In August 2020, South African women celebrated their 65th Women’s Month. The 30-day event originally celebrated for one day on August 9, 2020, commemorates the 1956 march of approximately 20,000 women who protested against the newly enacted laws. These laws required black, South Africans to carry an internal passport and they are part of the legacy of Women’s Month in South Africa.
The legislation, known as the Population Registration Act, perpetuated apartheid by controlling urbanization and maintaining population segregation. Girls and women across the country came together in Pretoria, non-violently congregating in its Union buildings for 30 minutes of silent protest. They also brought a petition against the law, which included 100,000 signatures. This powerful display of strength and unity continues to inspire South African women. Here are a few highlights from this year’s Women’s Month in South Africa.
“This is Gold” Awareness Campaign
Several South African gold producers, including AngloGold Ashanti and Sibanye-Stillwater, used Women’s Month to pivot attention to the key role women play in the mining industry. Specifically, they called for an end to gender-based violence and sexism. The lockdowns caused by the spread of COVID-19 have increased violence against women, an issue already prevalent in South Africa. For instance, sexual assault increased by 10% in 2019 alone and national femicide rates ranked five times the world’s average.
The gold-mining companies sought to help alleviate these issues by appointing more women to higher job positions. Also by demanding accountability from male leadership in their treatment of women and establishing a Women in Mining forum. This forum’s purpose would be to encourage interested women to join the industry. Lastly, these companies called on their stakeholders to use their funds to take action against gender-based violence by reporting these incidents.
Girls Skate South Africa
The organization Girls Skate South Africa hosted an event in Johannesburg, one of the nation’s largest cities. More than 30 girls attended, engaging in activities such as skating and skateboarding at Tighy Park. Because skating is typically considered a masculine sport, Girls Skate South Africa aimed to acknowledge skating’s growing popularity among girls. In this way, they aim to break gender norms by organizing a girls’ skating day during Women’s Month.
Nubian Music Festival
Bonang Matheba, a premier South African television personality, partnered with the Nubian Music Festival to host a virtual concert for Women’s Month. Hosted by Matheba, the event featured a group of talented female performers in the country, including jazz singer Judith Sephuma and singer Lady Zamar. The show was broadcasted live from Sun City — a city within Matheba’s home province — and fans could stream it online. Mpho Mathope, the founder of the Nubian Music Festival, praised the event for promoting social unity to a broad audience during the COVID-19 pandemic.
All-Female Shakespeare Festival
James Ncgobo, the artistic director of the famous Market Theatre in Johannesburg, enacted an all-female theater event. He noted that COVID-19 did not stifle theater, but simply adjusted it. He chose to highlight speeches by Shakespeare originally meant for male actors but called upon women to perform them. The 44-year-old theater, with more than 300 awards, is famous for producing work that centralizes African voices. This recent production was dubbed “Chilling with the Bard,” and is available on YouTube.
In 1956, thousands of South African women rallied against an unjust law, armed with staggering amounts of signatures and sheer will. Decades later, women in the nation continue to channel their strength, talent and resilience to honor Women’s Month in South Africa and the legacy of generations past.
– Faven Woldetatyos