Where is the Lillian Ngoyi in You?

Where is the Lillian Ngoyi in You?

A Woman's Day message from Lebo Ramafoko ,CEO Soul City
Where is the Lillian Ngoyi in You?

The 9th August marks a significant event in the history of the struggle for liberation in South Africa. It marks the day when thousands of South African women, took over the streets of Pretoria in 1956 and marched on the Union Building to protest against pass laws. They stood in silence for thirty minutes outside the Union Buildings and left petitions for J.G. Strydom that contained signatures of more than 1000 000 women. The march was led by Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa, Sophie Williams and Frances Baard.

This march has historical significance because it is one event in our history that challenges the notion that a woman’s place is in the kitchen. It marks the women breaking with tradition, to claim the streets and make their voices heard. It is also significant because it demonstrates the power of mobilising, of ordinary people from all walks of life confronted with an evil or a circumstance they want to change, coming together to effect that change.

It is more than 50 years since the historic march of 9 August 1956. South Africa has been a democratic state for almost 20 years. Many more women have risen in various areas of our nation and are showing remarkable leadership, resilience and strength. We can honestly say that the sacrifices of giants like Mme Lillian Ngoyi, Rahima Moosa. Sophie Williams, Helen Joseph and Frances Baard were not in vain. But if we only stopped here we would be dishonest.

More than 50 years since the march and 20 years into our democracy, women are still the worst affected by the burden of illnesses such HIV. Intimate Partner Violence, Rape, Child Abuse statistics are some of the highest in the world and the recent unemployment figures showed that women are more than 30 times affected by unemployment and poverty. These are our mothers, our sisters, our children.

The question is what would have Lillian Ngoyi have done? What would Rahima Moosa say about the plight of women 20 years into our democracy? It is easy to point fingers and say who has not done what and in fact it can be justified because we have not been effective as a country in dealing with some of the issues facing women and just living our value of a non-sexist society. But pointing fingers will not only be futile, it will be contrary to what the women of 1956 demonstrated to us.

So my question is. what have you learnt from Lillian Ngoyi and the 20 000 women of 1956? I ask this question because they set the example for all of us! Where is the Lillian Ngoyi in you?

Why, when we are confronted by so many issues facing women is the day marked by shops selling make up and perfume, single women tour concerts? Why have the celebrations become so devoid of historical meaning? Why, when the march included women of all races, do we have events that deal with issues facing women only in black townships while the rest of the sisterhood sees it as just another holiday? Why will some young women spend the day in shebeen and taverns?

I do not have the answers to the questions I ask. But I hope that in asking these questions we can start a dialogue that helps us reflect on our role as citizens in the fight against all forms of discrimination against women. As you celebrate women’s day, it is my hope that you use the opportunity to discuss with your friends and family members what you can do as a citizen, to live the values that the women of 1956 taught us.

Lebo Ramafoko
CEO Soul City Institute

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