August in South Africa is Women’s Month. It is a time to reflect on how far the country has come in terms of equality, and how far it still has to go. Women’s Day, on 9 August, is held to commemorate the Women’s March in protest against the pass laws.
On 9 August 1956, more than 20 000 South African women of all races staged a march on the Union Buildings to protest against the proposed amendments to the Urban Areas Act of 1950, commonly referred to as the “pass laws”. The march was led by Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophia Williams.
To mark the occasion, three women from varying backgrounds speak about their lives to show their resilience: Siphiwe Mazoro from Zimbabwe; Ivy Kgowa from Tembisa; and Nelly Tshabalala from KwaZulu-Natal.
Mazoro, a hairdresser at a salon Hillbrow in downtown Johannesburg, came to South Africa in 2014 in search of greener pastures following her divorce from an abusive husband.
“I had to leave,” she said. “It was getting too dangerous for me and my children. I packed up and left my three kids with my mom and headed for South Africa to get a new lease on life.”
Mazoro had learned to work with hair as a young girl, when she did her friends’ and family’s hair. This ability has given her a means of earning a living in South Africa.
“I left school after Grade 11 and this skill is what I use to put food on my family’s table,” said Mazoro.
Mazoro wants to let women know that giving up is never the option as a mother.
“As women, we are able to handle things men could never handle. We just need to keep going over the hurdles life throws because as women and mothers it’s not about us but about the people who look at us for inspiration – our children,” she said.
She was working towards having her own salon soon, as she had a passion for hairdressing, said the Zimbabwean immigrant.
GRANT MONEY NOT ENOUGH
Kgowa, a 35-year-old from Tembisa, is originally from Bochum in Limpopo, and is a mother of two. She is interning at the Department of Education in Braamfontein, in Johannesburg.
“I am an intern here at the Department of Education and I live with my mother and kids. It is difficult having kids and not being able to support them,” she said.
“As a single mother I know the grant money does not go far and I want to do better for my children.”
Her drive comes from not wanting to depend on grants, Kgowa explained. “I want to wake up as a mother and go do well for my kids. That is my inspiration.”
Kgowa’s message to women is to not just sit and mope.
“Read more and go out in search of those opportunities that will give you a better life. We are not our circumstances.”
FROM SWEET SELLER TO TEACHER
Tshabalala left KwaZulu-Natal in 1999 and came to Johannesburg in search of a better future.
With three children to raise, she opened a public phone booth, where she also sold sweets and cigarettes.
“I had to put food on the table while also studying for my diploma in teaching. How I survived it, I don’t know,” she said.
Tshabalala was able to put her two older children through school before she became a qualified teacher, which she regards as her greatest achievement.
“If I had relied only on government help I would not be where I am today. Your circumstances should not define you. We are women; we know how to bare pain and show resilience. Happy Women’s Month,” she said.