All this time there was still this thing of passes for women going on, and the women still protesting. Quite soon after the Congress of the People there was a big conference of the women overseas called the Congress of Mothers. We had a conference in Port Elizabeth in solidarity with that conference, and they had one in Johannesburg too. That was in August 1955. At that conference we also endorsed the Freedom Charter. Lilian [Ngoyi] went to that conference overseas and when she came back she came to Port Elizabeth and we organized a big meeting for her to speak against the passes. You know there were maybe 6 000 people at that meeting! It was outside and Lillian stood on the back of a truck to talk to the people; we had no stage or anything.
Then in October many women in the Transvaal went to the Union Buildings to protest to Strijdom, the prime minister, that we didn't want these passes. That was a very strong protest, 2 000 women of all races at the Union Buildings. In Port Elizabeth we had a meeting of the women to support the Transvaal women in this thing.
This protest to the Union Buildings was so good that the next year the Federation decided that we should do it again but this time we would send thousands of women from all over South Africa, black and white, to tell Strijdom the same thing. So each of us in her own place had to organize the women for this protest. We only had a few months to prepare for this but we wanted to send many, many women so that Strijdom would know that we really meant what we were saying. The first thing that we did in Port Elizabeth after the decision had been made was to call a meeting of all the women. We told them what had been decided and that we are going to the Union Buildings to protest, and that we will have to work very hard to do this.
We went from branch to branch organizing the women. Florence Matomela and I used to organize together for most of the campaigns, and we worked together on this one too. She would take one section of the location, and I would take another, and we would each work in that portion.
But now the other thing was we had to raise the money to take the women to Pretoria, and so in Port Elizabeth we divided ourselves into clubs. We divided into about 10 women in one club, 10, 10, 10 and a certain club had to bring a certain amount of money. The women made tea parties, concerts and bazaars, and they sold oranges or anything, until we managed to get a lot of money for the trip. The women even said that if we had to, we would sell our furniture to get to Pretoria! But we managed to get the money without that. Then we went to the railway station and asked them how much it would cost for a whole coach to Johannesburg. It cost us I think about 700 pounds for that coach, and that would take about 70 women. But there were many women who wanted to go and so we had to vote, this one must go, and this one, and this one, until we had chosen those women who were to go from Port Elizabeth to represent us.
But before we went to Pretoria we got all the women who couldn't go to sign petitions to say that they also didn't want these passes. Every woman who was on that train took those petitions with her to give to Strijdom.
It is two days by train from Port Elizabeth to Pretoria. Two days on the train sitting in the railway carriage, singing all the way. First we went to Johannesburg and we slept the night in Soweto, and then the next day, it was August 9th, we went to Pretoria. Some took buses, some trains, some taxis, anything to get to Pretoria. Some people were volunteers who were to look after everyone and make sure that everything went smoothly. They had to see that the women got to the Union Buildings, either by bus or on foot. They told the women walking not to walk like it is a procession because otherwise the police would have stopped them before they got there. We had to walk like we were all going somewhere by ourselves, not like we were a group. Then we all walked into the yard of the Union Buildings and we waited there for all the women coming from other places: Lady Selborne, and all through the Transvaal, and through the Cape and so on. We all had those protest forms with us and there were some extra ones for those who hadn't brought them. We waited until all the women were gathered there. It was about 20 000 of us altogether!
Then we went up into the place there in front of the buildings, what they call the amphitheatre. It took a long time, maybe nearly two hours or more for all the women to walk up the steps to that place. Some of us had been chosen, Lillian, Helen, Rahima Moosa, myself and some others, eight of us, we took all those petitions that had been signed, piles and piles of them, and we marched up to Strijdom's office to give them to him. The secretary told us that Strijdom was not there and that we were not allowed in anyway because we were black and white together. They said he was not there, just like that. But we knew that he was just too scared to see us! We walked past the secretary and into his office and we put those pamphlets on his desk, and on the floor, and the room was full of them. You know, they say Strijdom never even looked at those petitions; the special branch just took them away!
Then we walked outside again and joined the other women who were waiting in the amphitheatre. All the women were quiet. 20 000 women standing there, some with their babies on their backs, and so quiet, no noise at all, just waiting. What a sight, so quiet, and so much colour, many women in green, gold and black, and the Indian women in their bright saris! Then Lillian started to speak. She told everyone that the prime minister was not there and that he was too scared to see us but that we left the petitions there for him to see. Then we stood in silence for half an hour. Everyone stood with his or her hands raised in the salute, silent-and even the babies hardly cried. For half an hour we stood there in the sun. And not a sound just the clock striking. Then Lillian started to sing and we all sang with her. I'll never forget" the song we sang then. It was a song especially written for that occasion. A woman wrote it from the Free State. It went:
'Wena Strijdom, wa'thinthabafazi, wathint'imbokotho uzokufa!' That means: 'You Strijdom, you have touched the women, you have struck against rock, you will die.' Of course he did die, not long after that.
