The march was also an act of defiance against the patriarchal, apartheid-state criminalisation of millions of black South African women who were required to produce passes before entering a white group area.
It is salutary to take stock of the progress that has been made in the lives of women, particularly black women, six decades after that historic event.
They continue to bear a disproportionate burden of poverty, inequality, unemployment and gender-based violence. This sad state of affairs was conveniently overlooked by most commentators.
There was much euphoria when after his release in February 1990, Mandela categorically stated that white monopoly of political power must be ended and that the country needed a fundamental restructuring of the political and economic system to address the inequalities of apartheid and create a genuine democratic state.
Subsequent events proved that the statement was mere rhetoric.
Soon after that, Mandela was holding secret meetings with Harry Oppenheimer and white captains of industry. The upshot was that the ANC abandoned its ideas of socialism and adopted a neo-liberal economic model which many believe was not the correct model for South Africa.
Not surprisingly, the new order that Mandela brought did not change the economic arrangements in the country.
It ushered in prosperity, but that prosperity was skewed in favour of white establishments and the emerging black elite. It is primarily because of this skewed distribution of wealth 25 years after the end of apartheid that a vocal segment of black South Africans believe that Mandela sold out the liberation Struggle to white interests.
This group believes that South Africa is managed by the ANC primarily in the interests of white capital and that the settlement reached between the ANC and the apartheid government is a fraud perpetrated on the poor.
The upshot is that the workers, and the needy, eke out a living in poorly serviced townships, in urban shack settlements and remote rural areas. Excluded, marginalised and unemployed, they are disillusioned with our so-called freedom.
While middle-class women struggle for better representation in senior management and in the country’s boardrooms, the rights of poor and rural women are being eroded.
They live under conditions akin to a dictatorship. Their rights and privileges can only be exercised with the consent of chiefs. It is a new form of apartheid.
South Africa may be a democracy, but women in rural areas are still living under a feudal system in which patriarchy reigns supreme. And the government, instead of aiding the weak, is siding with the poor.
Lilian Ngoyi must be turning in her grave.