Address by Deputy President Jacob Zuma
on the Occasion of the Thanksgiving Service and Women's
Commemorative March to the Union Buildings, Pretoria,
31 August 2004
The First Lady, Mrs Zanele Mbeki,
The Minister in the Presidency and all Ministers and
Deputy Ministers present,
Honourable Premier of Gauteng, Mbhazima Shilowa,
Religious and community leaders,
Women of South Africa,
It is an incredible honour, for me, on behalf of President
Mbeki, the Government and the people of South Africa,
to address this historic gathering of women to the Union
Buildings today, ten years after freedom and almost
50 years since the first women's march in 1956.
That we are able to gather at the Union Buildings today
in mass celebration, rather than protest, attests to
the remarkable story of our country, our long march
from institutionalised gender and race discrimination
to a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa.
We express our gratitude and acknowledge the courage
and determination of those thousands of women who descended
onto the Union Buildings in 1956, and delivered a resounding
rejection of racism, marginalisation and gender oppression.
We owe it to this mass of women to acknowledge the
historical role women have played in the struggle for
freedom and democracy in our country. We today salute
all our mothers, Helen Joseph, Lillian Ngoyi, Sophie
de Bruyn, Dorothy Nyembe, Charlotte Maxeke, Ruth First,
Amina Cachalia, Albertina Sisulu, and thousands of others
who fought in various ways against injustice and racism.
No amount of words can fully describe the contribution
that women have made to ensure that we achieve our freedom
in this country. We all remember the mass struggles
during the late 50s when women invaded beerhalls which
were a source of social and political destabilisation.
We recall the effective women's uprisings in Zeerust
and many other activities throughout the country during
Today we also salute the participation of women in
the underground structures of the liberation movement
and in the armed struggle from the 60s onwards, defying
any possible danger.
We honour the women who suffered severe harassment
and brutality and continued the struggle while their
husbands were in jail, and became a source of strength
to all of us, such as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Albertina
Sisulu, Epainette Mbeki and a host of others. We remember
women political prisoners such as Dorothy Nyembe, Marion
Sparg, Thandi Modise and many others.
We salute the courageous spirit of women who lost their
spouses and children to the struggle such as Nontsikelelo
Biko and the wives of Matthew Goniwe, Sparrow Mkhonto,
Fort Calata, the mothers of Solomon Mahlangu, Siphiwe
Mthimkhulu, Andrew Zondo and all our cadres who fell
both in South Africa and in exile. The list is endless.
We also remember the women who died brutally in exile
such as Ruth First who was murdered through a parcel
Not to forget the suffering of thousands of women during
the state of emergency in the 80s and the state-sponsored
political violence in the townships and villages of
Women have truly earned their place in a free South
Africa as they were involved in every aspect of the
struggle. When the time came to negotiate a political
settlement and to craft a new Constitution, women again
played a prominent and invaluable role.
We salute you for your strength, dedication and courage,
and for not losing hope and faith in your country.
As we end Women's Month today, we pay homage to every
woman in South Africa, from the unsung heroines who
till the soil and toil in factories to boost our economy
and to put food on the table for their children, to
the women who are making inroads in the corporate world
and political office.
All these categories of women are opening doors and
creating better opportunities and a better future for
the girl children of our country.
We have not reached our goals regarding women's emancipation
yet, but already, our country has done well enough to
become one of the leading countries in terms of the
presence of women in senior public office.
We have seen remarkable progress in the increase in
the numbers of women in the Cabinet. Our Parliament
is headed by women, the Speaker, Chairperson of the
National Council of Provinces and the Deputy Speaker.
We also acknowledge the achievements of women in that
four out of nine Premiers are women.
However, we must emphasise that the struggle for the
emancipation of women is not about numbers or about
appointing a few women into positions of power. It is
about improving the living conditions and creating an
enabling environment for all women to advance socially,
economically and politically.
It is about ensuring that the poor and marginalised
as well as rural women are able to secure opportunities
as well as access basic social services and employment
to improve their lives, and that they live in a caring
and secure environment.
The legislative framework created since 1994 has sought
to achieve this in many ways. The cornerstone of transformation
is the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa,
Act No.103 of 1996, which provides for an environment
conducive to the empowerment of women and other previously
The Bill of Rights in the Constitution states that
everyone is equal before the law and has the right to
equal protection and benefit of the law.
Sub-section 3 states that the state may not unfairly
discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on
any grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy,
marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual
orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience,
belief, culture, language and birth.
Section 187 of Chapter 9 of the Constitution calls
for the promotion of respect for gender equality and
the protection, development and attainment of gender
equality. It establishes the Commission on Gender Equality
whose powers include the power to monitor, investigate,
research, educate, lobby, advise and report on issues
concerning gender equality.
A wide range of laws, which benefit women, have also
been passed in recent years. The Promotion of Equality
and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, 2000 gives
effect to Section 9 of the constitution, and seeks to
prevent and prohibit unfair discrimination and harassment,
and to promote equality and eliminates unfair discrimination.
The Employment Equity Act, 1998 seeks to redress the
effects of discrimination and to achieve a diverse workforce,
broadly representative of the population.
In addition, there is the Labour Relations Act, 1995,
and the Skills Development Act, 1998 which also seek
to improve the working conditions. From a safety and
security angle, the Domestic Violence Act remains a
powerful tool for providing safety for women in distress,
and of providing an avenue to abused partners to seek
Most importantly, South Africa is a signatory to the
United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all
Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw), adopted
by the United Nations in 1979.
South Africa is today no longer a place, in the words
of President Thabo Mbeki, "where to be born a woman
was to acquire the certainty that you would forever
be a minor and an object owned by another".
Compatriots, as we stand at the monument that pays
tribute to the immense contribution of women to the
struggle for freedom and democracy in our country, we
need to ensure that every month becomes women's month,
by acknowledging the role of women continuously.
In practical terms, this means we must mainstream the
agenda of improving the quality of life as well as the
position of women in all aspects of South African society.
We are today therefore saying that the march is not
over. Let us continue the march to consolidate and strengthen
democracy and to surge forward in the struggle for the
improvement of the lives of women.
As government, we pledge to play our role and to be
true to the saying that if you educate a man you educate
an individual, and when you educate a woman you educate
If you empower a woman, you empower the whole nation!
Malibongwe, Igama lamakhosikazi!
I thank you.