the challenge that faced women in the South African National Defence force (SANDF) in terms of gender transformation. As the highest ranking woman in MK I expected deployment to the rank that equalled my experience, needless to say I was thoroughly unimpressed by the undeserved demotion in rank when joining the SANDF. When I enquired on my demotion I came to learn that in the SADF there were no senior ranking women. As a compromise I was given the rank of Brigadier. I made it clear at a HQ`s meeting that most of the men holding senior ranks were actually my juniors. I now had to salute them.

During the integration period, the different forces were discussing issues of force preparation, structure and size of the new defence force. Different work groups were formed. One work group had to deal with the role of women in the new defence force. I was part of that group and we produced a document that was highly controversial at that time. It dealt with issues of gender mainstreaming and gender equality including women participating in combat. It created heated debates where some men objected in anger indicating that their women will never join the SANDF. I told my fellow women colleagues that the document was a perfect instrument for gender transformation in the Force and it was our responsibility to ensure that it was adopted. We stood our ground and told the male dominated commission that we did not suggest that women should be put in positions they did not qualify for, but instead be placed in positions that matched their skills and experience.

Eventually that document was adopted as the official guideline for the future deployment of women in the SANDF.

Women in the Defence Force today.

Women are making their mark in the defence force but are still far from achieving the target of 50 percent female representation.

Today we have more female generals in the force. Women are also represented in areas they never were before, such as the army, infantry, artillery, armour, engineering and communication structures. The new corvettes unveiled recently would see more women absorbed into the navy which will be a first as women have never before worked in submarines due to limited space which made privacy impossible.

It is really encouraging that women are taking up the challenge in the SANDF and are infiltrating positions that have historically been male domain. It is safe to say that Women`s numbers are increasing in the force but not at the rate we had hoped for.

Modise is the first woman General in SANDF and ex MK Commander. She was interviewed by Moloto Mothapo



The involvement of women as a collective in international struggles came about as a result of various problems they encountered in different ways. We publish an account on the unity of purpose South African Women forged with their international counterparts in the struggle against apartheid Though women may come from different countries and varying continents their problems are very similar in their nature. The children`s health, education, social behaviour and, last but not least, their future. All in all mothers get concerned with the all round safety of their children amidst internal conflicts taking place within their countries and same emanating from neighbouring states. In addition women get affected by what was taking place in far off continents whose logistics situations have a hard hitting effect on their wellbeing. Food shortages, high cost of living, medical amenities, fuel and energy to mention a few. Even the general environment has a serious impact as a result.

Reacting to these situations, especially during the period of instability and threats of cold war between highly industrialised countries, women realised that the question of acting as a collective to bring about peace the world over was not only crucial but very urgent and that this move should take top priority on any programme of action. This they felt should dominate over including religious beliefs socio/cultural traditions and even political affiliations.

Women organised themselves into a force to fight against the military arsenal that was beginning to pop out its ugly head. In Australia, women gathered around a nuclear plant installed for the defence of that country to register their disapproval to it, calling for its dismantling.

In Europe, women came out in busses, trains and other modes of travel to meet at agreed central points all calling for World Peace.

Women used the slogan “Women as people who bring life to the world, have a duty to see that this life is preserved and protected.” A big conference was organised on disarmament by the United Nations and held in Geneva. Many women`s organisations and concerned Non-Governmental Organisations attended in large numbers to focus their attention on this disturbing matter.

The burning issue at the time was the NUTRON bomb, capable of destroying human life while clothing, shoes and all other material remained intact. The world was standing on a powder keg.

Any slight movement could easily spark World War III. To the great relief of all peace loving people the world over, this courageous move by a collective of women, the caring Non-Governmental Organisations coupled with the stand taken by some governments, went a very long way to calm down tensions and the uneasy situation existing as well as neutralised the power jostling and suspicions between one another.

March 8th, International Womens Day

As far back as 1910, the Socialist International Organisation met in Copenhagen in Denmark to hold its annual conference. On one of the days women delegates attending came together as women to discuss matters affecting them in their various countries.

They also met to give verbal reports on steps they took to solve these problems. Representatives of the American delegation working in the cotton plantations gave a report on their fight for an eight hour working day, maternity leave and better conditions of work in their day-to-day lives. They also talked about their efforts to solve these setbacks.

This report aroused great interest in that meeting leaving women highly inspired especially by the action taken and victory secured by the cotton plantation workers. Clara Zetkin, representing the German delegation, together with Rosa Luxemberg came up with a recommendation that from 1911, the following year, March 8th should be observed as International Women`s Day and adopted as a day of solidarity with women of the world still faced with internal conflicts, cultural and religious subjugation, repression and colonial rule. It should also be used to celebrate victories made by women over their challenges and urge them to live up to their hard won achievements.

This recommendation brought about great enthusiasm to all delegates who took it upon themselves to go back home and tell other women across the globe of this brave and courageous move and practical example set by the American cotton plantation workers. To this day, March 8th is still observed as International Women`s Day. Messages of solidarity and visits are still exchanged between organisations.

Role and challenges of women in exile

As the political situation in South Africa worsened, the struggle for liberation was consolidated. Women dedicated themselves to fully participate in bringing about a change, enduring harassment of all sorts and sacrificing their all. They stood to their resolve. When the ANC started recruiting cadres to secretly leave the country to go and train in political and military science and the young ones to further their studies, women were to be found in large numbers.

They went to various countries including Africa and Socialist countries to train in underground operations, military combat work and field military operations. They fitted well in all structures including in high positions of responsibility. Others were deployed as representatives of the ANC in various countries.

