National Women’s Day is celebrated annually on the 9th of August. On this day, South Africa commemorates the day on which 20,000 women of colour marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against amendments to the Apartheid laws.

Considered Women’s Month in South Africa, August is a time in which we commemorate the iconic South African women that fought in the struggle against Apartheid. Women’s Month is also a time where we empower, honour and celebrate the beauty and strength of South African women in our society today.

The History of National Women’s Day

On Thursday the 9th of August 1956, 20 000 women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to petition against the enforcement of black women needing to carry passes under the Apartheid pass laws.

The Pass Laws Act required people of colour to carry an identification document or ‘pass’ on them at all times. This controlled and restricted their freedom of movement under the Apartheid regime and, if unable to present a pass on request, they were refused access to what was known as whites-only areas.

The protest was organised by the anti-apartheid group, the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW), whose aim was to strengthen the voices and influence of women from all ethnicities in the movement towards a democratic society.

The protest was scheduled for a Thursday, a day on which traditionally the African domestic workers had leave from their jobs. This ensured that there would be enough multicultural women to take part and, sure enough, on the 9th of August, thousands of women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the centre of the South African government, and handed over a petition containing more than 100 000 signatures opposing the introduction of passes for African women.

During the procession of events, thousands of women stood silently outside Prime Minister J.G. Strijdom’s door for 30 minutes before singing the protest song, “Wathint’ Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo!” which translates to Now you have touched a woman, you have struck a rock.

Later, this line of the protest song was adapted to the phrase, “Now you have struck a woman, you have struck a rock”. This phrase has come to represent the courage and strength of South African women.

Some of the most revered freedom fighters and political activists that were involved in fighting for South Africa’s liberation include Fatima Meer, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Albertina Sisulu and Ruth First.


Visit the site of the historic Women’s March of 1956, the Union Buildings, as well as other points of interest in Pretoria during the Pretoria City Highlights and Attractions Tour. Contact African Travel Canvas to begin planning your vacation in Africa.

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