South Africa celebrates Women's Day

Women’s Day on Saturday was marked by activities that celebrated womanhood and at the same time urged further strides in protecting and advancing women’s rights.

Women’s Day is celebrated internationally in March, but in South Africa, August 9 marks the day in 1956 when thousands of women descended on the Union Buildings in Pretoria to demand the repeal of pass laws.

A pass book or a “dompas” was a document that severely restricted black South Africans’ freedom of movement during apartheid. At first only black men had to carry passes, but in 1956 the government decided to extend it to black women.

Women’s Day events on Saturday ranged from South Africa’s “largest belly-dance show” in Cape Town, a documentary film festival by female filmmakers in Johannesburg, to a speech by President Thabo Mbeki calling on the nation to stand up against the abuse of women.

“Violence against women violates the rights and undermines the dignity of our sisters, mothers and daughters. It undermines our democratic victory,” said Mbeki at a function in Ga-Matlala, North West.

A survey released by Ipsos Markinor found that about 26% of South African women felt their personal safety had deteriorated, with women over 50 feeling the most vulnerable.

Mbeki paid tribute to murdered 27-year-old KwaZulu-Natal science student Gail Papli, saying: “As we celebrate our women on this day, we remember Gail and many others whose lives were brutally snuffed out through unacceptable criminal violence.

Papli was stabbed to death in February and her boyfriend is due in court in September to face a murder charge.

“Equally, we would like to make an earnest appeal to community structures and in particular, families, to stand up against and report incidents of women and children abuse,” Mbeki said.

He also urged the further empowerment of women, especially in the private sector.

He said South Africa was inspired by countless heroines, such as Gertrude Shope, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and, his mother, Epainette.

He about the forthcoming “War on Poverty Campaign”, to be led by Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, would help address some
of the issues women and families face, which included the increased cost of living.

Mlambo-Ngcuka, in a speech on the eve of Women’s Day, said that the women’s movement was in danger of collapse, and urged women to refocus it in line with the priorities of eradicating poverty, unemployment and under-development.

TNS Research Surveys said their research showed that gender differences had declined since 2006, but also found that women lived in slightly worse circumstances than men.

While they are less involved in the formal workplace, more women are looking for work than men, researchers found.

“They are also less involved in the formal banking sector but they do have more store cards or retail accounts.”

African National Congress president Jacob Zuma said Women’s Day should be protected against being “diluted” to suit commercial interests and should remain a political holiday.

“National Women’s Day is the celebration of the role and contribution of women to public life, in the struggle for freedom, in the building of a new non-racial and democratic South Africa and in building our future.”

Speaking at the Zuka Baloi Stadium in Welkom, Zuma said the day should be protected from being “de-politicised” of which signs were already evident.

“These [efforts] appear to be designed to turn the day into something frivolous, similar to either Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day,” Zuma said.

An event in KwaZulu-Natal was cancelled on Saturday after a strong wind blew a marquee down.

KwaZulu-Natal director general in the premier’s office Kwazi Mbanjwa said the marquee and speakers were erected for the event in Eshowe before dawn and were ready to be cleared by inspectors before it was blown down.

Five years ago Soraya Scott was paralysed from the waist down when a tent collapsed on her as she walked on to the stage to collect a Women’s Day award at the Union Buildings.

A statement from the mayor of the Zululand municipality, VZ KaMagwaza-Msibi, called on women to participate in all the municipality’s projects.

In Tshwane, Gauteng premier Mbhazima Shilowa said the province was getting more girl pupils to finish matric than before and spoke about their skill in mathematics and science.

He told the audience at the Union Buildings about the province’s plans for 20 early childhood development centres which would be children’s daycare facilities with an educational slant.

This, his spokesperson Simon Zwane explained, was in response to many women sacrificing their own work potential and staying home to help their children get a better start in education.

Meanwhile, South Africa’s Olympic athletes in Beijing, China, were treated to a Women’s Day visit by Zanele Mbeki, wife of president Thabo Mbeki. - Sapa

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