National Women’s Day is an annual public holiday in South Africa on 9 August. This commemorates the national march of women on this day in 1956 to petition against legislation that required African persons to carry the “pass”, special identification documents which curtailed an African’s freedom of movement during the apartheid era.
On 9 August 1956, 20,000 women staged a march on the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against the proposed amendments to the Urban Areas Act (commonly known as the pass laws) of 1950. They left bundles of petitions containing more than 100 000 signatures at prime minister J.G. Strijdom’s office doors. Outside they stood silently for 30 minutes, many with their children on their backs. Those who were working for Whites as nannies were carrying their white charges with them. The women sang a protest song that was composed in honour of the occasion: Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo!(Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock.). In the 54 years since, the phrase (or its latest incarnation: “you strike a woman, you strike a rock”) has come to represent women’s courage and strength in South Africa.
The march was led by Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Albertina Sisulu and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn.
Other participants included Frances Baard, a statue of whom was unveiled by Northern Cape Premier Hazel Jenkins in Kimberley (Frances Baard District Municipality) on National Women’s Day 2009.
Since 9 August 1994, the day has been commemorated annually and is known as “Women’s Day” in South Africa. In 2006, a reenactment of the march was staged for its 50th anniversary, with many of the 1956 march veterans.