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Unsung heroes of the 1956 Women’s March

Women's Month

 
Whilst South Africa’s history pages record the iconic 1956 Women’s March, which was co-ordinated by the Federation of South African Women and led by Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophie Williams–De Bruyn, they tell little of the other women who fought for women’s rights and freedom.

Vuk’uzenzele brings some of these women’s stories to light.

Rita Ndzanga

Rita dedicated her life to seeking freedom for the women of South Africa.

Born on 17 October 1933 in Mogopa, 16 km from Ventersdorp in the North West, her first job was as a secretary for the Brick and Tile Workers Union in 1995. The same year, she went to work for the Railway Workers Union with her husband, Lawrence.

The couple belonged to an underground cell and were banned in 1964. They were detained on 12 May 1969, under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act, and Rita was in prison with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Thoka Mngoma, Martha Dlamini and Joyce Sikhakane. Upon her release in 1970, she was banned for another five years.

Neither the torture of detention or the death of her husband, in detention in January 1977, deterred her continued involvement in the trade union movement.

The Federation of Transvaal Women was formed in December 1984, bringing together close to 200 women from all over Gauteng. Sister Bernard Ncube was elected as the first president of the federation, while Rita, Albertina Sisulu, Francis Baard and Maniben Sita were elected as active patrons. Helen Joseph and Madikizela-Mandela were non-active patrons.

In 1999, Rita was elected as a Member of Parliament in the National Assembly.  She served in the first, second and third democratic Parliament and was awarded the Order of Luthuli by President Mbeki in 2004.

Frances Goitsemang Baard

Frances was born on 1 October in 1909 in Kimberley, Northern Cape. She worked as a domestic servant and then as a teacher, but became militant as a result of her experiences of oppression and exploitation in South Africa.

She was actively involved in the drafting of the Freedom Charter and one of the leaders of the Women's March and, in 1956, was one of the defendants in the Treason Trial. Francis was a trade unionist, organiser for the African National Congress Women's League and a Patron of the United Democratic Front.

The Frances Baard District Municipality and Schoeman Street in Pretoria were renamed in her honour. She took her last breath on 2 June 1997.

Annie Clorence Peters

Annie was born in 1920 in Heidedal near Bloemfontein. Her political activity started when she protested against the Bantu Education System, whilst still at school.

She left school at 16 and moved with her mother to Sophiatown, where she worked as a tap-dancer whilst defying apartheid legislation and helping to mobilise women from the then Orange Free State to take part in the march.

After forced evictions in Sophiatown, Annie moved to Meadowlands. She later returned to Bloemfontein, where she worked at Oranje Mental Hospital. Annie, who passed away in 2007 at the age of 87, continued to advocate for racial freedom throughout her life.

Nosipho Dastile

Nosipho was born in 1938 in Uitenhage. After completing her education, she worked as a community activist in the area and volunteered as a teacher at the Roman Catholic Mission School. She later moved to the Little Flower Primary School, where she worked as a full-time teacher.

During the high tide of political activism in South Africa, after the institutionalisation of Apartheid, she became active in politics and was one of the founding members of the United Democratic Front in Uitenhage.

Her political activism grew and she was elected as the inaugural president of the Uitenhage Women’s Organisation. Soon after the unbanning of political parties and exiled freedom fighters constituting the liberation movement in 1990, Nosipho was elected as the chairperson of the African National Congress Women’s League for the Uitenhage region.

In 1994 she was elected as the first councillor under the banner of the new democratically constituted Uitenhage Transitional Local Council. She later left politics due to an illness but continued to volunteer as a teacher at the Ruth Dano crèche in Uitenhage. Nosipho passed away in May 2009 at the age of 71.