‘You strike a woman, you strike a rock’ — celebrating women’s strength

ON August 9, 1956, one of the most historic events in the struggle for freedom and women's rights in South Africa took place in Pretoria.

It was on this day that more than 20 000 women of different races staged a march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to present a petition protesting against the unjust, unfair and demoralising proposed amendments to the Urban Areas Act involving the hated pass laws of 1950.

The women, who came from all walks of life from all parts of South Africa, united in this mass protest demonstration march to the Union Buildings, leaving bundles of petitions containing more than 100 000 signatures at prime minister J.G. Strijdom's office doors.

Outside the office, they stood silently for 30 minutes, many with their children on their backs.

The women sang a protest song, composed in honour of the occasion, Wathint'Abafazi Wathint'imbokodo! (Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock).

Since then the phrase "You strike a woman, you strike a rock" has come to represent women's courage and strength in South Africa.

The march was a resounding success, and South Africa recognises the bravery of these women who risked arrest, detention and banning by declaring August 9 National Women's Day.

Today, we also use the public holiday to celebrate the remarkable achievements and the tenacious spirits of the fearless females who continue to advocate for change, defy norms and stand up for what they believe in.

In the petition was a declaration by the women that read: "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. We come as women united in our purpose to save the African women from the degradation of passes. 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 voters and voteless, call upon your Government not to issue passes to African women. We shall not rest until ALL pass laws and all forms of permits restricting our freedom have been abolished. We shall not rest until we have won for our children their fundamental rights of freedom, justice, and security."

In remembrance of what women achieved on that day, August 9 was declared National Women's Day in 1995.

August, as Women's month, is an opportunity to celebrate and reflect on women's achievements.