Women’s Day

8 August 2008

Fifty two years ago, on August 9, 1956, thousands of women representing the heroic women of our country marched to the Union Buildings to present their demands to the then Prime Minister.

The women said, “We are women from every part of South Africa. We are women of every race, we come from the cities and the towns, from the reserves and the villages…

“For hundreds of years the African people have suffered under the most bitter law of all – the pass law which has brought untold suffering to every African family…

“Raids, arrests, less of pay, long hours at the pass office, weeks in the cells, awaiting trial, forced farm labour – this is what the pass laws have brought to African men. Punishment and misery – not for a crime, but for the lack of a pass….

“In the name of women of South Africa, we say to you, each one of us, African, European, Indian, Coloured, that we are opposed to the pass system…

“We shall not rest until we have won for our children their fundamental rights of freedom, justice, and security.”

The women of our land made these demands guided by the vision of the Freedom Charter, which among other things declares that “the rights of the people shall be the same, regardless of race, colour or sex;.”

This Saturday, 9 August 2008, we shall be commemorating this historic event in the life of our country, in celebration of the immense contribution women have made in the national effort to win “for our children their fundamental rights of freedom, justice, and security.”

We celebrate Women\’s Day in a world where patriarchy is pervasive, to the extent that in many societies and communities it is still openly regarded as the ordained way of life. As a social phenomenon, patriarchy represents the domination of women by men regardless of social status.

In this context, many have forgotten that during the early stages of human development, matriarchal relations prevailed, and resulted in thriving family lives.

As in the rest of the world, the industrialization development of the 17th and 18 centuries, and the colonization process, have had an important effect on the evolving consciousness of South African women about the state of their own specific exploitation.

In the old family economic model, production was carried out for family consumption. Although they were oppressed by men to various degrees, women were less conscious of the limitations on their individual development and fundamental social rights.

Under capitalist relations of production, contradictions inherited from pre-capitalist socio-economic formations are accentuated. In this setting, patriarchy facilitates the process of accumulating excessive profits and undermines the unity of the people and the poor.

Under the capitalist mode of production women are forced to abandon the family mode and find their new roles as workers, in this context they have had to defend their interests not only as women, confronted with the task to sustain life in the home front, but also as workers. White minority domination in South Africa meant that they also had to defend their interests as Blacks.

The experience of the heroic struggle of the women of our country is full of significant lessons for us. From the early protests at the lack of employment opportunities in 1910, the declaration in relation to pass laws in May 1913 that enough was enough, as women took a resolution never to carry passes and said, “We are done with pleading we now demand!”

Women in our country have adopted an approach that goes beyond the struggle for civil rights which tends to defend the social status of the upper classes among women. They have also overcome the initial prejudices of male comrades and the reformism of feminism.

Through their actions, the women of our country have consistently confirmed what Comrade Samora Machel said, that “The emancipation of women is not an act of charity, the result of a humanitarian or compassionate attitude. The liberation of women is a fundamental necessity for the Revolution, the guarantee of its continuity and the precondition for its victory. The main objective of the Revolution is to destroy the system of exploitation and build a new society which releases the potentialities of human beings… This is the context within which women\’s emancipation arises.”

The women of our country have conducted the struggle for women emancipation guided by the objective to defeat the unjust system which “brought untold suffering to every African family.” They have prosecuted the national liberation struggle and gender struggles, fully conscious that these are integral parts of the struggle to abolish all forms of oppression and exploitation.

They have conducted the struggle for women emancipation within the context of the objective to win for our children “their fundamental rights of freedom, justice, and security.”

For many years the ANC has articulated the view that the women of our land must be liberated from their triple race, class, and gender oppression. Because of the centuries-long contributory efforts of women, today our country is a constitutional democracy with a Bill of Rights.

In embracing the objective of the creation of a non-sexist society in our Constitution, we ensured that in their totality, the people of our land commit themselves to the goal of gender equality.

Whist this has opened great opportunities to create a humane, caring and just society, and we have made commendable progress towards the realization of this goal, nevertheless, great challenges remain, central among which is the fact that because of the legacy of triple oppression, the majority of women in our country bear a greater burden of poverty. Most affected by this situation are working class and rural women.

Mindful of the fact that gender oppression and discrimination occurs in virtually all areas of our social life, the ANC insists that women emancipation should find integrated expression in all our activities. Our consistent and systematic efforts to ensure the involvement of women in all areas of social, political and economic endeavour will open up the era of the genuine emancipation of women.

Opening the Conference of the ANC Women\’s League in June this year, the President of the ANC said, “Women\’s Day reminds us of the centrality of women in our struggle and tells us of their heroism. That day firmly put the women\’s struggle at the centre of the people\’s struggle against apartheid and oppression. We remember the contribution of 20 000 women who marched to the Union Buildings to present their petition against the extension of pass laws to women and they stood in silence in the forecourt of the Union Buildings before they sang in unison: “Strydom Wathint\’ Abafazi! Wathint\’ Imbokodo! Uzokufa!.”

Women constitute the bedrock of the construction of a caring nation. They are to be found in various capacities, as workers bearing the burden of super-exploitation and poverty, as micro-entrepreneurs providing use-values to working class communities under difficult conditions, as middle strata and business persons working their way through male-dominated professions and environments. They nurture families in the homes and are forced to reproduce patriarchal relations, (Strategy and Tactics).

As we celebrate Women\’s Day, conscious of its great significance as aptly defined by Comrade President JZ Zuma, let our country recommit itself to defeating the impact of the legacy of racial oppression on women. Let us recommit ourselves to eradicating the social and economic marginalization and exploitation of women. Let us act in unity to defeat all patriarchal relations and cultural stereotypes which hamper millions of the women of our country from enjoying “their fundamental rights of freedom, justice, and security.”

The objective of gender equality is the task of all humanity, and revolutionaries must lead in this struggle.

Patriarchy as a form of discrimination on the basis sex, unites women across racial and class divides.

During the Year of Mass Mobilisation to Build a Caring Society, the importance of strong structures with the capacity to attract various sectors into the revolutionary process assumes greater significance. We are challenged to work more intensely among all sectors of the population to ensure that they join in the people\’s effort to bring about a caring society.

We congratulate the ANC Women\’s League as a tenacious fighter for the victory of the National Democratic Revolution, as an untiring force which helps the ANC to broaden its mass base, as it champions the aspirations of a section of our society which over the decades, has been exploited as a nation, as a class and as women (Strategy and Tactics).

We wish the ANC Women\’s League well as it celebrates the National Women\’s Day in Welkom on August 9.

We wish all the women of our land joyful celebrations during Women\’s Day.

Malibongwe Igama Lamakhosikazi!