Struggle veteran Sophie De Bruyn with inaugural member of the African Union Youth Council Dr Shakira Choonara
South Africa

Remembering the women of fortitude

Johannesburg – During a recent event hosted by the Ahmed Kathrada and the Sophie and Henry De Bruyn Foundations, which paid tribute to women who contributed to the resistance against apartheid; human and gender rights activist Elinor Sisulu called on South Africans, the youth in particular, to know their history.

  Sophie De Bruyn, who was part of the 1956 Women’s March, also spoke at the event. The march was part of a decade of mass protest that ended in 1960 with the Sharpeville massacre.

  Struggle heroines, Helen Joseph, Lilian Ngoyi, Rahima Moosa, Vesta Smith, Mary Moodley and Albertina Sisulu were remembered at the event, which started at the Women’s Jail in Constitution Hill on 4 August.

  Sisulu pointed out that when students, during the #FeesMustFall protests called for free, decolonised  education, a clear concept of such a system was never really ironed out.

  “My understanding of a decolonised education is about knowing your history, affirming and celebrating your own heroes,” she said.

  At the occasion, two publications were also launched, one on the life of anti-apartheid activist Mary Moodley and another on Albertina Sisulu. The booklets form part of a growing list of publications produced by the Kathrada Foundation. Sisulu remarked that the two publications advanced the promotion of history, contributing to a decolonised education.

  She appealed for history to be presented to young people, in a quest to counter ‘a very toxic social media environment, in which histories are getting distorted and untested accusations thrown in the public space’.

  Sophie De Bruyn reflected on the history of Flat 13, Kholvad House in Joburg where Ahmed Kathrada took residency from 1947 to 1963, before being arrested and imprisoned. She recalled how Kholvad House became central to building non-racialism.

  De Bruyn also acknowledged the tremendous role played by Mary Moodley in organising the 1956 Women’s March.

  She said Moodley mobilised people across race, gender and class.

  However, she cautioned that the sacrifices of stalwarts such as Mary Moodley and many others continues to be taken for granted. While the Women’s March envisioned a free and non-racial SA, De Bruyn expressed disappointment at increased racial sentiments and intolerances.

  Directing her call to the country’s leaders, she urged for a deeper focus on nation building. “We are much more apart as a nation than having been brought together,” she said.

  Other speakers included environmentalist, Catherine Constantinides, of the inaugural African Union’s Youth Advisory Council Shakira Choonara, ex- activists in the #FeesMustFall movement, Fasiha Hassan and Nompendulo Mkhatshwa.   

  After the programme at Constitution Hill, the delegation moved to Avalon Cemetery for the laying of wreaths at the gravesites of Lilian Ngoyi and Helen Joseph, before proceeding to Newclare Cemetery.

  The third session saw the delegation gathering at the grave sites of Rahima Moosa, Vesta Smith and Albertina Sisulu for more reflections.

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