Minister of Women, Ms Susan Shabangu
Veteran of the Women’s Struggle, Ms Sophie de Bruyn
International Guests and Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Members of the media
Ladies and Gentlemen
I must hasten to convey sincere apologies from Minister Nathi Mthethwa, who could not be here with us at this august occasion due to other urgent matters of the state. He wishes us well as we launch this exciting programme of Women’s Month.
It is indeed a great honour and privilege for me to stand here before you today, as we launch the programme of Women’s Month. It is quite significant that this occasion is held here, at the Union Buildings, which remains a site of historic relevance in women’s struggle. We are retracing the footsteps of the 20 000 women, who came from different corners of South Africa to petition against the pass laws on 9 August 1956.
It was 59 years ago that women from all walks of life gathered here — united and speaking with one voice — saying “Wathint’ Abafazi, Wathint’ Mbokodo!” These brave women of our country took it upon themselves to come to the seat of government, at the door step of Prime Minister J.G. Strijdom’s office, and told him that you strike a woman, you strike a rock! No one can remain the same after striking a rock.
Today, South Africa is not what it was before 1956, and the living conditions of women in our society have certainly improved over the past 21 years. We are indebted to the heroes of our struggle, the likes of Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophie de Bruyn, who challenged the establishment and its draconian laws. Mme de Bruyn is the only surviving leader from this extraordinary troop of revolutionaries.
We are privileged to have Mme Sophia du Bruyn here with us this morning. We are grateful that she is always willing to share her wisdom with us and continue to inspire generations of women in our society. We are particularly delighted that she has lived to witness the fall of apartheid and the emancipation of women in the unfolding democracy in our country.
The women of 1959 were not fighting against a piece of paper; they were fighting for their own dignity and that of their daughters. They were fighting against the segregationist policies of the apartheid government, which dehumanised women by restricting their movement in their own country. They were fighting for you and me.
Black women were at the bottom of the social hierarchy—being victims of the apartheid system, and being victims of the patriarchal system as well. After 21 years of freedom and democracy in our land, women should no longer see themselves as victims, but as victors who are fully in charge of their own destiny.
Our country has progressed beyond the stage of women asking to be emancipated. We have reached a stage whereby women have to empower themselves and thrive in a variety of fields across our economic landscape. Women must continue to play a lead role in eradicating poverty and stimulating sustainable development of our economy.
It is against this backdrop that the theme for this year’s women’s month is: “Women United in Moving South Africa Forward.” This theme is premised around socio-economic empowerment issues, where we shall see women playing an active role in their own empowerment and, by extension, in the empowerment of their society.
As we seek to transform the economic conditions in our land, we must also remember that we are not doing this for ourselves, but for generations to come. That is why it is important that we pass the baton to the young women of South Africa. The foundation for any form of empowerment is education.
We must afford young people opportunities to learn, acquire skills and contribute meaningfully to the development of our society. I am proud that over the past 21 years South Africa increased the access of girls to education, initiated bursaries and training programmes for young women and allocated funds for women entrepreneurs.
It is encouraging to witness the emancipation of women across the continent. The fact that the incumbent chair of the African Union (AU) Commission, H.E. Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, is a woman is a source of inspiration to women across the continent. It is also encouraging to note that the AU has put women at the heart of its developmental agenda by declaring 2010 to 2020 as the ‘African Women’s Decade’ under the theme: “Grassroots approach to gender equality and women’s empowerment”.
These are particularly significant developments to South Africa, as today’s occasion marks our long walk towards the sixtieth anniversary of the 1956 Women’s March next year. This historic moment provides us with a critical opportunity to take a retrospective look at the road that we have travelled, assess the progress, and position women’s empowerment at the centre of the country’s and global agenda.
This is a clarion call to government, business and civil society work together to move African women forward. Young women in particular, must take advantage of the many opportunities afforded to them as we seek to radically transform our economy. The future of our country is in their hands.