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RResilience and peaceful resistance are just some of the ways in which South African women have fought against apartheid. Before the idea of a rainbow nation was even conceived, women across races came together in various organisations to further strengthen the fight against apartheid.
The history is vast, and one of the first woman-led protests took place when Charlotte Maxeke led the protest against passes in 1930 where women burnt passes in front of the municipal offices in the then Orange Free State (now Free State Province). The passes were designed to reinforce segregation and dictate where a black person could be at a certain time. Maxeke was also at the forefront of creating the African National Congress Women’s League in 1931.
One of the most pivotal moments in the history of South Africa took place in 1950 when women from all races gathered to protest the Urban Areas Act of 1950. The protest proved that it was possible to unite against apartheid no matter the colour of one’s skin. The sass and bravery of the women fortified the slogan, “You strike a woman - you strike a rock”. The protest took place at the iconic Union Buildings in Arcadia, Pretoria, the site of the office seat of the local government. The Union Buildings are also an official tourism site featuring impressive buildings and a unique panoramic view of the city, affectionately known as the Jacaranda City owing to its wealth of jacaranda trees and purple landscape in spring.
AApartheid’s weaponry extended to weakening black communities by establishing government-sponsored beer halls, and politician and activist Dorothy Nyembe led a series of protests in 1959, lasting four years, mainly in the then Natal province (now KwaZulu-Natal). Her leadership in the movement led to her arrest in 1963. Resistance to the apartheid government in unity resulted in women uniting and forming movements to empower women across the board, particularly the plight of black women. As a result, Gardiner Street in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal was renamed to Dorothy Nyembe Street and in Soweto, you can visit the Dorothy Nyembe Park in an area known as Mofolo North. Here you can admire unusual sculptures and figurines.
After spending time in the USA, activist Fatima Meer returned to form the Black Women’s Federation, which mainly dealt with human rights and dignity in Education, Housing, Labour, Rural Development and Detention facilities. Another important organisation that was formed was the African Self-Help Association, which still exists today and centres on training women who want to become teachers and social workers.
By 1960, these strides set by women resulted in greater economic participation, and almost 32 percent of women became active in the South African economy. By the official end of apartheid in 1994, all women were finally granted the right to vote.