12/08/2016. Violet Sarah Matlou one of the women who marched to the Union Building 60 years ago sits next to Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka the Executive Director and under Secretary General in UN Women during the SAWID women’s month celebrations held at Unisa. Picture: Masi Losi

There might not be physical war in South Africa, but as long as the assaults on women’s bodies rage on the country might as well be at war, former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka says.

Speaking at Unisa yesterday to a gathering of women celebrating Women’s Month, she said violence against women had reached pandemic proportions.

“The World Health Organisation has declared it a threat to the health of nations,” she said.

Women continued to be beaten and raped in South Africa and the world.

“Extremely disturbing is the tolerance of all crimes against women,” she added.

Terms of endearment were used when a woman was killed by a partner, she noted.

“They say 'crime of passion'. What passion?” she asked.

Murder was murder, and it had to be called that if the message was to be driven home.

Mlambo-Ngcuka was the keynote speaker at the event hosted by Unisa and South African Women In Discussion, which brought together students, academics, members of the diplomatic corps and veterans of the 1956 march. Mlambo-Ngcuka is now the executive director and under-secretary-general of UN Women.

She paid tribute to the women who had participated in the Women’s March of 1956.

Some of them were at the event, among them one of the leaders of the march Sophie Williams-De Bruyn, and Thandi Mashinini and Violet Sarah Matlou.

Mlambo-Ngcuka noted the underlying strengths of the women who organised the march, saying understanding that would take the country forward.

“They had strategy, organising skills, determination and a vision.

“They knew they could not kick (then-prime minister JG) Strijdom off his seat, but they had the vision to kick-start a process which would get those results,” she said. “They also had the courage to face their husbands, most of whom had not supported the act of defiance.

“But they also had the courage to face the consequences of the brutality of the state which was at its height then,” she said.

“Let it be a lesson on the importance of women supporting each other,” she said, stressing the need for women to join hands to fight patriarchy and all other ills that affect them.

Jennifer Schreiner, from the Department of Women, said it was a pity the event was celebrated on one day only, and that people remembered the struggle of women for only a month.

She said: “It should be hashtag 365 days in which we should tell HERstory.”

It was important not to forget what women in the country’s past had gone through, but it was also important to continue speaking of their experiences.

“HERstory must also be told as it unfolds,” said Schreiner, who was representing Minister Susan Shabangu.

Mashinini asked the young not to neglect the old. She added that although she was no longer young she organised projects to assist elderly wheelchair-bound people in need.

Mlambo-Ngcuka said women were obliged to support each other through it all and unite to achieve emancipation. “There must be a place in hell for women who refuse to support others,” she said.

The Sunday Independent