Speech by Minister Lulu Xingwana commemorating Charlotte Maxeke, Lillian Ngoyi and Helen Joseph at, Nancefield Avalon Cemeteries and Kliptown, Walter Sisulu Square

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20 Aug 2010

Former Deputy President of RSA and Chairperson of ANC, Cde Baleka Mbete
Honourable Minister for WCPDA, Ms Noluthando Mayende - Sibiya
Leadership of ANCWL
Honourable Members of Parliament and Veterans of our Liberation and Womens Struggle, Cde W N Madikizela Mandela
Cde Sophie de Bruyn and Cde Bertha Gxowa
MEC for Sport, Arts and Culture of Eastern Cape, Ms Tom
Members of the Maxeke family
Members of the Ngoyi Family
Mbahlele Church Leadership represented here today
Members from various churches
Representatives from political parties
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen:

We are gathered here today to recognize three important women in the month in which we commemorate the heroic struggles of our women and their achievement. We meet here under the theme of “working together for Equal Opportunities and Progress for all Women.” For these very women led and extinguished themselves through their commitment to the struggle for liberation and towards women’s emancipation. They acted within a collective and a common struggle for a free country.

They marched for all of us. They opened the road to a new reality.

Through their heroic and fearless actions, they paved the way for a democratic, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa.
They were courageous and outspoken. They could not be silenced. They were willing to sacrifice their lives for their convictions.

And they will forever be remembered in the …. Of our history and of the world for their struggles against racism, against sexism and for a more humane world.

The beginning of the last century saw the rise of a powerful woman in South Africa – Charlotte Makgommo Maxeke (born Mannya).

She was the first black woman in our country to obtain a B Sc Degree, which she earned in 1901. But for her this was not enough.

She was not content with individual success. She yearned for the progress of all the people of her country and dedicated her life towards working for equality, empowerment and an end to all forms of oppression and iscrimination.

Her initiatives broke new ground and she was far ahead of the times as can be seen in the various activities she embarked upon:

  • In 1908 she founded the Wilberforce Institute, a centre for educational excellence and managed by Africans under the auspices of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Evaton. 
  • She also successfully led the first anti-pass march by women in 1913 in the Free State towns of Bothaville and Bloemfontein. These marches succeeded in forcing the government of the day to withdraw the extension of pass laws to women.
  • In 1918 Charlotte Maxeke formed and became the first President of the Bantu Women’s League, which was the precursor to the ANC Women’s League.
  • She successfully secured an audience with Prime Minister Louis Botha and a temporary reprieve of further implementation of repressive laws against the urban ‘Black Menace’.
  • Through her efforts and those of women like her, the Bantu Women’s League was accepted as an organ of the African National Congress and finally in 1943 achieved a new status as the membership of the African National Congress was fully extended to women.

This turning point meant that the struggle for national liberation would also include the struggle for women’s emancipation.

She believed in the power of dialogue and engagement. Through giving voice to the plight of women, and through addressing the leadership, she succeeded in convincing them to rethink their strategy. This was the beginning of women becoming part of decision-making within the ANC.

For her life’s contribution, we honour her here today by declaring that her place of rest shall be a national monument.

We are also here to recognize the achievements of Lillian Ngoyi and Helen Joseph.

Today we also declare that their common resting place be recognized as a National Monument. These two veterans and heroines of our struggle, together with their comrades, Rahima Moosa and Sophie de Bruyn are recognized and honoured for their participation and leadership in the march of 20 000 women from all walks of life to the Union Builldings on the 9th of August 1956 to protest against the pass laws. This gathering of women was unprecedented in attracting one of the largest crowds ever to gather at the Union Buildings.  The success of the demonstration challenged the stereotypes about women.We recall the words of the petition that they addressed to then Prime Minister Strydom:“We shall not rest’ until we have won for our children their fundamental rights of freedom, justice, and security”.

  • It was in pursuit of freedom, justice and equality that each one of them cut their teeth in the trade Union movement and excelled in mobilizing people to join the 1952 Defiance Campaign. 
  • While Lillian Ngoyi joined the African National Congress, Helen Joseph joined the Congress of Democrats.
  • In 1953, Lillian became the President of the ANC Women’s League and sat in the NEC, the highest decision making body of the ANC. 
  • Both of them were members and leaders of the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW), which was launched on 17 April 1954. Although the Federation acknowledged that the primary task at hand was the struggle for national liberation, it warned that the struggle would not be won without the full participation of women.
  • The Federation formulated their own Charter, which demanded paid maternity leave, childcare for working mothers, and free as well as compulsory education for all South African children.
  • Together with the ANC Women`s League, the Federation organised scores of demonstrations outside government offices in South African towns. 
  • The first national protest took place on October 27, 1955, when 2,000 women of all races marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, planning to meet with the Cabinet ministers responsible for the administration of apartheid laws.
  • Less than a year later on 9th August 1956 they struck a blow to the apartheid government, when 20000 women marched and said no to the pass laws.
  • Both Helen Joseph and Lillian Ngoyi suffered greatly for their actions. They were banned and their movements restricted to certain municipalities.  Helen Joseph also became the first person in October 1962 to be placed under house arrest under the Sabotage Act. Like Helen, Lillian Ngoyi’s movements were also restricted; as she was banned until the day she passed on. Today her family believes she has been liberated and freed from bondage through our freedom and democracy.

Today we remember the words of these women.
We remember the words of Helen Joseph who declared:
“I OPENED THE ROAD FOR YOU, YOU MUST GO FORWARD” Today these words have even more meaning as each generation builds on the achievements of the previous one.


But let us also not forget that these women were not alone in their actions.


Only yesterday I addressed the Dulcie September Memorial Lecture at the University of the Western Cape and an honoured guest at this event was Sophie de Bruyn, one of the leaders of the 1956 march.


Let us also pay tribute to Rahima Moosa who was also one of 4 leaders of the 1956 march. History books tell us that she was pregnant at the time and it must have taken great courage for her to decide to take part in this march. We also pay tribute to her courageous leadership and contribution to the struggle for celebration. Next year we shall also declare the grave of Rahima Moosa a National Monument.


I am glad that today the families of these heroines could join us today as we pay tribute to their loved ones. We thank them for allowing these women to be part of our struggles and for the personal sacrifices they made to ensure our freedom.

In consultation with our government SAHRA has developed a five year plan starting from my Ministerial announcement in June 2009 of our intention to declare the gravesites and will culminate in the centenary celebrations of Women’s struggles in 2013/14 financial Year.

In this way we shall continue to honour the forgotten and unsung heroines of the liberation struggle and the struggle for women’s emancipation.

Today we have traveled so much further on this journey that began at the beginning of the last century and took us through the popular struggles of the 1950s into the1980s and 1990s until the present.

Through the decades women have made great strides and helped to lay the foundations for our democracy. Let us remain true to the struggles of the women.

Let us pledge that we too “We shall not rest’ until we have won for our children their fundamental rights of freedom, justice, and security”. While we have won these rights, we need to do more to ensure the full realization of freedom, justice and security.Malibongwe!!!I thank you.