Women and Apartheid by ES Reddy

We must recognise, first of all, that the black women of South Africa have not been discriminated and oppressed by black men but by the apartheid system, by the white minority in power which is poisoned by that system.

In saying this, I am in no way idolizing or glorifying tribalism and traditionalism but merely analysing the present situation.

It is not black men who deprive the black women of education, of health care and of family life. It is not the black men who confine the women to barren reserves, who cause enormous illegitimacy rates.

It is the apartheid system and not the black men who have enforced the Natal Code which treats African women as children just as women were treated in European codes some generations ago.

It is not the black men who have repressed women's movements, who have made "widows" of hundreds of thousands of women whose husbands are confined in mine compounds and so-called single men's hostels for migrant labour, or have been jailed and tortured for their opposition to apartheid.

Apartheid is an anachronistic and totally reactionary system which pervades all areas of life. The test of reaction in all societies is, indeed, the treatment of its women. Apartheid is perhaps the worst.

Under apartheid, all women are discriminated against. There is a gradation, with the white men at the top and the African women at the bottom - with the African women earning no more than 8 per cent of the wages of white men.

So the women in South Africa understand that their struggle is not against their men, who are themselves oppressed and helpless, but against the system.

It is not a women's problem but a problem of the destruction of an antediluvian and oppressive system, which regards black men as beasts of labour and black women as "superfluous appendages." It is part of a national and socio-economic revolution in southern Africa, to destroy slavery and neo-slavery, and create conditions in which human equality can be established.

Women have played an important role in all African liberation struggles, but perhaps nowhere have they played as important a role as in South Africa over the past many decades. They have fought not only because they are brutally oppressed, but for their children, for the integrity of their families.

Women have contributed scores of effective leaders of the trade union movement and the liberation movement. They have been great organisers of the people. Many of them have suffered harassment and brutal torture, but did not succumb. They have been an inspiration to their men and to their children.

Western Responsibility

There are many cases of discrimination and oppression in the world and one might wonder why the people of Montreal, of Canada and of North America should be concerned about oppression in distant lands in South Africa and Namibia.

I will try to attempt to provide a few answers.

First of all, the continent of Africa has suffered many centuries of slavery, mass killings, plunder, and humiliation largely at the hands of European and North American interests.

In our time, the African people have struggled at great sacrifice to regain their dignity and their rights.

Most of Africa has today achieved independence except for South Africa and Namibia.

The unfinished struggle today is not only for the liberation of two territories but for the emancipation of the African continent and, indeed, for burying a shameful era of world history.

Secondly, the Western countries bear a tremendous responsibility for the situation in South Africa and Namibia and therefore, for facilitating the elimination of the apartheid system without massive bloodshed and suffering.

They have been constantly reminded of this responsibility by the national liberation movement of South Africa, by the African States and by the United Nations.

I would like to express my appreciation to the Government and people of Canada for recognising the international responsibility for the situation in South Africa, and for taking a number of concrete measures.

But there is much more that Canada can do and should do both as a member of the Western community and as a nation and there is much more others can do.

Only recently, we have had disclosures that a company which is located a few miles from here on both sides of the border with the United States the Space Research Corporation has shipped tens of thousands of shells to South Africa. It had, in fact, supplied a powerful artillery system to South Africa.

The South African regime announced a few months ago that it had developed a 155 mm. artillery piece and there is no doubt that it was obtained from the Space Research Corporation. A few days ago, the South African Prime Minister announced that they have an artillery rocket system.

South Africa is not so far from Montreal!

Is there any doubt that this artillery system is intended to massacre black South Africans, to attack independent African States and even to kill helpless refugees

Yet, there is not an outcry from the outraged conscience of the people of Canada and the United States of America.

The people and nations of the world have, as a minimum, a duty to refrain from any assistance to the oppressive regime in South Africa a duty to end all military, political, economic and other collaboration with that regime. They have a duty to stop supplying murderous weapons and nuclear technology to South Africa; to stop smuggling petroleum to oil its war machine; and to impose sanctions against South Africa.

Even that minimum duty has not been discharged.

Action by Women's Organisations

As I have said, I do not regard the problem of women and children in South Africa as a matter of concern to women or women's organisations alone. But there was reason to hope that the recent rise of consciousness of women, especially in the Western countries, would help the oppressed women in southern Africa.

The World Conference of Women, held in Mexico in 1975, called for solidarity with women under apartheid. But the results have been disappointing.

The women and their organisations have not fully recognised that their own struggles for equality cannot be fully just unless they help the liberation of women in southern Africa.

At the turn of the century, the Afrikaner people of South Africa fought heroically against the British for their own freedom, but the result has been a consolidation of the freedom of whites to oppress and exploit the black majority.

The struggle of women in the West cannot be for an equal sharing with men of the benefits from the oppression and exploitation of the black people of South Africa. Let them call on their Governments to boycott South Africa let them boycott the gold and diamonds of South Africa which are produced by slave labour!

I would like to make a special appeal to women and women's organisations to consider special programmes of solidarity with the women of South Africa.

The simplest thing perhaps is to write letters and send greeting cards to women in restriction and to the dependants of prisoners who are isolated and constantly harassed. These letters and cards mean much to them.

A few days ago in Paris, I met a French woman who was imprisoned with her husband in South Africa on the charge of assisting freedom fighters. She was detained for several months, although she was pregnant, and then released, but her husband was sentenced to twelve years in prison. She was not even allowed to go to South Africa to visit her husband in prison.

In Christmas 1978, she received some 600 cards and letters mostly from Canada, because of the efforts of an organisation in Montreal and she told me how much they meant to her and to her husband in jail.

Fortunately, her husband was able to escape from prison last December with the assistance of the underground movement.

I would suggest to you to adopt and assist women in jail or restriction or women dependants or widows of prisoners, and the women's sections of liberation movements.

You can assist the liberation movement projects for refugees such as clinics and cruches. You can help meet the urgent and special needs of women and children in the refugee camps school books, footballs, sewing machines and the like.

But above all, I would appeal to you to provide all the political support needed by the women of South Africa and Namibia to destroy apartheid.

• Information supplied by ES Reddyhttps://www.anc.org.za/un/unint2.html#UNITED%20NATIONS  

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