To the Transvaal Members
of the ANC Women’s League
1956 — Transvaal, South Africa
The principal and most pressing task of the Women’s League at the present moment is to mobilise all the women of South Africa to fight against the extension of the passes to African women. Hardly any other South African Law has caused so much suffering and hardship to Africans as the pass laws. Hardly any other measure has created so much suffering and racial friction and hostility between black and white. Any policeman may at any tie demand to see your pass, and failure to produce it for any reason means imprisonment or a fine. It makes it permissible to violate the sanctity and privacy of our homes. An African, sleeping peacefully in his house, may be woken up at night and asked to produce one, and failure to do so many lead to his arrest and imprisonment even though he has committed to crime whatsoever. Before an African is issued with a railway ticket, especially when travelling from one province to another, he must produce his pass to the booking clerk. No trading license may be given to an African unless his pass shows that he is lawfully resident in the area where he wants to trade. Attempts were made recently by marriage officers to refuse to solemnize African marriages unless a reference book was produced. All sorts of restrictions are imposed upon Africans under the pass laws. For example, in almost every municipal area Africans are not allowed to be in the streets after 11 p.m. unless they have a special pass from an employer. Under this system, thousands of innocent and respectable Africans are arrested, flung into kwela-kwelas, detained in jail and cruelly ill-treated.
The pass law is the basis and cornerstone of the system of oppression and exploitation in this country. It is a device to ensure cheap labour for the mines and the farms. It is a badge of slavery in terms whereof all sorts of insults and humiliations may be committed on Africans by members of the ruling class. It is because of these reasons that the Congress has always regarded the pass laws as the principal target of the struggle for freedom. It is because of these reasons that African leaders, progressives, Liberals, and even Government Commissions have repeatedly condemned the system as the source of dangerous, explosive and racial tensions. It is also because of this fact that the Congress has chosen the extension of the pass laws to African women as a major issue of national importance. The issue is perfectly clear. The government has decided that we shall carry passes. Must we accept this deception? Definitely not! To do so, would be to expose the African Women to all the evils that we have referred to above. We would lose our honour, betray our comrades at Winburg, Lichtenburg and in numerous other towns and villages throughout the country where they daughters of Africa are putting up a glorious struggle in defence of their rights. When the rights of a people are taken away from them and even liberties are being crushed, the only way that is open to them is mobilise the masses of the people affected to stand up and fight those injustices. The immediate issue facing us, therefore, is to organize all the various organisations of African women and individuals against this inhuman and wicked decision of the Government. Only direct mass action will deter the Government and stop it from proceeding with its cruel laws. It is in recognition of these women of South Africa who have launched a National Campaign against the extension of the Pass Laws numerous local and national demonstrations have already been staged with amazing success. In the face of numerous difficulties, more than 50,000 women of all races from town and village took part in these demonstrations. The remarkable successes we have gained and victories we have achieved so far, and the extent in which the women have entered the campaign, reveal that the democratic forces in this country can stop and even defeat the forces of reaction if we work hard enough. We have made an excellent start. The historic Pretoria demonstrations of October last year including 30,000 women constitute an important landmark in our struggle against injustice and will remain the source of tremendous inspiration for many years to come. [Johannes Gerhardus] STRIJDOM, STOP AND THINK FOR YOU HAVE AROUSED THE WRATH OF THE WOMEN OF SOUTH AFRICA and that wrath might put you and your evil deeds out of action sooner than you expect. In spite of the remarkable victories we have won, there are still some serious weaknesses in our movement. 50 000 women is still a very small number in a population of 12 ½ million. More women must be brought into the anti-pass movement in order that the fight should be organized and concerted. The movement against the passes is still primarily centered in the big cities and sufficient work has not been done on the country dorps, on the farms and in the reserves. In these places the organization is comparatively weak and the government has taken advantage of the situation and is busy issuing reference books. The aim is to isolate the stronger areas and thereafter to concentrate all its resources to crush opposition in the cities. We must immediately deal with this situation. I would suggest the appointment in each province of a number of full-time organisers who will visit various areas, talk to women, establish committees and bring out mass opposition to the scheme. We strongly condemn and reject the passes and we shall fight it with all the resources at our disposal to the bitter end at the same time we must, as far as possible, avoid reckless and isolated actions taken in one isolated place and without sufficient work being done and without proper co-ordination may be disastrous to the movement. IT may give the government the opportunity to concentrate all its resources in crushing resistance in that local place, in the victimization of the active fighters in that area and the crushing of resistance before it begins in other areas. We must learn to place and to co-ordinate beforehand so that we might strike fatal blows at the enemy when the time comes.
To ensure the defeat of the nationalist government we must work together for greater unity amongst the African people and the broadest possible alliance embracing the Congress movement, the non-Congressites and all those who oppose apartheid. The Manyano women, the National Council for African Women, the Mothers Welfare Organisation, religious, sporting, political and otherwise, should be invited to enter the campaign against the Nationalist government. In this way our movement will become a mighty movement for he defeat of the Nationalist government in our lifetime.
The Minister of Native Affairs has announced that African women will in future be requested to pay poll-tax. This decision has three objectives: firstly it is intended to force the African Women top ay for the cost of Apartheid. Secondly, it is intended to answer the attack on Nationalists by the United Party to the effect that the Nationalists are spending more money on Africans than the U.P. ever spend. Thirdly and most important it is an election stung on the part of the Nationalists. We will fight against this move.
We [live] in momentous times. We [live] at a time when the oppressed people all over the world are rebelling against colonialism and oppression. We are going through a period when some of these people have bravely fought and won their independence. But there are also hours of serious danger. The imperialists, reading that their days are numbered, are becoming more desperate and restless. The unlawful aggression in Egypt by the English, French and Israelite armies is an act of aggression and brings the danger of fear very close to our shores. In such dangerous times it becomes the duty of the women of our country to put the question of peace [forward]. We stand for peace in Africa and the rest of the world. We stand for disarmament and the abolition of atomic weapons; we are against military blocks and pacts. We ask the executive Committee of the Congress to demand the withdrawal of foreign troops from Egypt, and the end of military operations which seek to end the independence of Egypt. . . .
It is fitting that I should close this address by rendering our heartiest congratulations to the brave daughters of Winburg who put up such a united and gallant fight against the passes earlier this year. It is in Winburg that the passes for women were introduced. It is also in this place that direct mass action was taken for the first time against the passes for women. The whole of South Africa was impressed by the heroism of the women of Winburg. The reverses we suffered there were more than compensated by the historic Pretoria march of 20 000 women on August the 9ththis year. Strijdom! Your government now preach and practice colour discrimination. It can pass the most cruel and barbaric laws, it can deport leaders and break homes and families, but it will never stop the women of Africa in their forward march to FREEDOM DURING OUR LIFETIME.
To you daughters of Africa I say ‘MALIBONGWE IGAMA BAKAKOSIKASI MALI-BONGWE! [Praise the name of women; praise them!]
Source: Speeches that Shaped South Africa: From Malan to Malema, ed. Martha Evans, (Cape Town: Random House, 2017).