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Words of Wisdom
Women's Freedom Song


Now that you have touched the

women you have struck a rock,

you have dislodged a boulder,

you will be crushed

Women's Freedom Song, August, 1956

This song was sung by women during the years of women's demonstrations against laws requiring them to carry identity passes, showing where they could work and live. It came from a traditional Zulu saying.

There is a Native American tribe which has a similar saying. See if you can find information about this.

Background Information Explaining Quote

The South Africa National government, which came to power in 1948, wanted to keep its black population out of the cities. Forcing the majority of people to live in their rural "homelands" (bantustans), they passed laws that allowed blacks to come to towns only to work. To regulate the movement of blacks, they made them carry passes, which indicated where they could live and work. Those caught in areas where they did not "belong" were subject to arrest.

At first only men had to carry passes. Then the government decided that women too would have to be controlled and kept out of urban areas - unless, of course, they were maids living in the homes of the white families who employed them. The women fought against such laws, arguing that if both the husband and wife were arrested, who would be around to take care of the children?

Women present anti-pass petitions to the Prime Minister

The women's anti-pass campaign lasted for seven years. One of the most dramatic events was the August 9, 1956 demonstration when women from all over South Africa converged in the capital of Pretoria to present anti-pass petitions to the Prime Minister. Mass demonstrations such as this were forbidden, but the women came anyway - singing songs and marching to the capital buildings.

By constant arrests and intimidation, the government finally forced black women to carry the hated passes. In the early 1960s, it put a total ban on all rural women coming to urban areas.

Now the pass books are a thing of the past. Still, August is celebrated each year as women's day - in memory of the day of the 1956 mass anti-pass demonstration. At the Fourth Women's World Conference in Beijing, 1995, women from South Africa started the special entertainment program on "Africa Night" by eulogizing the women who had taken part in the August 9, 1956 event. With this tribute, they honored the history of women's resistance in South Africa.

Lyn Reese is the author of all the information on this website
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Women in World History Curriculum