On the occasion of National Women’s Day, The Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA), salutes all the women of our country. In doing so we recall the central and critical role that women have played throughout our struggle for liberation, and specifically also the important contribution that women cadres made in the ranks of Umkhonto we Sizwe. Similarly the contribution of women continue to be critical for the successful conclusion of liberation struggle, which is by no means over.
On the 9 of August 1956, 61 years ago, more than twenty thousand women under the leadership of Lilian Ngoyi, Sophie de Bruyn, Amina Cachalia and Helen Joseph marched to the Union Buildings to protest against the apartheid system in general, and the introduction of passes for women in particular. They declared to Hans Strydom, the then Nationalist Party Prime Minister, “wathint’ abafazi,, wathint’ imbokodo, uza kufa” (when you strike the women, you strike a rock. You will be crushed’).
The women protested that they and their children were suffering the brunt of the inhumane and brutal apartheid system, and that the introduction of the pass laws for them would increase their suffering manifold. With unity of purpose they resisted the brutal oppression that they were subjected to. At this juncture in the history of our liberation struggle we can learn many valuable lessons from how those women comrades worked for and maintained unity in order to put up the strongest possible resistance to apartheid. They knew that the apartheid system was trying to divide the unity of all the women of South Africa by selective only introducing passes for African women, and through the notorious Group Areas Act forcing various racial groups to live in separate areas, with hierarchies of privilege based on race classification.
They understood that the white apartheid regime was using divide and rule tactics, and they successfully resisted these by confronting the racist enemy with a united struggle front. It is important that we learn from them, and treasure the paramount importance of disciplined unity in our continuing struggle for full liberation.
Within the ranks of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) there were never many women cadres. However, the women within MK were in every respect operating, and treated, on an equal basis to their fellow male comrades. They suffered the same dangers and often difficult circumstances in our MK training camps, and they fought with great courage and success against the apartheid enemy. Their full participation in the armed struggle was a critical part of the commitment of the ANC to gender equality and resistance to all forms of sexism.
Twenty three years into our democracy MKMVA is deeply concerned about the deep rooted sexism and gender inequalities that continue to exist within our South African society. Every woman and man in South Africa must join hands and unequivocally commit ourselves to challenge these, and to work tirelessly until they are in their totality eradicated.
We are particularly concerned about the many instances of violence against women and girl children – often by men that they know. We have noted with utter dismay the recent incidents of violence against women, some incidences also implicated members of the ANC. We insist that no-one is above the law, and that the law must take is course against any man who makes himself guilty of abusive behaviour against any woman. The ANC is the leader of society and ANC members have a particular responsibility to set an example for gender equality and behave in an exemplary manner upholding our commitment to a non-racial and non-sexist society.
It is a tragedy and totally unacceptable that women and girl children so often fear for their safety and their lives. It cannot be that women do not feel safe to move around freely anywhere in South Africa at any time – whether it is day or night. The fact that they cannot do so, is a very serious indictment on our society and specifically on how men conduct themselves.
Any form of misogyny, sexist attitudes expressed in whatever manner, and especially gender based violence must be resisted with every effort that we can possibly muster. It is our belief that the ANC as the majority ruling party in government should make the necessary resources available, and advance specific and effective programmes, in order to do so. Violence against women has taken on crisis proportions and it is important that we treat it as the emergency that it is.
Although it is important that the ANC government must take the lead in doing so, it is obvious that every sector of society must participate and take urgent action to root out the scourge of sexism and gender based violence. Every single South African – without exception – must declare #notinmyname
August as Women’s Month helps all of us to place renewed emphasis and commitment on the creation of a truly equal and non-sexist society. However, in reality every day of every month of every year should be dedicated to this ideal which none of us can ignore or compromise in any manner whatsoever.