A delegation from the Federation of Transvaal Women was treated to two very different receptions on Tuesday when the women tried to present memoranda to the Chamber of Mines and the British Consul-General in Johannesburg. At the chamber, the doors were shut in their faces.
At the consulate, Consul-General John Massingham held an hour-long meeting with Fedtraw leaders while other women stood outside, singing freedom songs. To mark International Women's Day, about, 200 women converged on Chamber of Mines offices, led by Fedtraw secretary, Jessie Duarte, executive member Firoza Adam, June Mlangeni and Caroline Motsoaledi, wives of Rivonia trialists serving life sentences.
Although the sliding doors were shut as they arrived, Adam and Duarte knocked incessantly until a slight opening was allowed to enable the women to throw in a few copies of a memorandum – which charged that South Africa's repressive laws were made to protect "your interests as business at the expense of human rights and democracy". The group swelled to about 500 on the way, to the office block housing the British consulate. There most of the women stayed downstairs while a small group proceeded to theconsulate offices to protest against British government silence at the South African government's "brutal repression" of women. After a brief security check, a delegation was allowed in to present its case to the consul-general.
The Fedtraw memorandum accused the British government of presenting a "false front" to the international community when working towards resolving the South African problem; charged that the country's repressive laws were passed to protect British interests in South Africa; and slammed the British government for remaining silent when 1.7 extra- parliamentary organisations were banned. Amid the strains of hummed freedom songs filtering through the consulate's closed doors, the women demanded that Massingway make clear Britain's stand in the face of the "continuing repression" in South Africa.
Massingham told the delegation if Britain were to impose sanctions against South Africa, the position of three-and-a-half-million unemployed Britons would be in jeopardy. The "temperament" of successive South African governments had showed Pretoria was not "susceptible to external pressures", and sanctions would "only make the government more stubborn, thereby aggravating the situation.
The delegation interjected when Massingham gave an account of the British government's past diplomatic gains in Third World countries. "We are not here for rhetoric," said a Fedtraw representative. "What does Thatcher say as a woman and mother about the plight of women in South Africa?". Fruitful discussions between his government and Fedtraw should be encouraged in future, he said – but Mlangeni told the diplomat dialogue should be not with Fedtraw but with the ANC. As the Fedtraw delegation left Massingham said a copy of the memorandum would be sent to the British embassy in Cape Town while another would be forwarded to his government in Britain.
This article appeared in the Weekly Mail.