Statement by Minister Mthethwa at the media launch of Women’s Month, Union Buildings

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31 Jul 2014

Minister Susan Shabangu

Deputy Ministers

Members of the Media

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

We gather here on an important day – 31 July –Pan African Women Day, to officially launch the South African Women’s Month.

This is a significant day because it on this very day that African women from across the continent and the Diaspora came together to establish and launch one association, the Pan African Women’s Organisation.

This significant political and social initiative happened 52 years ago at the Conference of African Women in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania.

In so doing, women claimed the space to organise themselves, mobilise for women’s emancipation and gender equality and, importantly, to unite African women in rural and urban areas across borders, languages and cultures and to fight against poverty and for a prosperous society and a productive life.

Yet we are also reminded that the struggle for women in South Africa for national liberation and freedom from oppression can be traced back to the early 1900s.

We know that women in the first two decades of the twentieth century fought against starvation wages in Newcastle, and later against pass laws in Winburg and Volksrust.

We remember the powerful influence of Olive Schreiner who through her writing from the 1890s, attacked imperialism and racism in South Africa. Notably, she published the book, Women and Labour, in 1911.

We are reminded that Charlotte Maxeke organised women to fight against passes and founded a self-help group, the Bantu Women’s League in 1918 which later became the ANC Women’s League.

Women protested against the Native Land Act of 1913, stood defiant and refused to carry passes and other forms of permits which prevented them to live and move freely in the country of their birth.

It is important that through books, documentaries and online media, we shall reveal the histories of those who fought for freedom and who paved the way for the present and the future. We shall focus our attention on the role of women in the liberation struggle and capture these earliest contributions.

We encourage all South Africans to tell their stories, to celebrate the lives of unsung heroes and to capture and preserve the precious memories of ordinary women, grandmothers, mothers, workers, students, community leaders, who fought for freedom.

All these stories tell us that women are the vanguard of the struggle. Women have played their part throughout the African continent for their national liberation. Women have fought in the African Diaspora against slavery and oppression.

No African society can claim to be free until all its women are free. We, in South Africa, are moving forward with the struggle for the total emancipation of our women. We have much to be proud of. And we have much to accomplish.

In order to locate the heroic deeds of our people in fighting for a non-racial and non-sexist South Africa, the Department of Arts and Culture shall commence with plans to establish a Heroes Acre. This will be a space where the public can pay homage to all those women and men who gave their lives for our struggle.

The contribution of women freedom fighters will be included in the Liberation Heritage Route that traces the history of our struggle through important landmarks, people and sites of struggle throughout South Africa and the rest of the continent. Through this initiative, we shall impart to our people a sense of local cultural identity and national consciousness. It will instil pride in the youth of our country and inspire the girl child to know that the women who have come before them have played a leading role in our liberation.

As part of our Legacy Projects, work on the Winnie Mandela Museum in Brandfort is underway and will be completed at the end of this financial year.

Yet our history will not be complete if we do not recognise women whose very beings were subjected to colonial degradation and oppression. Construction on the Sarah Bartmann Centre of Remembrance will commence shortly. This will stand as testimony of the great tribulations experienced by women who suffered abuse as a result of being viewed as a curiosity through then Western eyes. Yet it is also a story of triumph as her remains were re-interred to Hankey and the Khoi and San communities, restoring her dignity and the homecoming she longed for while still alive.

In more recent times, the 20 000 women of South Africa through the historic march of 9 August 1956 displayed a show of strength and resilience through their mobilisation countrywide, their courage and dedication and helped to pave the way for our liberation.

It is now in the pages of history that this 1956 march was coordinated by the Federation of South African Women (Fedsaw) led by four women; Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophie Williams–De Bruyn. We are truly blessed that Ms Williams-De Bruyn is still with us today and actively contributing to our country.

As the Department of Arts & Culture, we have been tasked with the responsibility of co-ordinating the commemoration and celebration of National Days.

Thus, we will again on Saturday, 9 August pay tribute not only to the thousands of women who marched on that day in 1956, but also as a tribute to the pioneers of the women’s movement in this country.

It is significant to note that the year 2014 marks 60 years since the signing of the Women’s Charter on 17 April 1954 in Johannesburg.

The Department of Arts and Culture (DAC), in partnership with the Department of Women and various government departments will lead the Women’s Day celebrations on 9 August 2014 and a month-long programme of supporting activities.

The theme of the 2014 Women’s Day is the “60th anniversary of the Women’s Charter as part of the 20 years of freedom: Moving Women’s Agenda Forward.”

The National Women’s Day celebrations on August 9 will be held in Durban at the ABSA Stadium. The keynote address will be given by President Jacob Zuma. The formal programme will also consist of a re-enactment of the 1956 Women’s March by women and include women from the SANDF, SAPS, female sporting codes, construction, police, traffic etc.

This event will also highlight the preamble of the Constitution in order to foster constitutional values and include a reading from the Women’s Charter.

This event will be preceded by a Women’s Build programme by the Department of Human Settlement.

Once the formal programme is concluded, there will be a cultural programme.

For us as the DAC and the whole of government, the significance of the 2014 Women’s Day is to remember our history through the Women’s Charter as this document was a significant pointer to the society we want to thrive in through our democracy and freedom. It continues to be our guiding light as we seek to radically transform our economy and society

Furthermore as we celebrate 20 years of freedom in South Africa, it is a significant milestone that, among other advancements, the President announced the establishment of the Ministry of Women, now located in The Presidency. This is moving South African women forward in promoting opportunities and cementing the rights of women.

In the last 20 Years of Freedom we are proud to say women now have equal rights before the law which did not exist before 1994. But we will also be the first to admit that many women are affected by poverty, inequality, abuse and unemployment. Thus a collective program is being pursued by government to address these challenges.

In the Department of Arts and Culture, we will roll out cultural precincts and cultural villages to create opportunities for the cultural sector. Over the next 5 years, we are piloting several creative arts incubators that will support artists and arts businesses. We have begun a process to establish fashion hubs, starting in Ekurhuleni.

We are working on the development and implementation of five year strategies for fashion, design, animation, craft and performing arts.

Through these strategies, we shall transform the arts sector and encourage pro-poor innovations that will skill our people.

In this way, we shall position the creative sector at the centre of cultural life and economic development and create specific opportunities for women in the arts.

Coupled with increasing public libraries, reading campaigns and community arts centres and through our nation building and social cohesion programme that promotes an active citizenry and a better, safer life for all, we shall create the conditions for a society in which women can flourish, become creative entrepreneurs, strengthen the social fabric, tell their own stories and compete with the best in the world.

I thank you.