The ANC Women`s Section, as it was called then, formed a Women`s Secretariat which guided all Women`s activities including those in the army. It was divided into various desks each led by one member but worked as a collective.

There was the Internal desk, focusing on liaising activities between home and the ones in exile. It organized secret meetings with women from South Africa to meet in Harare, Lusaka or Gabarone to get reports from home and give further directions.

It used this information to brief the international community. It also invited women to secretly leave South Africa to attend various conferences and sneak back without being noticed.

The Education desk focused on sending young women for training in various places which provided scholarships and had them deployed on their return. It also checked in the syllabus of preschool teachers to make sure the education provided would give a proper foundation to school children.

The International desk dealt with keeping in touch, briefing and receiving briefings from national and international organizations including continental and United Nations bodies. In keeping abreast with international developments, it also monitored upcoming conferences and made preparations for them, selecting delegates from various places.

Publicity and Information desk was tasked with producing information for all our women to make them informed of the developments and difficulties of our struggle and what is expected of their participation. It produced the VOICE OF WOMEN (VOW), a quarterly magazine of the Women`s Section and a monthly “Women and Children under Apartheid” for regular briefing especially to the United Nations. This desk also took part in the Radio Freedom channel. It also took part in allocating various discussions between participants of major conferences like the Nairobi “End of Decade Conference” for Women.

The Children`s Desk was mainly involved in the health of little ones. It organized milk, baby food, clothing and medicines through women based in industrialized countries. It took charge of Kate Molale, young mothers home where young women would go for maternity and when the baby is six months the mother would go back to school and other women deployed at the centre would take care of these babies at the Day Care. This desk through the Secretariat consulted with the ANC for a boarding lodge for bigger children whose parents were deployed elsewhere. There would be a couple to provide a mother and father figure after school hours. Activities were provided to entertain these kids over weekends such as a ride into town, to football or walks to some interesting place.

Logistics desk organized needs of the children through women in large cities where they would stand at entrances of these shops holding a paper written “Please buy extra toothpaste/ toilet soap/ nappy/ baby milk and any other thing needed for ANC children in Africa.” These would be sent in large bales and distributed as per needed especially in Zambia, Tanzania, Mozambique and Angola. This desk also organized clothes and financial support to parents who visited or came to bury their loved ones who died in exile.

Among the countries who contributed most were those in Socialist countries. Scandinavia, China, India, Cuba and Australia offered mainly training courses. Through the ANC representatives in Zimbabwe and `ZAPU` (Zimbabwe African Peoples Union)) members, the Women`s Section kept contact with ANC cadres imprisoned under the Smith regime in Zimbabwe. Toiletries like soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, face cloths and other personal items were sent to them to make them feel that they were not alone.

Finance desk had the responsibility to raise funds through what was known as the “Fighting Fund”. Women would cook South African dishes once a month and hosted a lunch for the men folk and local people to buy a delicious South African dish. It also received finances from the United Nations to run workshops on various subjects and other countries would offer finances to run some conferences.

Military desk headed by a member of the Secretariat based in Angola looked after the welfare of women cadres and kept their morale high. It helped to raise their conscientiousness and made them contribute a chapter in the Military magazine known as `DAWN`. It is the darkest hour that comes before dawn. They also took part in Radio Freedom - Luanda. In consultation with the Organization of Angolan Women they hosted all Women`s Section conferences where the leadership was elected. These women took part in all conference discussions strategizing the way forward. Also discussed was the status of South African women in society. Among recommendation made were:

  • That girls be allowed to abort the unplanned pregnancy at the fetus age of six weeks.
  • That when a young woman goes to deliver a baby the incumbent father should also leave school and be deployed at one of the institutions to realize the responsibility of a family.
  • That the ANC endorses a document that relates to an official position of the organization on the place and status of women in society.

Health desk enabled the Women`s Section to carefully maintain the setback caused by women cadres with unplanned pregnancies.

A decision was arrived at whereby legal and safe abortions are allowed at the fetus age of six weeks. Women also took it upon themselves to frequently visit sick cadres at ANC hospitals, make spring cleaning of the whole surrounding once a month, bring them South African dishes and made them know that no matter how far away they are from home, where there is a child there will always be a mother.

The political desk dealt at large with policy matters and strategies of the Women`s Section.

It kept close contact and good working relations with women of other liberation movements. It jointly with them organized events, such as International Women`s Day, International Children`s Day and exchanged invitations to each others national events. In 1989, this desk together with the `internal desk organized a four day workshop in Harare, Zimbabwe, attended jointly with representatives of various women`s organizations inside South Africa, representatives who included women from the then National Party. Very frank yet very fruitful discussions were held on the very abnormal situation existing in South Africa. These were discussions held from the soft spot of motherhood. At the end of it all, both groups strongly felt the need for a follow up meeting to continue where they left off and maybe come up with something concrete. As the group from South Africa was getting ready to go to the airport on their way back home to continue enjoying their privileges, and the ANC women went back to Lusaka to continue the struggle, both parties held hands and sang, “We shall overcome” and ended with Nkosi Sikelel` i Africa. And just at that moment was to be seen very few smiling faces and very few dry eyes.

The administration desk was responsible for coordinating all work of the Women`s Section producing a joint report of all the desks as a collective. It monitored all activities and organized joint assistance for any desk that may have had problems of a political nature or otherwise.

Achievements made:

There are a number of achievements scored by women in the struggle for liberation and cannot all be articulated at one time.

