NEVER have we seen, at least in recent history, South African females channelling the spirit of the women in 1956 as they did yesterday with the Shutdown marches that took place throughout the country.
A noble initiative organised by ordinary women, that charged females in South Africa to shut down the country by staying away from work to march against women abuse that the country has disgustingly and embarrassingly gotten use to.
“…Only to have one of the female march marshals to say ‘Leave her, let’s go comrade’ and for the life of me I couldn’t fathom what she said….”
Whether you were in Bloemfontein, Port Elizabeth, Nelspruit or even Maseru in Lesotho- all women were invited to join this historic and important occasion. The marches were delivering 24 demands to the government, including President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Thousands of women were part of the procession in Pretoria, which Palesa Makua was part of. It had women gather at the old Putco depot, where they walked to the Union Buildings to leave their demands at the President’s office. Makua caught up with the march in town. “The atmosphere was so intense…heavy…somewhat triggering. Not merely the physical presence but also the virtual world made sure that we knew we were not the only one,” says Makua.
“I also imagined how the older generation eyabo Mama Lilian Ngoyi and her likes felt when they marched. Even though it was for a different cause but still, the fact that women stood together side by side was absolutely moving and heartfelt.”
There was adequate police presence that helped regulate traffic. But at the arrival to the Union Buildings, a scuffle broke out between police and women protesters. Protesters refused to hand over a memorandum to Minister Naledi Pandor on behalf of the government and demanded President Cyril Ramaphosa personally receive their demands.
Makua, who is also the founder of the Her Skin Speaks exhibitions, was disheartened by the inhumane act or lack of sympathy, by some of the women marching. En route to the Union Buildings, the marching females came across a woman from Venda who was robbed. “She was promised a job interview, only for it to be a scam. She had nothing but her qualifications with her.”
The traumatised lady was crying hysterically as Makua and her friend walked past her, then approached to find out what happened. “Only to have one of the female march marshals to say ‘Leave her, let’s go comrades’ and for the life of me I couldn’t fathom what she said. I mean, we are claiming to march for women who are victims and here is one, a practical example and we’re told ‘move along comrades’ I was so livid and sad. My friend gave her money to get home and we caught up with the march.” Makua says.
“To me, that showed just how much middle class these marches have become. Ignoring the primary women who are actual victims. Even the language we use to communicate our cries, does not accommodate women and children in the townships who had no idea what actually happened today.” Among those in attendance in Pretoria, was the mother of Thembisele Yende who was murdered at Eskom in 2017.
There were schisms days prior to the march between #Totalshutdown organisers and the ANC Women’s League Young desk. The Total Shut Down march organisers made it a prerequisite for women to be draped in black with a touch of red, to which if not heeded, you wouldn’t be able to be part of the march. The ANC women’s league young desk had apparently also planned a march for August first. The ruling party then proposed the idea to march together with the momentum-gaining Total shutdown, but instead they would wear ANC doeks with all black attire. That didn’t go well with the Shutdown group, as they are an apolitical movement that had strict rules against party regalia. Also, the Total Shutdown made it clear that no men should be part of this march, which the ANCWL also disagreed with.
The ANCWL march took place in Joburg, where ladies and some gents met at Constitutional Hill and marched to the Luthuli House in the CBD and also where a moment of silence was observed.
It’s rather disappointingly childish that one, who endorses the same policies you do, is barred from marching together with you merely because they are wearing different colours. Imagine Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates supporters, arguing about team colours on a march to the Premier Soccer League offices about how the league isn’t commemorating victims of the Ellis Park massacre.
A woman, who said she was ANC’s provincial secretary of the Women’s League in KwaZulu-Natal, was marching together with the Total Shutdown women in Durban. Speaking to the eNCA’s Dasen Thathiah, she said “Yesterday we spoke to them telling them, that this is a united march against gender based violence. [They] said no political regalia is allowed, but we told them that people are from different wards and different branches, some came with their regalia on.”
The sisters of Zolile Khumalo, the Mangosuthu University Of Technology student who was allegedly murdered by her boyfriend a few months ago, were also present in Durban to support the purposeful march.
Makua says another friend of hers, who was in Joburg was prevented from getting on one of the buses that picked people up from their various stations, to the meeting point. “…Just because she wasn’t dressed in black…what the hell is that?”
Except those little big things, Makua believes the march served its purpose. “I actually hope it did. Although we were marching, there were cases of some of the women we marched with, one car got broken into and another stolen. This to me, means even when we are trying to communicate with the male figure, they are still not interested.”