Women Who Democratized South Africa

3 March 2017

“Women played a critical role in democratizing our nation”. It is often overlooked that women played a very important role in the struggle against apartheid. Today when we think of the leaders of the struggle we tend to think about Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Albert Luthuli and other prominent men. It is not often that people remember to look at not only the wives of some of these men, but also other women who got deeply involved in fighting apartheid. Black women faced three forms of oppression in South Africa during apartheid – racial, social and sexual.

For this reason they had more to struggle against. Although many women helped fight for freedom during apartheid, two names stand out as heroines of the struggle, Albertina Sisulu and Helen Joseph. Albertina Sisulu, the wife of Walter Sisulu, was a political activist during apartheid that not only fought for the freedom of the people, but also for the rights of black women. In 1955 she joined the ANC Women’s League and also aided the launch of the freedom charter. Albertina Sisulu had five children and adopted her deceased sister-in-law’s two children, supporting her family on her earnings as a nurse.

She also became a major political figure in her own right getting herself arrested, banned, and imprisoned. She helped form the Federation of South African Women and became its president. On August the 9th 1956 she led huge demonstrations against the extension of the hated pass laws to women and against the introduction of the Bantu education system. Her opposition to women’s passes brought her first jail sentence in 1958 with Winnie Mandela and others female liberators.

Albertina Sisulu was arrested after Walter Sisulu went underground in 1963. Her arrestment resulted in her becoming the first female to be arrested under the General Laws Act. Her political acts frequently resulted in her being in and out of jail, but this did not put fear into her heart as she remained courageous and continued the resistance against apartheid. In 1994, she was elected to the first democratic Parliament, which she served until retiring four years later. That year she received an award from then-president Mandela.

In my opinion Albertina Sisulu can be seen as a great heroine for the Apartheid struggle as she stood up for what she believed in and broke the stereotypical view of a black women, she showed courage and bravery to lead black women, who were considered to be at the bottom of the social ladder, to approach the apartheid government and express their beliefs. Albertina Sisulu died at the age 92 in her home in Linden Johannesburg on the 2nd of June 2011. In 1987 Albertina Sisulu made the following remarks in Soweto. “Women are the people who are going to relieve us from all this oppression and depression.

The rent boycott that is happening in Soweto now is alive because of the women. It is the women who are on the street committees educating the people to stand up and protect each other. ” In my opinion this statement can be seen as a bold and powerful statement because she is implying that women are the core of society and have the power to achieve great milestones in their life if they can believe in themselves. Women of today should look to Sisulu for inspiration as she was one of the great women of south African history and should truly be remembered dearly. Helen Beatrice May Fennell was born in Sussex, England, in 1905.

She grew up in London. She graduated with a degree in English from the University of London. In 1927 She taught for three years in India, She then came to live in Durban, South Africa, 1930. she took a job with the Garment Workers Union (GWU) and came under the influence of Solly Sachs, Johanna Cornelius and Anna Scheepers. Helen was a founder member of the African National Congress (ANC)’s white ally, the Congress of Democrats (COD), and national secretary of Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) in the 1950s. In 1955, she was one of the leaders who read out the clauses of the Freedom Charter at the Congress of the People.

The Women’s March on 9 August 1956 was one of the defining moments in her political career as along with other female activist she led 20 000 women to the Union Buildings. Helen Joseph was Arrested on a charge of high treason in December 1956, and banned in 1957, Joseph Helen was constantly affiliated with the police as she was aiding black people, and she was a white women herself. She was the first person to be placed under house arrest in 1962, and she survived several assassination attempts, including bullets shot through her bedroom window late at night and a bomb wired to her front gate.

Joseph was diagnosed with cancer in 1971, and her banning orders were lifted for a short time before being reinstated for two years in 1980. Helen Joseph passed away on 25 December 1992 in Johannesburg. In my opinion Helen Joseph is truly admirable as she was able to overlook the irrational thinking of the apartheid government and see people of colour as her equals, and seek to aid them in their struggle against the apartheid regime. She aided black nti-government groups like the ANC and was able to break social barriers by, instead of just feeling bad that black people were being treated unfairly, but instead, to act on that feeling which she did with meritorious efforts. Helen Joseph was awarded the ANC’s highest award, the Isitwalandwe/Seaparankoe Medal for her devotion to the liberation struggle as a symbol of defiance, integrity and courage. Such a heroic icon should always be an inspiration to young minds of South Africa and should always be honoured and remembered as it is people like this who pave the future to brighter pastures in South Africa.

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