After that protest, on the 11th and 12th of August, we had a conference of the Federation in Johannesburg, of all the women. I spoke at that conference. I talked to the women about 'Houses, security and comfort'. Verwoerd was increasing the rents in the townships around that time, he wanted to put up the rent every time a worker's wage went up a bit. The rents were already very high for people to pay. And there were not enough houses for all the people, and the houses in the townships were very small and not good. So that clause from the Charter about houses, security and comfort is a very important one. Then too, if we lived all in the same place, black and white together, not like the government wants ”” black one side, white one side, then we could all learn to understand each other and live together like the Charter says We elected Lillian as our president at that conference, and Helen was our secretary. I was elected on to the committee too.
After that we went home to our places. We had to report to our branches what had happened. Of course they had seen the newspaper stories but they wanted to hear from us what it had really been like at the Union Buildings and what we had decided and talked about at the conference. We told them that it had been a very great protest but that we still have to work very hard because we have said that we don't want these passes, (we went to the Union Buildings to endorse that) and each and every woman must now work very hard against them; we have not won the battle yet. And all the women still felt very strongly about these passes and they all wanted to get involved.
In Port Elizabeth the government brought trucks into the township to try to give passes to the women. You didn't have to take a pass yet; it was not yet law. But the government told the employers not to employ you unless you had a pass. There were lots of stories about how you had to have a pass and many women believed them even though they were not true. Lots of women were frightened that they would lose their jobs or what, and they went to get passes. The trucks came into the township to give the women their passes more easily so they didn't have to go to town to get them; they were just there and it was very easy. We would see the trucks standing in the townships giving passes to the women. Then we would go and stand next to: the truck and talk to the women who have come to collect their "passes. We would talk to them and tell them what it will be like if we take these things, and how the government wants us to take these things so they can control us more easily, and tell us where to live, and where to work, and that we can't do this and this. And we tell them that no one must take these things because it is a bad thing that the government wants to do.
But then the police started to interfere, arresting people and so forth because they did not like us stopping the women from taking passes. So we had to dodge them the whole time. I would stand on this side of the truck and talk to the women here until
I see a policeman coming towards me. Then I move away as if I am not talking to the women and I wait until he has gone to the other side to check there. Then I come back and start talking to the women again. Some women were arrested for trying to stop others taking passes, but fortunately not me.
All the women fought against those passes. I remember the women in Zeerust fought very hard too. It was that time when things" were very bad in Zeerust; there was a drought too then. The women did not want to take these passes and their chief supported them against these things. So the government took this chief out of power and put someone else to be chief there. The people did not like that at all and there was a lot of unrest there. The police were called in and they beat people up and broke into the houses to arrest people. They arrested a lot of women. Some of the women had already taken passbooks, and they burnt them all and refused to take them ever again. We; were at the treason trial at that time and they sent us a telegram in Johannesburg to tell us what they had done. We were very happy to near about that.
Of course we were not successful in that fight against passes. The government made it a law for women to carry passes even though we tried to stop them. But it took them a long time to give those things to the women because of us. In about 1958 they started giving the passes to the women in Port Elizabeth, and now it was law. Still some of the women refused to take them and went to jail instead but it was very difficult for them. But I never took a pass for a long time after that. Only after more than 10 years or something, then I had to take a pass when I was here, living in Pretoria. But none of the women wanted to take the passes - they are terrible things. You are walking in the street and then you see a policeman and he stops you and shouts, 'Waar's jou pas kaffir-meidthat is a terrible thing.
1959 was declared Anti-Pass Year by the ANC in honour of the women because we fought so bravely against the passes. They said 'Malibongwe Makosikazi!' ”” 'Let the women be - praised!'
I remember we had a big protest in Port Elizabeth a few months after the one in Pretoria. There was a curfew in the township, you must be home by a certain time, and then many meetings were banned, and the council was banishing people that they thought were causing trouble, sending them out of the township. We decided that these things were not right and we must complain. We told all the women of all the branches to come together and then we went to speak to the mayor of Port Elizabeth, maybe several hundred women. He used to listen to us very nicely you know. But then he said to us, 'Well, I have heard you, but I can't do anything about this myself, I will have to report this and then I will let you know.
And so we went on, fighting all the time that this must be made right, and the women were very strong.