On the 60th anniversary of the 1956 Women’s March, Zinzile Mavuso draws lessons from the life of one of the protest leaders, Sophia Williams-De Bruyn, following an interview with her earlier this month.

– If there is anything that ‘Aunty Sophie’s’ story symbolises, it is that women are the rocks on which South Africa’s built. This is very aptly captured in the saying that characterised the 1956 Women’s March: “Whathinta bafazi, wathinta imbhokoto” or “You strike a woman, you strike a rock”. Women played an integral part in the liberation of this country and continue to build South Africa post 1994.

– The 20 000 protesters who rallied against the introduction of passes for African women were an embodiment of courage. They teach the women of 2016 to tackle current day issues women face with assertiveness and strength.

– “Women of all races worked in unity,” says Auntie Sophie. Unity is important in tackling any issue that women face.  Auntie Sophie and fellow leaders of the march, Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph and Rahima Moosa embodied the phrase “united we can conquer, divided we fall”.

– As much as the 1956 march was characterised by strength, it was also very dignified. There was no looting, no destruction. Auntie Sophie says, “The women of 1956 showed respect for themselves. It was not part of their nature to be disrespectful.” The dignity of the 1956 march has a lesson today, not for women’s struggles particularly, but for any protest or campaign.

– It is a duty of every person to uplift women. Auntie Sophie specifically highlighted that females in power must use their position and platforms to give “voice” to women’s issues.

– Know your rights. Aunty Sophie indicated that while gender equality is entrenched in the law, many women may still be unaware of their rights. Learn about your rights and educate others.

– We must work harder to tackle the problems women face today. Aunty Sophie highlighted several: rape, HIV/ Aids and health issues, a lack of access to education, child and women trafficking, violence, drugs and teenage pregnancy.

– Men must support women’s struggles. Aunty Sophie praised the likes of OR Tambo, who she says recognised that a job given to a woman could be better done then had it been given to a man. She also gave examples of young men today who are supportive of women’s campaigns. “Solicit the help of your menfolk,” she stated, adding that there are men who have a “friendly attitude” to women’s struggles.

– Aunty Sophie’s lifelong involvement in the array of activities organised by the liberation movement shows that women must play an equal and leading role in broader societal campaigns and struggles.

– The younger generation need to pick up where the older generation has left off. Aunty Sophie says that the baton has been passed on.

– The name of women shall and must be praised: “Igama lama khosikazi malibongwe!”

* Zenzile Mavuso is part of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation’s media team. She writes in her personal capacity.




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