A few that need to be mentioned include:

  • The women`s joint participation to bring about democracy in South Africa
  • The ANC document adapted on May 2nd 1990, spelling out in very clear terms the position of the ANC, vis a vis, the women of South Africa.
  • The issue of the status of women in society found its way into the Constitution whereby women enjoy equal status as their men folk.
  • From the conference in Holland also came out a great success as after returning home women adopted the Charter for Women`s Rights formulated by the women themselves representing their various organizations for all women of South Africa.

Women and NEPAD

The New Partnership for Africa`s Development (NEPAD) is a programme of the African Union entrusted with focussing on the eradication of poverty across the continent by following efforts embarked upon by Africans themselves in a bid to bring about sustainable development.

NEPAD as a programme cannot be looked at in isolation of each sector of the community. While it may differ in emphasis in some of its activities on women, men and the youth, it is very inclusive and should be handled as such. The laws governing its setup, programme of action and the whole infrastructure should be discussed, mapped out and agreed upon by a collective for which it was formed. We all know that women actively engage in agriculture to make a living. All they know is to till the soil and plant seeds. The kind of soil they deal with and the sustainable grain for that soil need to be researched. There is also the kind of fertiliser used for the soil for that particular grain.

This therefore would yield better results if it is discussed and decided upon by a collective and with the assistance of people who have the know-how, the good harvest can be sustainable.

Which means that the need for people who will be engaged in research becomes very crucial. Centres for researching should be spread out to assist in various places across the continent.

So NEPAD as a new partnership should be introduced to all countries on the continent and networking be introduced. Africa as a continent has a very high potential which if handled well can improve the standard of living and even balance the cost of living using a fair exchange in trade of import and export.


Statistics state that the rate of disease on the continent is frightful, the death rate of children, especially, is spiralling. In addition, the problem of HIV/AIDS affects both the adults and teenagers alike and this flows from mothers to affect the lives of very young children. We have in some of our countries people who have had experience and the know-how, who can assist in working with others through networking to detect some of these diseases and deal with them before its too late to cure them and before great harm is done.

Africa is a very huge continent with various nationalities and various languages. It is further divided by the past languages of past colonial powers leaving the inhabitants of these powers standing aloof from each other yet the practical problems remain similar. The establishment of a centre should be supported at all levels to put people in touch, especially mothers of these babies to ease out this unnecessary appalling death rate which can with more working together be brought under control.


Communication like any other field of development cannot be looked at as belonging to men only. It equally promotes both men and women and therefore to lack it affects both women and men alike. We lack the questions of knowing what goes on in various countries on the same continent not realising how this impacts on the other. If people share ideas and exchange experience, they will help each other on issues of skill development for instance.

Sometimes learners just choose a career for the sake of it. There is great need that they should be guided in accordance with their interest and inclinations. This is where sharing of information and ideas become very important. There is a question of raising funds to further ones’ studies and where and how to get learning material. All these become possible when working as a collective. At a meeting held in Limpopo in 2005 at the invitation of NEPAD e-Africa Commission jointly with the South African Department of Communications, the question of engaging the African youth in dialogue on their involvement in the field of information was a focal point.

After much discussion an agreement was arrived at whereby governments will form local points in various countries. It was also agreed to set up an internet portal for information sharing on matters and that the information be published in English, French, Portuguese and Arabic to cater for the continent.

Shope is a veteran internationalist and stalwart of the African National Congress



Co-convenors of the PWMSA

The Progressive Women` Movement, a movement for all women of South Africa across racial, cultural and party lines, is set to be launched this month to coincide with the celebration of the women`s march. The movement was formed out of a need to provide a united women`s front in pursuit and contribution towards the total emancipation of all women of this country, especially the needy. In this commemorative edition we publish the document developed by the movement Women struggles in South Africa started before the last century. Women took a lead in the fight for land after the promulgation of the land act. At this time they were not full members of the liberation movement, they were deemed as associate members, yet they were able to define their role within the struggles of the South African Society. They formed an organisation, the Bantu Women`s League under the leadership of Charlotte Maxeke because of her deep understanding of the challenges facing women in South Africa.

The League represented all the women of South Africa irrespective of class and education consequently, women fought for their rights and the rights of all the oppressed people. It is during this time that the liberation movement came to realise that women are powerful allies and that they have a role in the fight against apartheid. When they became full members of the ANC they continued to work with women from other racial groups, rural areas, professional women, peasants and others. The Federation of South African Women showed that united women have the power. The 09 August March against the carrying of passes bears testimony to the collective strength, determination and unity amongst women of all races and class. The government of the day had banned the march and women defied the ban, and brought the whole country to a standstill.

The decision to form a progressive Women`s Movement was taken at a conference in Amsterdam in Netherlands before the unbanning of political organisations. South African women from all works of life attended the conference.

After the unbanning of political organisations, negotiations started, initially women were excluded from taking part in the negotiations. As a result women formed a coalition of women from different political backgrounds and political affiliations. Through the National Women`s Coalition of South Africa, women were able take part in the negotiations and to articulate their demands. Women had drawn up a Women`s Charter for Effective Equality, which was a build up from the Women`s Charter of 1954. Women presented the Women`s Charter for Effective Equality to the first democratic government under the leadership of the then President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. The hopes and aspirations that were raised by women are now contained in the present constitution.

