On this day in 1956, more than 20 000 South African women of all races marched to the Union Buildings in protest against the proposed amendments to the Urban Areas Act of 1950, commonly referred to as the “pass laws”. These women will go down in history, as females who cemented the strength of South African women in the discourse of the anti-Apartheid struggle and paved the way for future generations of female struggle stalwarts.
As a day on which we recognize the courage and strength of females of our country, today many women who effortlessly work to transform their communities very often go unnoticed.
One such woman is Jasmine Harris, a mother of three, grandmother of 14, Justice of the Peace, secretary of the Mitchells Plain United Hawkers Forum, Vice Chairperson of the CBD Sub-policing forum, and candidate ward councillor in Ward 79.
Growing up Claremont, on the land that is currently the Kingsbury hospital, Harris says that her passion to work with people, gave rise to her assisting her community
Harris says that her work within the CPF has granted her a platform to effect change within her community and that working on the ground has granted her insight to needs of her community.
In 1983, after experiencing an accident at her previous place of employment that resulted in her being unemployed, she began to trade as a hawker in Mitchell’s Plain town centre, which further entrenched her commitment to assist her community.
As one of her greatest achievements, being elected as the chairperson of the Mitchells Plain Non-Support Forum, which assists single mothers who do not receive maintenance, she says that she has been granted a purpose in life.
Harris became the chairperson of the Mitchells Plain Non-Support Forum after an altercation with magistrates that she asserts does not listen to the plea of mothers who seek non-support.
She says that her personal experience as a mother who fought for non-support has given her confidence to be the voice of all females who continue to battle the judicial system in order to provide for their children.
“For a magistrate in front of court to tell the mother of children, whom she is defending, I don’t have time for women with [small issues], what message does she send to women who struggle to get non-support?” she urged.
In order to improve the communities of the Cape Flats, she urges all mothers to acknowledge their children’s problems and work toward rehabilitating them.
“I observe mothers at court who continue to say that their children are innocent. Please do not do that since the only way you will help your children is if you acknowledge the problems that they have.”
While the Bonteheuwel area is synonymous with crime, the women within the community have come together to effect change through an initiative titled the Bonteheuwel Walking Ladies.
As the founding member of the group, Soraya Salie says that the group acts as a support base for the mothers of the community.
“For us who do not have mothers, we appreciate the elders of the community. Those are the mothers with wisdom, so we learn from them as they are the shoulder that we cry on,” Salie stated.
She says that group endeavours to increasingly empower women within the community as they are to bear the next generation.
“Most women have been abused, not necessarily physical abuse, so we are here to empower one another. With that hand of support we say that we can restore that dignity.”
As a 56 year old mother of two, Salie has battled numerous health issues, which she says she has channelled into doing positive work within her community.
“At the age of 27, I had a hysterectomy, but I was blessed with my children. But, in 2005 I was challenged with a brain tumour that required brain surgery and very soon after I had problems with my colon and for almost the entire year of 2006 I spent my time in hospital and my specialist gave up hope on me.”
Salie notes that after grappling at deaths door she realised that she was not ready to die.
“I opened the Qur’an at random and my eyes fell on the verse in Surah Yusuf that states (which may mean) do not despair, never give up hope in the soothing mercy of your lord. For whoever gives up hope, has no faith.”
Following this experience, she says that her hope was restored and that her health, thankfully, improved.
Salie further notes that her greatest achievement was teaching elderly mothers to recite the Qur’an and being nominated as a peace ambassador for South Africa as part of a delegation fighting for world peace that will be traveling to the United Nations.
She encourages all community members to be part of change and transform their communities into positive environments for the next generation.
“Let’s take back our communities and say that ‘your child is my child’. We are walking around and if we see high school children walking around in the middle of the day we will walk them back to school. Together we can make Bonteheuwel a much better Bonteheuwel,” Salie added.
Having been involved in her community for the past 18 years, Avril Abrahams has used the tragic loss of her son, who was killed as a result of gang violence in 2015, to assist mothers within her community.
Andrews, who worked closely with children plagued by drug addiction, says that she began her journey when her own child began experimenting with drugs.
“Before I started in the community, my challenge started when my nephew and son went on drugs and I started seeking help, that’s how I started getting involved.”
As the founding member of Moms Move for Justice, which is an organisation that assists mothers of gang violence victims, she says that her son’s death encouraged her to take an active role and seek justice for mothers who have lost children to the scourge of gangsterism.
“I started with one mother, who started a few years before, and we worked with other women also trying to get justice for their sons’ murders,” Andrews said.
While her son battled with his own struggles, she says that he continuously encouraged her to assist the children within her community who lay prey to gangs and drug abuse.
“He said: ‘Mommy you have been working in this community, but you do not understand the dynamic of what’s happening and the challenges that young people face and how they are forced into gangsterism and do not have any other way out.’ He then asked me not to let him down if any should happen and be the voice for other mothers.”
She adds that with the motivation of her son, she opened the Fatherhood Programme to assist young boys within the community to find direction. Andrews’s son sadly passed away very soon after the establishment of the programme.
“With the help of Parent Centre I got some young people together, not knowing that three months after that he is going to die. If I could send a message for the mothers, I would tell them that there is life after [a tragedy],” Andrews continued.
These women have proven that in the face of great hardship, women are able to achieve great success and become beacons of strength within their communities.
To every South African teenage girl who fights for her place in the world, every female graduate who fights to be recognised in the work place, every single mother who fights to give her children the best opportunities in life and to every woman who works to transform her community…we salute you.
VOC (Thakira Desai)