On behalf of the Women`s Section of the African National Congress and in the name of the entire oppressed and struggling people of South Africa, I wish to convey our sincere appreciation and gratitude for the invitation extended to us to participate in the commemoration of this historic day. We salute this action and see it as yet another proof of the commendable work that has been done by the Special Committee against Apartheid under the able leadership of Nigeria and with the resolute support of all its member States.

Twenty-five years ago today, way out at the southern tip of the African continent, a country witnessed an activity of a very unusual type. This was in South Africa on 9 August 1956. Black women of our country had for centuries been subjected to all sorts of unimaginable degradation - lack of proper education, lack of health facilities, semi-slave labour and countless other inequities. They were suffering as part of the exploited black labour force, as impoverished mothers and, by and large, as members of an oppressed community. They were then expected to accept the extension of the pass laws to African women. The pass is a document which is intended to regulate and restrict the movement of Africans and to determine where an African can be employed, how much he can earn, where his or her children can attend school, where he should live, die and be buried, and even who his spouse should be. In short, laws that had for centuries been used to enslave our menfolk.

With the passage of time, more and more oppressive laws had been imposed on our people and the situation had deteriorated to an alarming degree.

The burden had become too heavy to bear; something had to be done and done very quickly. The Women`s Section of the ANC, in close collaboration with the Federation of South African Women, an organization which unites women of all races in South Africa, started mobilizing women throughout the country to take a bold stand. They mobilized all the women - workers, peasants and housewives of all racial groups. Their determination borne out of anger united them even more. Their resolve was firm. I quote: "We shall not rest until we have won for our children freedom, justice and security".

9 August of that year saw women of all racial groups and from all parts of the country converging on Pretoria, the citadel of racist tyranny in South Africa. More than 20,000 women of all social groups gathered in front of the Union Buildings, most of them carrying their babies on their backs. That was the beginning of what was later going to be observed in many parts of the world as South African Women`s Day, a day on which the international community rededicates itself to redoubling its efforts in support of the South African women`s struggle for liberation and fundamental human rights.

At the head of the march were Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Fatima Moosa and Sophia Williams, a team that symbolized the unity of different racial groups in the fight against oppression. They held heaps and heaps of signed petitions representing hundreds of thousands of others who could not be present. They banged on the door of the office of the then Prime Minister, Strijdom. All was quiet in the office and surroundings. The fascist State machinery had come to a halt. The petitions were left with the racist Prime Minister`s secretary. In the petition it was stated:

"We, the women of South Africa, have come here today. We represent and we speak on behalf of hundreds of thousands of women who could not be with us, but all over the country at this moment women are watching and thinking of us. Their hearts are with us.

"We are women from every part of South Africa. We are women of every race. We come from the cities and the towns, from the reserves and the villages. We come as women united in our purpose to save the African women from the degradation of passes.

"For hundreds of years, the African people have suffered under the bitterest law of all - the pass law, which has brought untold suffering to every African family.

"Raids, arrests., loss of pay, long hours at the pass office, weeks in cells awaiting trial, forced farm labour -- these are what the pass laws have brought to African men: punishment and misery, not for a crime but for the lack of a pass.

"We African women know too well the effects of this pass law on our homes, our children.

"Your Government proclaims aloud at home and abroad that the pass lams have been abolished, but we know that this is not true for our husbands, our brothers and our sons are still being arrested, thousands every day, under those pass laws. It is only the name which has changed. The reference book and the pass are one.

"In March 1952 your Minister of Native Affairs denied in Parliament that a law would be introduced which would force African women to carry passes. But in 1956 your Government is attempting to force passes upon the African women, and we are here today to protest against this insult to all women.

“We want to tell you what the pass would mean to an African woman and we want you to know that whatever you call it - a reference book or by any other disguising name - to us it is a pass. And it means just this:

  • that homes will be broken up when women are arrested under pass laws;
  • that children will be left uncared for, helpless, and mothers will be torn from their babies for failure to produce a pass;
  • that women and young girls will be exposed to humiliation and degradation at the hands of pass-searching policemen;
  • that women will lose their right to move about freely.
  • "In the name of women of South Africa we say to you, each one of us, African, European, Indian, Coloured, that we are opposed to the pass system.
  • "We voters and voteless call upon your Government not to issue passes to African women. We shall not rest until the pass laws and all forms of permits restricting our freedom have been abolished. We shall not rest until we have won for our children their fundamental rights of freedom, justice and security."

Thereafter follows the signature of Lillian Ngoyi, National President of the Women`s League of the African National Congress.

The 20,000 women waited patiently outside the Union Buildings for the return and report of their leaders. As the leaders returned and reported energetic hands were raised in the ABC salute, after which a 30-minute silence was observed, punctuated only by cries of hungry infants. A tune broke out with the singing of "Strijdom, wathint` a barazi wathint` imbogodo, uzakufa", which means: "Strijdom, you have touched the women, you have struck a rock, you have dislodged a boulder, you will die.” Indeed, within a few months of the singing of that song Strijdom died.

