As part of the Anti-Pass Campaign, on August 9, 1956, 20 000 women of all races, some with babies on their backs, from the cities and towns, from reserves and villages, took a petition addressed to South Africa's Prime Minister to the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Prime Minister Strijdom was not in. The petition demanded of him that the pass laws be abolished.
The march was organised by the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW). The organisation famously challenged the common view that a woman's place is in the kitchen arguing that a woman's place is everywhere.
The march was led by Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Albertina Sisulu and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn.
After the petition was handed over to the Prime Minster's secretary, the women sang a freedom song: Wathint` abafazi, Strijdom! Ever since then 'wathint' abafazi, wathint' imbokodo' (You Strike a Woman, You Strike a Rock) has come to represent the women's struggle in South Africa.
In commemoration of the march, South Africa has celebrated National Woman's Day on August 9 every year since 1995.
On Woman's Day in 2009 the march was reenacted to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Many of the 1956 veterans were part of the march.
Women arrive in the city and wait for the march to begin
The march under way!
Approaching the Union Buildings in Pretoria
The Union Buildings housed the office of the Prime Minister
Women gather outside the office of the Prime Minister
Women during the handing over of the petition to the office of the Prime Minister
Police presence during the march
Women sing together: Wathint' abafazi, wathint' imbokodo'!
Photographs—Baileys African History Archive