Today marks 62 years since about 20 000 South African women from all backgrounds and races marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against apartheid pass laws. National Women’s Day is time, especially, to commemorate and honour the courageous women who took a brave stance against the ruthless apartheid regime’s unjust laws.
This year’s Women’s Day coincides with the centenary commemoration of the births of former President Nelson Mandela and Ms Albertina Sisulu.
A remarkable and fierce leader, MaSisulu was one of the organisers of the 1956 march, playing a pivotal role in planning the logistics involved in helping women bypass police roadblocks set up to prevent large groups from travelling to Pretoria.
She was arrested under the General Law Amendment Act in 1963 and was kept in solitary confinement for nearly two months. MaSisulu was again detained and put in solitary confinement in 1981 and later in 1985. Banning orders and house arrest followed the prison confinement.
MaSisulu became known as the “Mother of the Nation” for the grace and strength with which she dedicated her life to the struggle for human rights.
On this day, Parliament’s National Assembly Speaker Ms Baleka Mbete and National Council of Provinces Chairperson Ms Thandi Modise salute the women of 1956 for their courage and resilience. Their resolve and unwavering commitment towards ensuring a free and just South Africa for all women is exemplary. Parliament also honours South African, whose struggle for justice, equality, fairness and an end to the ills facing society must continue until women are completely free and patriarchy, in all its manifestations, is uprooted.
As we mark this year’s Women’s Day, crime against women in South Africa continues to be a cancer that filters through society. Statistics South Africa’s 2016/17 Victims of Crime report says that 250 out of every 100 000 women were victims of sexual offences. South African Police Service crime statistics for 2016/17 also show that 80% of the reported sexual offences were rape.
These figures are among the highest in the world, hence women across the length and breadth of South Africa are rising against this scourge, such as on 1 August when women took to the streets in a National Shutdown March to protest against the high rates of femicide and gender-based violence in South Africa. While Parliament has passed a number of pieces of legislation since 1994 aimed at advancing the rights of women, much more needs to be done to eliminate vestiges of patriarchal gender relations in this country. South Africa can never claim freedom if more than half of her population bear the brunt of economic and social marginalisation, gender-based violence, humiliation, deprivation and discrimination.
As South Africans observe this day, the Presiding Officers of Parliament’s thoughts and sympathies are once again with the families and friends of all the victims of sexual and gender-based violence. Heartfelt condolences are also extended to the family and friends of the late Khensani Maseko, whose young and promising life was brought to an abrupt end in a heart-breaking manner that shook the nation. The Presiding Officers condemn this endemic social ill of violence against women and urge South Africans, particularly men, to actively join the movement for the eradication of this scourge plaguing our nation. There must be no hiding place for perpetrators of all forms of crime against women in our society. Parliament will continue to intensify its interventions under its constitutional powers, including holding authorities whose statutory responsibility is to eliminate such criminality from our society, accountable in relation to how they fulfill their role.
We salute the women of South Africa on this important day.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Republic of South Africa: The Parliament.