The impact left by that mighty demonstration was, even in the eyes of the fascist Pretoria regime, too great to be ignored. As a result, the extension of passes to African women was temporarily suspended. The impact did not end there: with the passage of time the very same babies who on that occasion had been carried and suckled by their mothers took to the streets, demonstrating against Bantu education and other oppressive laws intended to perpetuate the oppression of the blacks.

At the commemoration of South African Freedom Day, on 26 June 1959 - the last semi-legal national conference before the ANC was banned - a clarion call was issued to the members of the international community individually and collectively to isolate racist South Africa by severing political, diplomatic, cultural and military relations with it. Our leadership was under no illusion as to the temporary hardship that our people would suffer as a result of that action. Commenting on this, Chief Albert Luthuli, the then President of the ANC, stated:

"The economic boycott of South Africa will entail undoubted hardships for Africans. We do not doubt that. But if it is a method which shortens the day of bloodshed, the suffering to us will be a price we are willing to pay.”

It was clear also that the isolation of the South African regime would not of itself bring about the downfall of apartheid, but it would effectively complement the efforts towards the seizure of power made by our Teople, led by their vanguard the ANC and its sister organizations.

The ANC has always pointed a long, accusing finger at South Africa’s major trading partners which pay lip service to condemnation of the system that has been declared a crime against humanity while doing everything to buttress and perpetuate apartheid through economic, military and even nuclear collaboration. By 1977 foreign investments in racist South Africa`s economy had swelled to 21 billion rand. Its total foreign trade in the same year, excluding gold and military technology, amounted to 15 billion rand. It is therefore clear that over a period of more than two decades and in violation of repeated calls by the United Nations General Assembly, those trading partners, especially the United States of America, Britain, the Federal Republic of Germany, France and Japan, have not only bolstered the apartheid machinery but also have emboldened the Pretoria regime, thus encouraging it in its repressive and oppressive designs.

It is becoming evident that the United States has determined to give overt political support to the apartheid regime, even to the extent of attempting to change its polecat status to which the Western countries are also supposed to be committed.

In pursuance of their imperialist and short-sighted interests that negate the inalienable right of the overwhelming majority of the region, successive United States Administrations have progressively increased their collaboration with the apartheid regime.

Commenting on that backing, The New York Times of 3 March 1978 said the following:

"South Africa is the only country in the world in which men and women are systematically denied fundamental freedoms in virtually every sphere of human endeavour on the sole basis of the colour of their skin. In spite of our abhorrence of these conditions, American capital and credit have played a pivotal role in assisting the South African Government to entrench its policies of racial segregation or apartheid, the cornerstone of the ruling National Party`s philosophy for 30 years. The United States is South Africa`s largest trading partner, its largest overseas investor, and supplier of nearly one third of its overseas credits."

The Reagan Administration`s departure from the international consensus reflected in the resolutions and actions of the world community over more than 20 years signals direct complicity in the maintenance of apartheid and the isolation of the national liberation movement. Furthermore the-7 characterize the struggle of our people for political power as international terrorism. No political realist in the entire world can accept this position. But the world needs to be alarmed by President Reagan`s pronouncements, secret talks and the probable deals that have ensued.

Reagan`s pronouncements declaring apartheid South Africa an ally were warmly welcomed by the minority oppressive regime and were immediately followed by military intervention in the sovereign State of Mozambique and the stepping up of the undeclared war of aggression against the People`s Republic of Angola. The murder of South African and Namibian refugees in Matola and southern Angola, the abduction of freedom fighters and the assassination of Comrade Joe Gqabi in Zimbabwe, crimes carried out by the armed forces and murder squads of the Pretoria regime, constitute a gross violation of international law and must be condemned as racist State terrorism. We are in fact encouraged by the growing support of ever broadening sectors of the American population which, in reaction to Reagan`s pro-apartheid pronouncements and acts, are mobilizing and sharpening their active support for the authentic representatives of the African people the national liberation movement.

Our people are the poorest in that rich country and mothers have to struggle to procure school fees for the opportunity of the inferior education meted out to their children. Mothers and children experience the ravages of the pass laws and other police harassment, which lead to the imprisonment of men and women as well as the breaking up of families. Legitimate resistance leads to massacre and all the suffering and insensitive destruction of human lives which is part of the life of black women under apartheid.

All I want to say to this body is that, despite the mounting repression - the arrests, detentions and the imprisonment of hundreds of our leaders, including Dorothy Nyembe - despite the difficulties imposed on us of operating from clandestine positions and the sentencing of our Umkhonto men and women to long prison sentences and to death, the racist regime is still not able to cow our people into submission.

It is important for this audience to know that our people know that the historical responsibility of liberating South African blacks is the task of the oppressed people themselves. While we accept this responsibility, we believe that the task of dislodging racism and apartheid in South Africa is the common concern and responsibility of all freedom-loving and peace-loving people the world over, in the same way as was the task of crushing Nazi Germany.

