Johannesburg honours women of 1956

JOBURG - On 9 August 1956, 20 000 women marched to the Union Buildings to deliver a petition to apartheid government Prime Minister JG Strydom.

They were demanding the scrapping of pass law, the legislation required black people to carry special identification documents which curtailed freedom of movement. The march was was led by 19-year-old Sophie Williams De Bruyn, Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph and Rahima Moosa.

On 15 August this year at Nasrec, the City of Johannesburg paid tribute to the four women by conferring them with the Freedom of The City honour. It is the highest honour in the city.

Ngoyi, Joseph and Moosa were conferred posthumously and represented by their families and friends, while the only surviving leader of the march, De Bruyn, was present.

De Bruyn said, “I salute women who contributed towards the struggle for a free and non-racial society. I’m humbled by the gesture from the city council in honouring women for the role they played. The discipline and resilience displayed by women of 1956 should inspire today’s generation to make a contribution to the country.”

Jansie Murcott, Joseph’s friend, accepted the conferment. She said Joseph would be disappointed to see that women were still oppressed in a democratic South Africa.

“Helen was a woman of integrity; she was selfless leader. She taught us to work hard. It would have pained her to see that women are still being abused and treated unjustly.”

Murcott urged the city council to improve delivery of services, education and safety. “Make education make accessible, provide study centres and build more libraries.

“Ensure that Helen’s books are available to children, and that they get to read her stories. Without the example of people like these great women, our children will not be free.”

Moosa’s daughter, Naseema Jassat, said she longed to see a united South Africa, where everyone spoke with one voice and fought for the same cause.

Ngoyi was represented by her friend, Memory Mphahlele, who challenged women to emulate the past heroines and fight against abuse.

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