South African Women Activists Celebrated

© Tracey Derrick
‘When you strike a woman, you strike a rock’ / 'Wathint’abafazi, wathint’imbokodo!'

Why We Celebrate Women’s Day

This phrase has come to represent women’s courage and strength. Women’s Day is commemorated in South Africa on August 9 in memory of the women who marched in 1956 to protest against apartheid and has become a symbol of women’s resistance to the evils of society.

While involved in my project, Side by Side, where I interviewed women who I believed were paramount to our 1994 elections, I was struck by the bravery of these women who risked official reprisals including arrest, detention, bannings, exile and beatings. So too are their organizational skills and their community-consciousness – they were tired of staying at home, powerless to make significant changes to a way of life that discriminated against them primarily because of their race, but also because of their class and their gender.

Women, half of our population after all, have been silent for too long in our history books, and although this need is now to an extent being addressed, there is still a huge gap in our knowledge on the role of South African women. They need to be applauded.

Amy Thornton

Thornton, was one of the organisers of the mass Women’s March of August 9th, 1956. She also did voluntary work for the Guardian newspaper (and its successors...more

Connie September

Connie September as a member of parliament has served on various Portfolio Committees. She has acted as the minister of human settlements. She has served as Chairperson for the Portfolio Committee...more

Dot Cleminshaw

Dot Cleminshaw also devoted her time and energy to campaign for changes in South Africa’s abortion legislation, advocating pro choice for women....more

Dr. Margaret Nash

After 1994, Dr. Nash used her time and energy to campaign for a gun-free South Africa during the transition from apartheid to democracy, when violence was at its height....more

Elizabeth Abrahams

During this time, Elizabeth Abrahams often had to visit workers on farms, in factories and in communities, which often entailed travel that was often fraught with danger. Her dedication for workers also extended...more

Liz Mafekeng

In 1959, Liz Mafikeng was served with a banning order, shortly after she had led a demonstration protesting the newly introduced African Women Pass Laws. Mafikeng sought political asylum in Lesotho travelling secretly...more

Margaret Fourie

Margaret Fourie after 25 years working in business became an ordained Anglican priest, in 1994. Her experience in both business and in the church includes running a national leadership...more

Mary Burton

After the 1994 elections, Burton was elected to be one of the 17 people to sit on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC was set up by the Government of National Unity to help deal with the cases of abuse...more

Noel Robb

Robb was one of the founding members of the Black Sash organisation (first called The Women’s Defence of the Constitution League), established in 1955. She was the director of its first Advice Office...more

Nyame Goniwe

Nyame Goniwe is a dynamic activist who participated in numerous demonstrations against apartheid. In the 2000’s, she started working in the community. She became involved with the non-government organisation...more

Phyllis Naidoo

Phyllis Naidoo joined the South African Communist Party (SACP), where she challenged the Bantu Education Act. After the banning of political parties and organisations in 1961, Naidoo became affiliated...more

Professor Gertrude Fester

Professor Gertrude Fester was born in Cape Town in 1952. In 1975, she started teaching at the high school level and continued a career in education for over 40 years. In the 1980’s she began fighting...more

Ray Alexander Simons

In 2004, Ray Alexander Simons was awarded the prestigious ANC's Isithwalandwe Award. Isithwalandwe, literally means “The one who wears the plumes of the rare bird”....more

Side by Side Project by Tracey Derrick

It is only over the last three or four decades that women's role in the history of South Africa has belatedly, been given some recognition. Previously the history of women's political organization, their struggle...more