60 years of women’s activism in South Africa: from the 1956 Women’s March to #RememberKhwezi

Women stand in small groups, sometimes even alone, silently holding placards: “REJECT SLUMS, SQUATTERS, GROUP AREAS BILLS” and “RELEASE OR CHARGE ALL DETAINEES”. People pass and stare, sometimes yelling angrily, or spit on them, or even driving up on the pavement to try and run them over. It’s the 1950s. The South African government is pushing one law after another through Parliament (more than 25 in that decade alone), with the aim of expanding the reach of white supremacy into every aspect of the lives of South Africans.

Four women stand in front of a room of the country’s most powerful people, silently holding pieces of paper which read “#1in3” and “Remember Khwezi”. People stare, and eventually the women are shoved out the door. It is 2016. The results of South Africa’s local elections are being announced to South Africa and the political elite, and four black women remind us that despite numerous allegations of sexual violence against him, our President has managed to dodge conviction while one of his accusers has to go into exile.

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Say No, Black Woman, Say No – Gcina Mhlope

One of my favourite poems to emerge from women’s resistance to apartheid.

 

Say No – by Gcina Mhlope

Say No, Black Woman
Say No
When they call your jobless son a tsotsi
Say No

Say No, Black Woman
Say No
When they call your husband at the age of 60 
a boy
Say No

Say No, Black Woman
Say No
When they rape your daughter in detention and call her
a whore
Say No

Say No, Black Woman
Say No
When they call your white sister
a madam
Say No

Say No, Black Woman
Say No
When they call your white brother
a Baas
Say No

Say No, Black Woman
Say No
When they call a trade unionist
a terrorist
Say No

Say No, Black Woman
Say No
When they give you a back seat
in liberation wagon
Say No
Yes Black Woman
a Big No

 

Taken from Women Speak: Reflections on Our Struggles, 1982-1997, edited by Shamim Meer, p. 44