The Women`s National Coalition disintegrated after the adoption of
the South African Constitution. This is due to the fact that women focused more on party politics, rather than on issues that affect us as women. Instead we regard issues that affect us as unimportant. The ANC and the ANC WL however have held a view that there is a need for some kind of an organic structure that will take up broader issues of women in the South African Society. This is part of the role that the Women`s League has played in marshalling women to fight for their emancipation.

Over the years various discussion papers and resolutions have been developed and adopted on the purpose, character and proposed programme of establishing a progressive women`s movement. For this reason the ANC WL and Alliance Partners have proposed the formation of a progressive Women`s Movement whose key objective is to promote the transformation of South African Society into one that is truly non-racial and non-sexist. The new challenges facing the women of South Africa today demand that we form this Women`s Movement so that we can meet the present challenges as a united force, in order to be in line with the transformation that is taking place in our country, NEPAD, AU and the United Nations.

In October 2005 during one of its meetings the National Executive Committee of the Women`s League decided it would be ideal if South African women formalize a Progressive Women`s Movement in 2006. The NEC chose this year because it marks the 50th Anniversary of the 1956 Women`s March to Pretoria. Furthermore, this year was chosen because we commemorate 10 years of a democratic constitution as well as 30 years of the 1976 June uprising.

What is the Women`s Movement
After extensive discussions, as the ANCWL and Alliance partners we have agreed that a Women`s Movement is a broad front of women`s organisations, grassroots organisations of all kinds, feminist oriented groups, researchers, faith based organisations, traditional healers, women involved in policy formulation and programmes. The Women`s League states that the Movement must be progressive and diverse. That it should be shaped by local struggles and has to acknowledge that women are not a homogeneous group. Similarly the movement should advocate the ethos of transforming South Africa into a non-sexist, non-racial, democratic, united and prosperous South Africa. As well as an understanding of social relationships of class, race, ethnicity, age, religion etc. What`s more, the movement should respond to specific conditions of gender inequality through a minimum platform for action. Moreover the League advise that the formation of the progressive women`s movement will enable women to resolve fundamental disagreements or differences through dialogue so that we can sharpen our understanding of the challenges facing us.

Principles guiding the Women`s Movement

  • Fight for the emancipation of women and gender equality;
  • Fight Patriarchy;
  • Minimum and single platform for action
  • Try and increase a coherent and common approach to issues that affect us;
  • Develop good relations in order to shape the development of policy positions;
  • Agree to differ, maintain independence of member organisations
    but work towards unity;
  • Provide a support base for all women;
  • Ensure the involvement of women in peace and security processes.
  • Consolidation of economic, social, governance and political programmes; and
  • Collaborate with other social movements who have already been established.

Character of the Women`s Movement

  • Organic - not a formal structure;
  • Issue based - e.g. focus on issues that affect women based on the programme and challenges that face women at a specific time;
  • Committed to transforming South Africa into a non-racial, nonsexist, democratic, united and a prosperous South Africa;
  • Work with organisations that have a liberation movement background and those from the disciplined left;
  • A home for Women who are committed to fighting poverty and those who have committed themselves to working towards a better life for all.
  • Commitment to fighting for women`s rights.
  • Working class biasness.

Targeted Groups

The women`s movement must target women from different sectors so as to ensure that there is representativity. These should include women from rural areas, business sector, professional sector, faith based organisations, workers, young women, women with disabilities, elderly women, workers, unemployed women, women from political parties who are committed to our grounding principles.


  1. Unite the women of South Africa in diversity;
  2. To strengthen the relationship between the government and women`s organisations;
  3. Ensure that women that are committed to women`s agenda have their forum; and
  4. Fight against the discrimination of women in all spheres of life.


Economic Transformation

  • Access to Economic Resources
  • Job Creation
  • Self Employment
  • Access to Credit
  • Access to Information Technology Social Transformation
  • Access to Housing
  • Access to Health
  • Access to Land
  • Access to Basic Infrastructure
  • Social Grants and Social Services
  • Access to Education and Skills Governance
  • Working towards 50% representation in all governance and decision-making bodies including business.
  • Educating women on legislation and policies empowering women and advocating for progressive laws that empower women. Monitoring
  • Support and monitor the implementation of international instruments such as NEPAD,
  • CEDAW, Beijing +10, World Trade Organisation and African Union. International Relations
  • Work towards creating a better Africa and a better world.
  • Strengthen our relationship with international as well as continental organisations such as PAWO. Look at the possibility of forming chapters that will liase with other sectors in the continent and the world over.
  • Strengthen international solidarity with international organisations from the disciplined left.



In the South African context, the place and role of women in the trade unions more or less mirrors the legacy of the multiple and mutually-reinforcing contradictions under Apartheid, namely capitalist exploitation, national and gender oppression. We explore this through the pen of a woman who holds a highest rank within the SA Union Movement.One of the defining features of contemporary Neoliberal restructuring of economies is the feminization of the labour-force. In principle, the increasing economic participation of women must be welcomed. However, in reality, the feminization of the labour-force under capitalism underscores the fact that the system tends to reinforce other structures of oppression in society in its attempt to restore its profitability, be it gender or racial oppression.

Thus, this feminization of the labour-force is encouraged because it is functional to capital’s ends of profit-maximisation. Immersed in patriarchy, capital pays women less than men believing that the latter are heads of their households and breadwinners. On the other hand, assuming that women are minors in the households, capital takes advantage of cheap and vulnerable female labour to undercut the wages that men receive. Hence, many women workers are found in atypical forms of employment.

