- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2006

CAPE TOWN, South Africa

Thousands of women marked the 50th anniversary of a famed anti-apartheid demonstration yesterday with celebrations that were soured by the reality that poverty, AIDS and crime have replaced political oppression as the scourge of South Africa.

Commemorations across the country honored the 20,000 women who marched on the headquarters of the white-minority government in 1956 to protest the hated pass laws that restricted the movement of non-whites under apartheid’s racial separation system.

“We regard Aug. 9 as a celebration of victory over apartheid,” said Sophia Williams de Bruyn, one of the organizers of the original march.

“It was the overwhelming spirit of Africa that cried out,” she told a crowd gathered at the Union Buildings in the capital, Pretoria.

The demonstrators 50 years ago marched to give J.G. Strijdom, prime minister then, a memorandum protesting that homes would be broken up and children left defenseless if women were arrested under the pass laws.

Their song — “Now you have touched the women, Strijdom! You have struck a rock. You have dislodged a boulder! You will be crushed” — became an anthem for women’s movements across South Africa, and the anniversary of their march is celebrated as Women’s Day.

There have been big strides for women in politics since the advent of democracy in 1994, with women serving as deputy president and as 12 of the Cabinet’s 28 members.

But economically, women still struggle.

An estimated 75 percent of black women under 30 are jobless, according to the Congress of South African Trade Unions. It says that in 2002, women held only 14 percent of top management positions in businesses, and the proportion for black women was just 2 percent.

“The fruits of our liberation have not reached many of our women,” said President Thabo Mbeki, who welcomed the marchers at the Union Buildings.

He said government would step up its efforts.

“Together as a nation, we must uphold the perspective that none of us is free unless the women of our country are free. Free from racial and gender discrimination, free from poverty, free from fear and violence,” Mr. Mbeki said.

South Africa has the world’s highest reported rates of rape and domestic violence. In 2004, there were 114 reported rapes per 100,000 people, compared with 32 rapes per 100,000 in the United States. A study last year by the Medical Research Council found that four South African women were killed per day by an intimate partner, the highest such reported figure in the world.

South African women have been hit hardest by the AIDS virus that is ravaging the country. More than 30 percent of pregnant women are infected with HIV, according to official figures. This compares with a rate of 19 percent for all adults in South Africa.

The government has been accused repeatedly of not doing enough to slow the rate of infections and provide treatment in the country with the most people afflicted with AIDS.

Adelaide Tambo, 77, widow of anti-apartheid hero Oliver Tambo, made an impassioned speech on behalf of all women of her generation, saying many are caring for their grandchildren because their children have died from AIDS.

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