On this day in 1956, over 20,000 women of all races, ages, from every corner of South Africa marched towards the Union Buildings in Pretoria in protest against amendment to the Urban Areas Act of 1950 commonly referred to as the ‘pass laws’ which proposed further restrictions on the movement of women.

The pass laws required that South Africans defined as ‘blacks’ under The Population Registration Act carry an internal passport, known as a pass which serves to maintain population segregation, control urbanisation and manage migrant labour during the apartheid era.

The song translated “Now you have touched the women; you have struck a rock” became the official anthem of the protest. The phrase, modified in recent years is seen as a representation of the strength and courage of women in South Africa – “You strike a woman, you strike a rock.”

The march was organised by the Federation of South African Women and led by four brave women: Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophie Williams who deposited 14,000 petitions signed by women across the country, at the doors of Prime Minister JG Strijdom’s office in the Union Buildings.

After a 30-minute silence, the women erupted in a protest song “Wathint’ abafazi” specially composed for the occasion. The song which is translated “Now you have touched the women; you have struck a rock” became the official anthem of the protest. The phrase has been modified in recent years and it’s seen as a representation of the strength and courage of women in South Africa – “You strike a woman, you strike a rock.”

The first National Women’s Day was observed in 1994, while the holiday was first observed a year later in 1995. In 2006, a re-enactment of the march was staged to commemorate its 50th anniversary with many of the 1956 veterans present.

More Cream Than Coffee® wishes all South African women, especially our beautiful friends a Happy National Women’s Day celebration!

Niyi David
Author

‘Niyi David is a travel writer/photographer and Editor-in-Chief at More Cream Than Coffee. Previously, he worked at Afro Tourism West Africa Ltd as a travel writer, and was Head of Media and C.O.O. before leaving in May 2018. Prior to that he had worked as scriptwriter on some major media projects in Nigeria, such as 'Peak Talent Show' and the Ford Foundation sponsored 'Stop Impunity in Nigeria' campaign.