On Thursday 9 August 2018, South Africans celebrate National Women’s Day. The date commemorates 9 August 1956, when more than 50 000 women of all races marched on the Union Buildings in Pretoria in protest against the pass laws. By doing so, they risked arrest, detention and banning under apartheid law.
Organised by the Federation of South African Women and led by Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa, Albertina Sisulu and Sophia Williams de Bruyn, the march saw the women delivering a petition with more than 100 000 signatures in support of their cause to Prime Minister JG Strijdom’s office.
As they stood outside the administrative seat of government, many with young children in tow, they sang a protest song specially composed for the occasion: Wathint' abafazi, wathint' imbokodo (You strike a woman, you strike a rock). Over the years, this phrase has come to represent the courage and strength of the women of South Africa.
We asked Flowstars to share the names and deeds of women who have inspired them, and continue to inspire them every day.
“The only woman who never got sick, who made sure there was a lunchbox every day with home-baked bread covered in apricot jam she made herself, in between making beds and dropping her kids off at school. The woman who bathed my sister and me in the basin of the train compartment, so that when we disembarked we were sparkling clean and dressed in white jerseys and tartan shorts. The same woman, now 80, who still cleans her own house, still knits jerseys that I now proudly wear (but that as a child was too self-conscious to be seen wearing in public). The woman whose hand I now happily hold when we cross a street and she feels a little unsteady on her feet. The woman I proudly call my mom.” – Edwin Reichel
“For being an unwavering, principled, brave young campaigner for the right of girls everywhere to be educated and heard.” – Libby Peacock
“I acknowledge this Nobel laureate for continuing to stand up for the right of young Pakistani women to education, despite being shot and nearly losing her life for the cause.” – Christine Marot
“She is a perfect role model for young women. After surviving an attempt on her life, she is now a vehement advocate for female rights and female education.” – Riefkah Adams
“She cared so deeply about votes for women that she threw herself in front of the king’s horse and died.” – Caroline Smith
“She is the epitome of intelligence, elegance and reason, and a role model for women and girls around the world.” – Libby Peacock
“My mother, Mary Nandwa, was a single mom who raised four boys on her own. She took on the role of mother and father to us and always came to school on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. She also put all of us through school and through college. Each of us has travelled overseas to study further. I really appreciate what she did for us.” – Klaus Alusa
“I admire her because of her hauntingly beautiful music, her gentle soul and her wisdom, and for bravely standing up and being counted as part of the #MeToo movement.” – Libby Peacock
“To me she symbolises freedom. She refused to bow to the conventions of her day, yet managed to do so while radiating femininity. She did what she wanted, but with dignity and finesse, not anger. She was free.” – Sue Blaine
“Another woman who stood up for what she believed in with dignity and finesse, and with her femininity intact. I have a hot temper, so I always admire people who are able to keep their temper in check. Also, it's hard to relentlessly stand up for beliefs that go against the beliefs of those around you, those who look like you and speak like you. She did this twice, once as a white woman against apartheid, then as an ANC MP against ‘Zumanism’.” – Sue Blaine
“She continues to symbolise peace, understanding and helping others. She understood the meaning of sharing love and had great respect for humanity, regardless of someone’s background.” – John Kazembe
Elle Rose van der Burg
“My daughter is a 19-year-old transgender model, activist and musician (her artist name is Baby Caramelle) who uses various media to raise awareness of gender-based identity and empowerment issues. I am inspired daily by her courage and determination to tackle issues that many shy away from. Through her activism, which includes documentaries for i-D, Vice and MTV, and features on Carte Blanche and various talk shows, she’s giving a voice to many, but remains mindful that hers is only one lived experience.” – Edwina van der Burg
“They march to the beat of their own drums (literally). They’re unswerving in their activism in a country that treats its women abysmally, and they’re among the few Russians with the guts to stand up publicly to Vladimir Putin. They’re genuinely punk.” – Willem Steenkamp
Nice Nailantei Leng’ete
“By engaging with village elders on the subject of female genital mutilation (FGM) and explaining why young girls should not be circumcised, this 27-year-old Kenyan woman has saved an estimated 15 000 young women from the practice. As a result, these girls are attending school and have the prospect of future careers.” – Christine Marot
“The late musician spent years in exile and remained true to her African roots by devoting her time and craft to the betterment of the country’s political climate. She presented the world with an authentic African sound and helped put South Africa on the map.” – Tumelo Buthelezi
Mama Albertina Sisulu, Mama Graça Machel, Mama Winnie Mandela
“I believe these three women are iconic South Africans who have been embraced not just as political figures, but as mothers to their own children, and mother figures to many others in the country, through their work on and off the political stage during and after the struggle for liberation.” – Nosimilo Ramela
“She was a woman who became a constant source of motivation and inspiration on the need for tolerance, understanding, forgiveness and love. Her legendary quotes will continue to inspire people for generations to come.” – John Kazembe
“Because of her dignity and strength in the face of so much opposition and insult.” – Libby Peacock
“My inspiration is my aunt, who works as the sustainability manager for the Women’s Platform at the Scalabrini Centre in Cape Town. She helps migrant women and children from African countries to apply for asylum, get skills training and development, prepare their CVs, and train for the workplace. I know how much of an impact the programme she runs has on a lot of women. She should be celebrated for the work she does and the change she is implementing.” – Pakamani Nombila
“A brave and tenacious woman and a well-respected South African journalist. Ferial is someone who can write about things that sometimes go against the grain – this is content I can get behind!” – Riefkah Adams
“Phila was 23 years old when she was brutally murdered by apartheid security forces in 1988. She was a young mother and a member of Umkhonto weSizwe. She refused to give up any information, even after she was horrifically beaten and stripped naked by her attackers. She preserved her own dignity by fashioning underwear out of blue plastic bags. There is an artwork at the Constitutional Court called Blue Dress that pays tribute to her.” – Thrishni Subramoney
“Ruth First believed that in an unjust society, there could be no such thing as objective, impartial journalism. She was an activist-journalist and author who fought fiercely for the rights of workers and the oppressed. Her investigative pieces and unapologetically left-wing ideology led to her being banned, arrested, forced into exile and ultimately killed by a letter bomb. Her legacy reminds us of the importance of resisting censorship and speaking truth to power, especially when you are faced with a morally indefensible system, a notion that is as globally relevant today as it was 50 years ago.” – Christina Kennedy
“This American fencer is best known for being the first Muslim-American woman to wear a hijab while competing in sport. As someone who wears hijab, you deal with many different struggles and sometimes discrimination, too. Seeing this strong athlete breaking the mould – that a hijab is just a piece of clothing and not a symbol of ‘oppression’ – makes her an inspiration.” – Riefkah Adams