History of Women in South Africa

Article via SoutAfrica.net

Resilience and peaceful resistance are just some of the ways in which South African women have fought against apartheid. Before the idea of a rainbow nation was even conceived, women across races came together in various organisations to further strengthen the fight against apartheid.

The history is vast, and one of the first woman-led protests took place when Charlotte Maxeke led the protest against passes in 1930 where women burnt passes in front of the municipal offices in the then Orange Free State (now Free State Province). The passes were designed to reinforce segregation and dictate where a black person could be at a certain time. Maxeke was also at the forefront of creating the African National Congress Women’s League in 1931.

One of the most pivotal moments in the history of South Africa took place in 1950 when women from all races gathered to protest the Urban Areas Act of 1950. The protest proved that it was possible to unite against apartheid no matter the colour of one’s skin. The sass and bravery of the women fortified the slogan, “You strike a woman - you strike a rock”.  The protest took place at the iconic Union Buildings in Arcadia, Pretoria, the site of the office seat of the local government. The Union Buildings are also an official tourism site featuring impressive buildings and a unique panoramic view of the city, affectionately known as the Jacaranda City owing to its wealth of jacaranda trees and purple landscape in spring.

After spending time in the USA, activist Fatima Meer returned to form the Black Women’s Federation, which mainly dealt with human rights and dignity in Education, Housing, Labour, Rural Development and Detention facilities. Another important organisation that was formed was the African Self-Help Association, which still exists today and centres on training women who want to become teachers and social workers. By 1960, these strides set by women resulted in greater economic participation, and almost 32 percent of women became active in the South African economy. By the official end of apartheid in 1994, all women were finally granted the right to vote.


On the ground, the struggle of women continues and the battles they have are endless - HIV/Aids, unemployment, domestic abuse, lack of service delivery, free education, rape, femicide and so much more. Despite these struggles, women are breaking barriers each day and are innovating ways to conquer oppression.

About the author Vuyo Seripe is a multi-talented writer who enjoys working with all things digital. She has written content for multiple clients who have commended her for being tenacious and creative. She started writing nine years ago under the mentorship of award-winning writer, Andrew Miller. She has since written for online publications and print publications on various topics about emerging urban cultures, social ills and the development of the digital landscape.

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