Another feature of the contemporary capitalist reality is referred to as “labour-market segmentation”. Typically, this segmentation in the labour market tends to take place along race or gender lines; race and gender divisions often coincide with class divisions. For example, white men dominate the capitalist class and black women are amongst the poorest. However, class divisions are not the same as race and gender divisions. For example, white workers may act in racist ways to protect their privileged position. Whilst on the other hand, trade unions can maintain a high level of sexism amongst the rank and file and perpetuate women subordination and men domination in the leadership hierarchies.

In fact, a 1999 survey by the ILO/ICFTU on The Role of Trade Unions in Promoting Gender Equality and Protecting Vulnerable Women Workers has found that women are still under-represented in trade unions, despite the fact that women membership has been rising.

In the South African context, the place and role of women in the trade unions more or less mirrors the legacy of the multiple and mutually-reinforcing contradictions under Apartheid, namely capitalist exploitation, national and gender oppression.

Like other trade unions world-wide, the South African trade unions are social institutions located in a contradictory terrain, on one hand as agents of change they struggle for the emancipation of women but on the other hand, as social institutions embodying the social context of their origin and location, the trade union movement struggles to rid itself of patriarchy.

Historically, especially during the period of the Federation of South African Trade Unions (FOSATU), women organization within the progressive trade union movement in South Africa was established in the form of “women committees”. These were separate structures and exclusive to women. It was hoped that they would offer safe and democratic space for women activists in the trade unions to develop leadership skills, gain confidence and strategies to advance the cause of women in the trade union movement.

Women’s or Gender Structures The emergence of women’s structures within trade unions was dogged by an intense debate amongst women activists in particular, as to the wider implications of such a move in relation to umbrella women’s movements such as the Federation of Transvaal Women (FEDTRAW). However, it did not take long before a more substantial debate within the trade unions emerged in 1987 around the need to transform women’s committees to gender committees.

Gender structures are all inclusive, women and men, and are conceptualized as mechanisms not only to champion the cause of women within unions, but also to engage in education and campaign programmes with the hope of winning more allies of men within the rank and file and leadership.

Thus, this gender discourse conceptualizes patriarchy beyond the socio-economic and political disparities between men and women and the sexual division of labour in which issues that concern women are seen as their problems. Key to this gender discourse is an understanding that women’s oppression is not a women’s problem but a societal problem and the subordination of women and domination of men in the unions is a challenge of the democratization of the trade union movement itself. Similarly, with women in the forefront and progressive men in alliance, especially the leadership, these gender structures were expected to challenge some of the ideological underpinnings of trade unions that are oblivious to women’s oppression and are consistent with the existing social ideologies in institutions such as churches, schools and workplaces.

The commercial and catering union, CCAWUSA/SACCAWU is believed to be the prime mover of this shift towards gender structures, having been influenced by its partner unions in Sweden. This concept is originally traced to worker struggles for parental rights in the workplace, asserting a shared responsibility with regards to the challenge of the transformation of the sexual division of labour in the household. Both in COSATU and most of its affiliates, gender structures were established including the overarching Federation-wide National Gender Committee. COSATU took a resolution that all affiliates should have full-time gender co-ordinators although to date not all unions have implemented this resolution. But, with hindsight, this approach to women’s struggle within the trade unions has been fraught with challenges of its own.

Firstly, in most unions, gender structures are not at the heart of the work of the trade unions. Thus, gender co-ordinators are often administrators, who tend to suffer from a lack of space to do gender work largely because of their status and influence within the unions. Trade unions are faced with many challenges in building organizations that provide a democratic space for women workers.

These include: getting rid of all barriers to women’s participation in unions, building women’s leadership, organizing the unorganized, and improving the position of women in the workplace.

Secondly, unions often embarked on education, campaigns and organizing work in silos. In other words, gender issues are thought to fall under education (through awareness raising workshops) and not seen as related to building organisation. Both education and gender should be about building organisation. For example, a vibrant and active campaign around maternity pay could build the union while at the same time raise awareness about gender issues, and specifically the link between patriarchy, capitalism and neoliberalism.

Unions need to have a far more integrated approach to raising awareness and building organisation.

Gender structures tend to be seen as forums to raise men’s awareness about gender issues rather than organs to combat patriarchy within unions and in society through unions. It was hoped that through these gender structures men will change and there will be less resistance to gender issues. The Federation’s overall political and organizational programme, not only gender structures, should contribute towards making members aware of gender issues.

Gender structures should be seen as places to strategise. Through visible and dynamic campaigns and activities, members would be directly and indirectly conscientised.

Thirdly, there has been a pervasive misunderstanding of gender, whereby gender is confused as just another term for women’s issues. In other words, gender and women are seen to be one and the same. In this context, women are still seen as the ones responsible for gender issues, hence they often receive little support from some unions. Women’s oppression is a societal issue, based on unequal gender power relations, and therefore a societal responsibility. It is the responsibility of the trade union as a whole to struggle for gender equality, not only women. At the same time, however, this does not mean that women should have to wait for men’s support in pushing the struggle forward.

Fourthly, a gender focus can sometimes divert unions from the real issue itself, i.e. women’s oppression. Using words like ‘gender oppression’ can sometimes create confusion, for example when gender committees debate issues of women’s leadership in less straightforward terms than ‘gender representivity’. Sometimes the concept of gender is even used to create the impression that women and men are equally oppressed. However, both men and women are affected by sexist stereotypes.

A struggle within a struggle

Women have made their mark in the trade union movement as far back as the days of FOSATU. Thus, unions produced outstanding leaders and founders of unions currently affiliated to COSATU.

