As the country celebrated Women’s Day on Wednesday, maybe it’s a historical coincidence and the highest form of poetic justice tinged perhaps with irony that, under post-apartheid South Africa, an arterial road named after one Hans Strydom was changed to Malibongwe.
A name conjured to usher praises to the toiling womenfolk of South Africa.
What is not acknowledged is that the 1956 march by 20 000 women to the Union Buildings was actually a forerunner to protest marches that would occur in later years.
Before then, marches of that magnitude to challenge authority on particular legislation like the discriminatory pass laws were not common.
Again, before that women’s march, the battered docile African male of the time had been carrying that detested dompas that so strictly regulated his movement, with hardly a murmur of public protest.
The apartheid pass laws were first imposed as early as 1923 when, in terms of The Natives Urban Areas Act of that year, all urban areas were declared “white enclaves” and all African men were required to acquire permits to be allowed into those areas.
Anyone found without such was immediately arrested and “deported” to rural areas. Much later, after the Nationalist government had come into power, the law was amended and called the Natives Laws Amendment Act of 1952, later commonly known as the Pass Laws Act.
The law required all African or Bantu men above the age of 16 years to carry the pass book on their persons all the time while in urban areas.
It is surprising, then, that the first significant protest action against men carrying such a hideous document only surfaced in the early 1960s.
This resulted in the much publicised Sharpeville and Langa massacres of March 21 1960 and March 31 1960, respectively.
Both tragic events took place long after the women’s march to the Union Buildings.
This proves that those women marchers of 1956 were indeed torchbearers and frontrunners of the protest…