The Women’s Living Heritage Monument (WLHM) is the first institution in the world devoted to the women’s role in the history of the struggle for liberation in Southern Africa and Africa.
As part of its commitment to heritage in the country, the WLHM has ensured that the history of the site on which the new monument was built is preserved through an external ‘Memory Walk’ on the public square on the outside of the monument.
Twenty heritage plaques track the history of the square, beginning from Market Square, through its transformation into Strijdom Square in honour of South African Prime Minister of JG Strijdom to its renaming to Lilian Ngoyi Square, in honour of one of the four leaders of the 1956 march of 20 000 women to the Union Buildings.
Visually driven through photos that show the square’s changes over time, the ‘Memory Walk’ takes visitors through the sweeping changes in the square and in South Africa, changes that span over 100 hundred years of events, personalities and growth of the city of Pretoria from a one church town into the metropolitan city it is today.
The Women’s Living Heritage Monument, unveiled by President Jacob Zuma on Women’s Day 9 August 2016, commemorates the story of women’s contribution to the liberation struggle and features four statues of the heroic stalwarts, Lillian Ngoyi, Sophia Williams-de Bruyn, Helen Joseph and RahimaMoosa.
The four women led a peaceful protest march to the Union Buildings in 1956, with thousands of women from all parts of the country. The women delivered a petition to the then Prime Minister, JG Strijdom, against carrying a pass book, referred to as a dom pass in Afrikaans, meaning “dumb pass”. They also marched against the degradation of African women. This Women’s Day marked the 60th anniversary of the march.
The monument also includes a leadership development and training centre, and dedicated walls for murals, artworks and artefacts that tell the stories of women’s struggles throughout the South Africa’s history.
Susan Shabangu, the Minister of Women in the Presidency, said the event was an emotional reflection on what women have done to take the country from where
it was to where it is today.
“Women once more are gathered here to witness the opening of the living monument, where people can see the contribution of women across colour lines,” the minister said in her presentation.
Shabangu asked women, particularly young women, to visit the monument in order to reflect and inform their destiny, adding that “the women of the 1956 march played their role and today we have a Constitution which includes what women fought for”.
She said it is up to the young South African women of today to protect the Constitution and ensure human rights, especially women’s rights, are not violated.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, African Union Commission chairperson NkosazanaDlamini-Zuma and the last surviving march leader De Bruyn, were among those who attended the unveiling and toured the monument.”
De Bruyn said that the monument and recognition of the struggle of women during apartheid gave her great joy, particularly seeing how far women
have come in advancing their rights since 1956.
“Today when I see what they’ve achieved, they’ve achieved a lot. They can choose their own professions, they can choose anything they want to do, and I often
say to them that it’s no longer a case of the sky being the limit. But you can go beyond the sky because you can even become an astronaut.”
Also in attendance were a number of women who were part of the original 1956 march.
MitaMotlolometsi marched 60 years ago and had come to witness the unveiling of the monument.
She said the day was an emotional one for her because she had witnessed history unfold around her over the last six decades, particularly since 1994. She felt proud that she had been a small part of bringing change to the country.
However, while commending the interventions made by democracy to empower black people, Motlolometsi said that women and, especially elderly women, were not fully liberated yet.
Motlolometsi hopes there will be more efforts made by the country to unite, respect and liberate the nation’s women.