Some of these women pioneers include June Rose Nala, the first General Secretary of Metal and Allied Workers Union, Jane Barret the General Secretary of Transport and General Workers Union -now called SATAWU, Lydia Kompe also a former General Secretary of Transport and General Workers Union, Emma Mashinini, a founder member and General Secretary of CAWUSA now called SACCAWU.

In the light of this impressive history of women’s leadership in the South African trade union movement, a vexing question arises as to why there were actually more women in the position of General Secretary in FOSATU affiliated unions than currently in COSATU.

Given the fact that there has certainly been some progress with regards to political education around gender oppression and struggle, it would have been expected that the current situation around women leadership within COSATU will be far more advanced by now. On the other hand, there is a view that argues that the current situation in COSATU is a true reflection of the real-ity of the situation, which must not be confused with FOSATU, because at that time the General Secretary position was seen more as an administrative function.

Hence, there has been a renewed urgency within the trade union movement with regard to women leadership amongst some of COSATU’s affiliates such as NEHAWU. Certainly, the election of Comrade Noluthando Mayende Sibiya as the NEHAWU President underscores the importance of a more proactive approach to gender transformation within the unions. This might be one of the many steps that must be taken towards a genuinely non-sexist trade union movement. To ensure that women are represented at all levels of the union, NEHAWU has adopted a 50%-50% quota system in all activities of the union, including representation to COSATU and other allied formations.

Emerging out of the above experiences, are two distinct messages applicable to the struggle for the emancipation of women in society and the gender struggle in the trade union movement:

  • Firstly, the struggle for the women’s emancipation is a struggle within the broader struggle against capitalist exploitation, racism and the deepening of democracy. In other words, to the extent that capitalism reinforces existing structures of oppression in terms of its tendency to exclude those who are already marginalized, the resolution of the gender struggle is interlinked with the struggle against capitalist exploitation. However, in and of itself socialism does not completely resolve the socio-economic, political and cultural contradictions embedded in patriarchy.
  • Secondly, whether through exclusive women or gender structures, the gender struggle can only be thorough-going in the trade unions when it is led by women themselves, in particular the rank and file workers. Thus, the participation of men in gender structures should not be seen as a necessary condition for the advancement of the women struggle within the trade unions. Rather, the extent to which gender structures are integral to the strategic constitutional structures of the unions and whether such structures leverage their power to mainstream gender struggles in the programmes of action, is a necessary condition.

The neoliberal pattern of the feminization of the labour-force exposes the backwardness of capitalism as a social formation, in particular in the extent that it capitalizes on social relations and ideology of patriarchy. Thus, the creation of the labour-market segmentation according to race or gender is intended to divide the workforce in order to perpetuate capital’s super-exploitation. These divisions build upon backward identities and ideologies such as race and patriarchy.

Overall, there has been tremendous progress in the progressive trade union movement led by COSATU, especially in the development of some ideological clarity and policies pertaining to gender and the political economy, sexual harassment, gender and HIVAIDS, etc. However, a lot still needs to be done, not only in terms of gender representativity in the leadership structures but also in the consciousness of the rank and file members.

Mayende-Sibiya is the first woman President of the National Education Health & Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) and Co-Convenor of the Progressive Women’s Movement


For years the Women’s Section of the African National Congress championed the women’s cause within the movement and outside, which positioned women as integral forces for revolutionary change. We pay tribute to the structure by republishing the speech of the President of the ANC, OLIVER TAMBO, to the conference of the Women’s Section in Luanda, Angola, on 14 September 1981.

Allow me to begin by expressing on behalf of the National Executive Committee our very deep appreciation of the work done by the outgoing leadership of the Women`s Section.

We know it was a long and lonely struggle to keep the Women`s Section alive in the first instance and to build it to the force that it is today.

Secondly, we equally want to express our appreciation of the choice you have made in electing the new leadership. We congratulate especially Comrade Gertrude, senior, experienced and mature leader of our people, on her appointment to an office in the movement that is going to be increasingly challenging. We wish her and her Secretariat every success; we assure her that, as the National Executive Committee, we shall support her to the best of our ability.

The meeting of the Women`s Section which commenced on September 10, 1981, with an opening address by Comrade President Sam Nujoma, President of SWAPO of Namibia, has now completed its business. I believe it is the general consensus among all the participants that a fair and objective assessment of the meeting would be best conveyed by two words only: supremely successful. This would be a reference to the businesslike manner in which the proceedings were conducted; the serious atmosphere in which discussions were held; the fierce concentration with which speakers addressed the topics presented for discussion; the prevalence among the participants, individually and collectively, of a sense of mission inspired by a constant awareness of the national and international challenges posed for the women of South Africa, and the ANC women in particular, in this decade of the eighties, the Decade of Destiny. To have held a successful conference is to have put substance into our verbal expressions of gratitude to the MPLA Party of Labour, the Government and people of Angola, and especially to the Organisation of Angolan Women (OMA), who made the meeting possible in the first instance.

To have held a successful conference is to have vindicated the confidence and trust which the international community has in the ANC and its Women`s Section - confidence and trust reflected in the generous financial and other material donations without which the meeting could have remained a remote dream.