Our people are determined, more than ever before, to resist minority rule and the South African police State. They are prepared to pursue their course until the people govern the country under the terms of the Freedom Charter, which is committed to the establishment of a democratic State that will guarantee the birthright of the African people as a whole, regardless of race, colour or creed. This is the programme of the South African people under the leadership of the African National Congress.

There is unity of action among the workers, students, women`s organizations, community leaders, churches and all the social organizations in the country. The students` resistance to oppression and to unequal educational facilities, sparked by the 16 June uprisings, has been strengthened by the workers` strikes, which have been on the increase. The activities of Umkhonto We Sizwe, the military wing of the African National Congress (ANC), have also been stepped up. In short, I can say without fear of contradiction that the struggle of the oppressed people of South Africa has reached a very high level of development and is growing by the day.

In some student publications, for example, one reads statements such as the following:

"Our message to our students, as well as to students all over the country, is: use the tools that you acquire from your university to further the struggle of our people. That means that, as students, we must identify ourselves with our community, with the people who have nothing to lose but their chains. In doing so, we must use the Freedom Charter as our guiding light and never rest until our legitimate demands have been met."

It is because of statements such as those, and actions by the oppressed peoples of South Africa, that the racist regime has resorted to so many acts of desperation, turning the country into a military police State and dishing out death sentences to our men who oppose racism and apartheid.

I want to repeat that the determination of the oppressed people of South Africa can never be smothered. In fact, the survivors of Soweto have matured and swelled the ranks of the national liberation movement people’s army, Umkhonto We Sizwe, and they are responding in a fitting manner to the reactionary violence of the Pretoria regime.

As we observe the twenty-fifth anniversary of 9 August 1956, a day set aside by the United Nations General Assembly for the observance of a Day of Solidarity with the Struggling Women of South Africa and Namibia, we look back over the 25 years we have gone through, noting with satisfaction the extent to which 9 August has gained international recognition, judging, also, from the numerous forces who have joined our ranks.

Today, more than ever before, we feel the strong bonds of the solidarity accorded us by this body of the United Nations. We feel the strong support given us by all nations gathered here, representing millions of their people in different countries. We salute those men and women whom we have never seen with our eyes, but with whom we share common problems, striving for the same objectives. Some of them are still engaged in the bitter struggle for national emancipation, while others have achieved political and national independence but still have economic and other problems, the solution of which is furthered also in an international atmosphere of peace, disarmament and co-operation.

As mothers, who bring life to this world, we feel highly concerned at the fate to which that same life is subjected: hardship and cold-blooded murder in many countries which have become hotbeds of conflict. Our duty is to protect life, because it is very valuable. For without life there can be no development in the world.

In conclusion, in our effort to make the best of this day, we salute all those women still struggling for national liberation, our comrades of SWAPO, the Palestine Liberation Organization, POLISARIO, FRETILIN and others in Asia and Latin America. We salute our comrades-in-arms in the newly liberated countries of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, and now Zimbabwe, not forgetting Belize, which is on the eve of its independence. We salute also the heroic women of Viet Nam and many other countries. We count on the unfailing support of the front-line States, with whom we continue to suffer the effects and hazards of the wrath of the South African regime. And, as we count on the commitment of the Organization of African Unity and the non-aligned countries, we look up to our friends of the socialist countries who have come a very long way with our struggle, meeting our demands and all our needs. We cannot afford to leave out the Governments of Scandinavian countries which have given continued support and aid to our people or all the sympathetic non-governmental organizations and friendly women’s movements in capitalist countries which sacrifice so much to help our struggle amidst all the economic and other problems of their countries.

Last, but by far not the least, it is in this spirit and with this emotion that we the women of South Africa on this day want to use the opportunity accorded us by this most elevated world body, to which we have come to make our voices heard far and wide to consolidate the observance of the twenty-fifth anniversary of 9 August 1956 to an extent worthy of its significance and worthy of all the pains taken in preparing for it by asking all nations assembled here to redouble their efforts in support of all the following appeals.

First, we call on this body at its forthcoming session to designate 9 August as the International Day of Solidarity with the Struggling Women in South Africa and Namibia.

Secondly, we call on the United Nations specialized agencies and non-governmental organizations, as well as Member States, to render active material support to projects initiated by the South African and Namibian women through their liberation movements, the ANC and SWAPO, in order to alleviate the plight of their women and children.

Thirdly, we call for increased financial and material support for SWAPO and the ANC in order to facilitate the acceleration of the inevitable victory of our oppressed people.

Fourthly., we call on the international community to give all-round assistance to the neighbouring States to help them to strengthen their defence capability in the face of the ever-growing aggression of the Pretoria fascist regime.

Fifthly, we call on the international community speedily to impose comprehensive and mandatory sanctions against racist South Africa., thus putting an end to the hitherto repeated abuse of the veto power by some permanent members of the Security Council.

Lastly, we call for the release of Dorothy Nyembe and all political prisoners in southern Africa.