Johannesburg - ‘There has been massive transformation for women; during my time it was nothing like we have today. But we still have to work a little harder,” activist and women’s rights stalwart Sophia Williams-de Bruyn said on Tuesday.
The only surviving leader of the 1956 women’s march, Williams-de Bruyn was speaking to The Star at the University of Johannesburg’s official Women’s Day celebration.
“During the 1950s you had to prove your worth. Someone like Ma Lilian Ngoyi had to prove herself to sit on the highest structure of the ANC.
“This shows that women had to work that much harder. But today, women have come a long, long way to receive equal rights and have equal opportunities in spaces like the government and cabinet.
“Women still need to be assertive and outspoken and they still need to show that they can stand their own ground in the workplace. There is room for improvement,” she said.
Williams-de Bruyn said her mother’s compassion had become integral to her own nature and inspired her to become a rights activist.
“I’ve always had a compassionate nature because my mother was always so caring and compassionate. Growing up in the poverty-stricken Eastern Cape, which unfortunately still suffers from poverty, and seeing the struggles of the working class played a big role.”
She said the “big giants” of the time, such as Frances Baard and Raymond “Oom Ray” Mhlaba, also played a part in her move towards activism.
“I opened myself to good influences, which led me to wear many hats and go from one position to another.”
Williams-de Bruyn has a simple but profound message for women across the country: “To South African women, carry on the good work that you do. No matter how big or small, every contribution counts to make a difference, so keep doing it.”
Williams-de Bruyn was a founding member of the South African Congress of Trade Unions, which was the precursor to Cosatu. In 1955, she was appointed as a full-time organiser of the Coloured People’s Congress.
She is also well known for being at the forefront of the Congress of the People in Kliptown, Soweto, in 1955 when the Freedom Charter was adopted.
On August 9, 1956, Williams-de Bruyn, along with Ngoyi, Albertina Sisulu, Rahima Moosa and Helen Joseph, led the famous women’s march to the Union Buildings.
More than 20 000 women marched against the requirement for women to carry pass books as part of the apartheid pass laws.