To have held a successful conference at this critical moment in the southern African situation is to have focussed the attention of everyone in South Africa on the presence in Angola, in this very month of September, of two types of South Africa: the one type concentrated in the south of Angola, the other assembled in Luanda - the question being: Which of these two is the true South Africa? Which one represents those forces which the people of South Africa must and will destroy and annihilate. Is it that unsightly army of marauding murderers in southern Angola, or is it the glorious band of ANC women in Luanda? On the other hand women in the ANC should stop behaving as if there was no place for them above the level of certain categories of involvement. They have a duty to liberate us men from antique concepts and attitudes about the place and role of women in society and in the development and direction of our revolutionary struggle. In fear of being a failure, Comrade Lindiwe Mabuza cried, sobbed and ultimately collapsed on top of herself when she learnt she had been appointed ANC Chief Representative to the Scandinavian countries. But, looking at the record, could any man have done better or even as well? The oppressor has, at best, a lesser duty to liberate the oppressed than the oppressed himself. The struggle to conquer oppression in our country is the weaker for the traditionalist, conservative and primitive restraints imposed on women by man-dominated structures within our movement, as also because of equally traditionalist attitudes of surrender and submission on the part of women.

We need to move from revolutionary declarations to revolutionary practice. We invite the ANC Women`s Section, and the black women of South Africa, more oppressed and more exploited than any section of the population, to take up this challenge and assume their proper role, outside the kitchen among the fighting ranks of our movement and at its command posts.

The Women`s Section is not an end in itself. It is a weapon of struggle, to be correctly used, against all forms and levels of oppression and inequality in the interests of a victorious struggle of the people.

If I have perchance overstated the case for a more balanced distribution of tasks and responsibilities within our movement, it remains true that the burden that women carry is seldom recognised.

Their silent fortitude as they toil under the weight of manmade hardships often passes unnoticed and unsung.

Every passing day brings confirmation of the fact that while racist minority rule persists in our country, its violence cannot be contained within the borders of that country, or confined to any single country outside those borders. While continuing to occupy Namibia and Angolan territory, the regime has now sent its fascist troops to invade Zambia. It will be another country next time. In due course, it will be all the countries of this region, and then all Africa from Cape to Cairo.

The burden of the South African fascist regime on the young independent African nations of this region is growing. The regime has embarked on a campaign of provocation and destabilisation.

It is looking for war, using our country as its base, and our slave labour as its logistics.

Which one represents South Africa as an accepted member of the African, the Non-Aligned and the international community?

Is it the armed thugs in southern Angola or the ANC women fighters for world peace and progress?

Which one represents man as having travelled the least possible distance from the mediaeval ape, which killed and murdered with insatiable relish?

Is it those in Luanda who are discussing the role of women in the development of human society and the upbringing of children, or is it those in southern Angola who are savagely bombing women and children, destroying houses, towns, bridges?

To have had a successful conference in this country at this moment in its era of independence is, therefore, to have reaffirmed that our cause is a just cause, it is the cause of all progressive mankind. It shall prevail. On the other hand the racists have no cause, no future, and no place except perhaps among the ghosts of dead empires.

To have held a successful conference now is to have paid a worthy tribute to 25 years of heroic struggle by the women of South Africa.

But in assessing this conference as a great success we are making a preliminary judgment; we are talking about the immediate past rather than the future. It is the testing period ahead, it is the rugged and boggy terrain of implementation now opening up before us, which will decide the correct place of this conference in the history of our struggle.

The decisions of this conference, to be endorsed by the National Executive Committee of the ANC, bear upon our entire struggle and their implementation is a task confronting all the cadres of the movement at all levels and all centres.

Perhaps it is necessary here to address the all-important question of the position of women in our movement.

The mobilisation of women is the task, not only of women alone, or of men alone, but of all of us, men and women alike, comrades in struggle. The mobilisation of the people into active resistance and struggle for liberation demands the energies of women no less than of men. A system based on the exploitation of man by man can in no way avoid the exploitation of women by the male members of society. There is therefore no way in which women in general can liberate themselves without fighting to the end the exploitation of man by man, both as a concept and as a social system.

Having said this, we need to recognise that the capacity of the women to contribute fully in the liberation struggle depends, in part, on what we in practice conceive to be their role as women.

If we are to engage our full potential in the pursuit of the goals of our revolutionary struggle, then, as revolutionaries, we should stop pretending that the women in our movement have the same opportunities as men. There is little evidence of it, if the high calibre of the women meeting here today is anything to go by. For this has been a meeting of women who are worthy of Lilian Ngoyi and her great impact on our whole struggle.

Far from the racist regime being subjected to a so-called communist onslaught, it is the peace-seeking nations of southern Africa who are the targets of a total terrorist onslaught by a minority which came to Africa as foreigners some 300 years ago, and which, by its conduct, is as foreign to Africa today as it was then. These racists murdered, pillaged and plundered their way from the Cape to Angola then; they are murdering, pillaging and plundering their way northward still. Colonial domination from Cape to Cairo was their dream then, they have been testing nuclear bombs, evidently in pursuit of the same dream.

And if for Africa it is business as usual while this regime is liquidating Namibians and Angolans, invading Angola and staying for the duration of its pleasure on Angolan territory; if Africa`s optimum response is a condemnatory resolution as one country after another is occupied, can it take very long before the fascists cross the equator? There is another dimension to this possibility. Reagan`s United States, Begin`s Israel and Racist South Africa (RSA) form a warwaging triangle with its apex in Washington and its base running across Africa from Cape to Cairo and beyond to the capital of Israel. There is no weapon the United States Administration will not deliver to Israel or help Israel produce. For the Reagan Administration, RSA is fast becoming the Israel of southern Africa, equally deserving of military aid. Africa falls within this war triangle - Africa, the continent of the future, the richest in untapped mineral resources. Quite clearly, imperialism is planning ahead as well as looking ahead.

