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Looking back, marching forward

They came from all walks of life to the festival in the Flower Hall at Wits University, to celebrate National Women’s Day.

Amanda Kwadi was the chairperson of the day. She is an official of the Federation of Transvaal Women (Fedtraw). She said: “This festival echoes the sounds of women’s marching feet. Our leaders marched to Pretoria in 1956. Today, we are meeting here to salute them with singing, dancing and poetry reading.”


In 1956 the government passed a law which forced African women to carry a dompas. Before this time, only African men had to carry passes. This new law caused a storm of protest.

The Federation of South African Women (Fedsaw) organised a protest march. Women wanted to show Prime Minister Strydom and his government what they thought of the new law.

A member of the Vaal Women’s Organisation (VWO), Mmatumelo Mmolotsi, said: “This protest action marked the time when women woke up from their sleep. In the past, they thought politics was not their business.

“But in 1956, they sang in one voice: “Strydom, Wathint Abafazi, Wathint’ Imbokodo” — “Strydom, you have tampered with the women, you have struck a rock.”

On the 9th of August 1956, twenty thousand women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria. They wanted to give Strydom their petitions. Strydom was in the building— but he refused to meet the women. As the Fedsaw song goes: “Strydom left the Union Buildings through a window.” Since that day, the 9th of August is remembered as “National Women’s Day”.


Many artists were there to make the day lively. There were traditional dancers, poets and singers. Poetry groups such as ‘Save the Children’ and the Progressive Arts Project (PAP) took part. Their poems spoke of women’s struggle.

A member of PAP said: “Our poems show that our people are suffering. Women should fight these bad conditions because they are the mothers of the people.”

Jazz Pioneers and the Sharpetown Swingsters brought back the good old times into the hall with their music. The people jived like they did in the old times, when jazz was still young. Other groups such as Sakhile, Bayete, Cosatu choir and the Moutse dancers added spice to the festival.

Fedtraw’s president, Sister Bernard Ncube, sat proudly in the hall. She was surrounded by loyal members of her organisation. As Mmatumelo Mmolotsi said: “We came here to show that we stand by our leaders.”

A woman from Moutse, who asked not to be named, said: “This festival is another action which takes our struggle further. It shows that women can pick up the spear carried by our fallen heroes. We cannot really move forward without looking back.”


Fedtraw organised two other Women’s Day festivals in the Transvaal. One of these was held at the Medical University of Southern Africa (Medunsa) at Ga-Rankuwa, near Pretoria. Some of the groups that took part in the Wits festival were also there.

The ‘Jazz Pioneers’ and the Sharpetown Swingsters were again blowing happiness into the people. And PAP were warming people’s hearts with their poetry.

The other festival was at Cosatu House in Pretoria. This festival went well. But one of the organisers was detained afterwards. Stola Mamabolo was put in the cells with her six month old baby girl, Goitsemang. But luckily for Stola, her baby took protest action. The baby cried so bitterly, the police could not stand it. Stola says the police released them as soon as they could the next morning.

NEW WORDS celebrate— to remember something in a happy way echoes— when a sound bounces back a storm of protest— when a lot of people are angry and protest petition— when people sign a piece of paper to show that they are unhappy tamper— to disturb, to interfere


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