Johannesburg - A day after surviving a no-confidence motion in Parliament President Jacob Zuma received a rousing welcome on Wednesday at the National Women’s Day commemoration event in Galeshewe, Kimberley in the Northern Cape.
Chants of "Zuma, Zuma, Zuma" rang through the massive marquee before the President took to the podium. He reminded the audience of mostly women that 9 August was an "important occasion in the calendar of our history as a nation".
Addressing the audience, Zuma said: "We remember today the strength and determination of approximately 20 000 women who marched fearlessly to the Union Buildings in Pretoria in 1956 against government’s attempt to force women to carry passes as part of influx control. Women from as far afield as Cape Town and Port Elizabeth travelled to Pretoria to make their mark in raising their voice against injustice."
"We pay a special tribute to these selfless freedom fighters for their tenacity, selflessness and foresight."
Zuma said "on this day" South Africa salutes generations of women leaders such as Charlotte Maxeke, Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa, Sophie Williams-De Bruyn, Lillian Diedericks, Dorothy Nyembe, Albertina Sisulu, Ruth Mompati, Bertha Gxowa, Sister Bernard Ncube and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
"We also pay tribute to thousands of other women, whose names we do not even know, who suffered and fought for the freedom we enjoy today. These patriots are an embodiment of 105 years of a relentless forward march to total emancipation, land rights, equality, justice and democracy."
The President said women's sacrifices "remind us that our freedom did not come about because of the generosity of any person, but through blood, sweat and tears".
He recalled how unarmed and defenceless, women challenged the might and brutality of successive oppressive regimes in order to ensure that future generations live in a free South Africa.
"Last year we unveiled statues of the women leaders of the 1956 march in Tshwane. I am pleased to announce that government will also erect a statue honouring mama Lillian Diedericks, who is one of the surviving leaders of the 1956 march," said Zuma.
"On this occasion we also pay tribute to Mama Veronica Sobukwe, the wife of the Pan Africanist Congress leader Robert Sobukwe, who celebrated her 90th birthday years a few days ago."
He said Mama Sobukwe endured years of pain and suffering during her husband’s years of struggle and detention by the apartheid regime, including after his eventual demise.
Zuma said South Africa was aptly marking National Women’s Day under the theme “The Year of OR Tambo: Women United in Moving South Africa Forward”.
"The event thus also celebrates the life of the former ANC [African National Congress] President and one of the greatest sons and leaders of our country, Oliver Reginald Tambo. He would have turned 100 years old this year had he lived."
Zuma said Tambo was a leading proponent of women's emancipation within the liberation movement.
"He consistently articulated the position that the oppression of women is linked with racial and class oppression. He urged women to be their own liberators and participate actively in the struggle against national oppression and also gender equality."
"When we look back at the road travelled in the past 23 years, we are pleased with the progress that has been made at the level of socio-economic transformation. Women are the primary beneficiaries of government’s programmes aimed at fighting poverty."
The President said basic services such as water, electricity, housing, roads, access to education and health have been extended to more communities each year since 1994, with women being key beneficiaries.
"Women experience change directly when these services are provided by government in their communities. We assure those who are still waiting that government will not rest until all communities, have water, electricity and other basic needs which improve the quality of life."
The majority of social grants beneficiaries are women and children, extending social protection to fight poverty.
He said as part of promoting radical socio-economic transformation, his government will continue to prioritise women’s access to economic opportunities and, in particular, to business financing and credit for women-owned SMMEs and cooperatives.
"Through the household food and nutrition programme run by the Department of Social Development, government supports women-owned cooperatives through buying vegetables and other foodstuffs from women."
Zuma said more than 300 million rand worth of goods such as school uniforms, nutritious food and dignity packs were procured from local cooperatives operated by women in communities in the past year.
"Such programmes change the lives of women for the better in a direct way."
The President warned women not to fall prey to human traffickers who use the internet to lure their victims. He also condemned the rampant crimes of rape, murder and abuse of women. Zuma said abusers should not be afforded the opportunity to pay their way out of trouble when they are caught..
"On behalf of government, I wish all women in our country a productive and fruitful National Women’s Day."