In that event, the piercing screams emanating from Pretoria about a communist onslaught, and the deafening and senseless noise about Cuban soldiers in Angola and a Soviet presence in southern Africa, are all a cover for the most sinister designs against Africa. In this connection, the possession of nuclear weapons by Israel and RSA, which both deny - naturally - and the certainty of both being supplied with the neutron bomb, should not be treated lightly.

Relevant to these designs is the fact that the South African regime, by invoking such slogans as "communist onslaught" and "international terrorism", and by committing provocative aggression against southern African States, is desperately trying to internationalise the struggle for national liberation and transform it into a West-East global war, precisely to create the situation which would justify the re-conquest of Africa, as well as ensure the survival of the regime itself.

As a liberation movement we cannot presume to tell independent Africa what to do. But as part of Africa, as a fighting force based at the headquarters of the worst enemy of Africa, as a people and a movement committed to the total liberation and independence of Africa, as fighters for a new world order and for peace, we dare not close our minds to anything that bears upon the realities of the world in which we live and fight. That is why we heartily welcome the decision of the recent Lagos Summit of Frontline States to recommend the introduction of troops from African countries in the war against the South African invaders.

Our struggle is, therefore, both local, regional, continental and global. It is against this background that we must see the glorious challenge we face, the ennobling task assigned by history to the people of South Africa, to the women of our country, to her youth and to her workers: We are called upon to save Africa, to defend her independence, and contribute towards world peace by seizing power in our country. We have the capacity; if we do not, let us develop it. We have the strategies; if they are wrong, let us correct them.

In our opposition to the regime whose preoccupation is the domination of black people everywhere, we are a united majority in South Africa comprising not only the oppressed and exploited masses, but also people from every racial group.

These include that brave brigade of women known as the "Black Sash" - veteran fighters for justice and peace; they include thousands of white youth and students who are convinced that the regime is digging a mass grave for their future; they include a growing number of white democrats, true patriots of our land; they include white members and leaders of the religious community, who have come to appreciate the essential justice of the cause we fight for.

In our determination to liberate our country and ourselves, we shall be deterred by nothing - least of all by the prospect of death. In our struggle as a detachment of the world anti-imperialist forces, we shall disappoint no one.

We have the manpower, for we are not alone. "We are 35 million", declared President Samora Machel of the People`s Republic of Mozambique. We are even more than 35 million; we are hundreds of millions. We have our friends and supporters -the countries of Western Europe such as Sweden and other Nordic countries, Holland, France and Italy who support our cause, the peoples of Europe, including the churches, who are isolating racist South Africa in support of our struggle. The potential for support of the ANC in Europe is tremendous. The Socialist countries will always be with us.

In Canada, support for the ANC has reached new levels. The people of the United States, particularly the blacks, are becoming a powerful lobby for the struggle against racism and resent the role of the United States Administration in southern Africa.

The people of New Zealand have emerged as ferocious opponents of the apartheid system and great allies of Africa and the liberation forces in South Africa. Six hundred and sixty million people in India stand firmly in support of the struggle led by the ANC. The world community as a whole is on our side.

We acknowledge this support today as we have done in the past. And we know that while, without it, we would have made little progress in our struggle, unless we register progress we shall be without much of it. For, what is being supported is a struggle, not a state of being or a status quo. That is the reason why we do not expect the OAU to support the ANC merely to keep it alive. It is also the reason why we should be surprised if the OAU found no cause to give encouraging material assistance to the obviously escalating struggle led by the ANC in South Africa.

Comrades, on December 16th, three months hence, we shall be commemorating the 20th anniversary of Umkhonto we Sizwe, and three weeks later, the 70th anniversary of the ANC. The runup to these two uniquely historic events will be marked by intensive activity at home and abroad.

On behalf of the National Executive Committee of the ANC and of our Military Command, we call on all our people in South Africa to prepare to observe these occasions in a manner and on a scale worthy of our long history of struggle and of the countless martyrs and heroes who surrendered their lives, limbs and liberties in the cause of our liberation and in the cause of a united, nonracial and just society in our country.

We call on the brotherly peoples of southern Africa and all Africa, as well as friends of our struggle the world over, to join the ANC and the people of South Africa in observing these anniversaries.

In the name of the Conference of the ANC Women`s Section held in Luanda, we invite the women of Africa and of the rest of the world to share with the women of South Africa the burden of 70 years of struggle and the prospects of an impending victory.

Once again, and on behalf of the African National Congress and the ANC Women`s Section, on behalf of all our people, including our leaders and colleagues on Robben Island, Pretoria Central Jail and other prisons, on behalf of our workers and youth; and on behalf of Umkhonto we Sizwe, we thank Comrade President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and the Central Committee of MPLA-Party of Labour, the Government and people of Angola, including, and in particular the Organisation of Angolan Women, for all the support they have given and continue to give our struggle.

We express our people`s solidarity with the people of Angola, Zambia and other southern African States.

We stand firmly and solidly with our comrades-in-arms, SWAPO of Namibia. Our conviction in the certainty of their victory is unshakeable.

We salute all peoples all over the world fighting against imperialism, colonialism, fascism and against all other crimes perpetrated in the name of imperialism.

Aluta Continua!
Maatla ke a Rona!
OR Tambo was President of the ANC, 1967 - 1991. This speech was first published in the ANC Publication, Sechaba, in 1981.

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