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City unveils monuments to SA’s struggle heroines Print E-mail
25 August 2015

The presence of Sophia de Bruyn, the last surviving leader of the historic 1956 women’s march, at the unveiling of the Democracy Monument at the Beyers Naude Square on Monday August 24 to mark the 59th anniversary of National Women’s Month, evoked memories of decades of women’s struggle for liberation.

The unveiling of the larger-than-life bronze statue of a woman demonstrator, at a venue traditionally used for protest action for over a century, was witnessed by dozens of people, including the leadership of the City of Johannesburg and families of the 1956 struggle heroines. The statue, by sculptor Lawrence Lemaoana, is in honour of all the country’s struggle heroines and is dedicated to all women who have for decades been at the forefront of social and political change.

Titled Democracy is Dialogue, it depicts a woman protestor with a baby strapped to her back, grasping a placard in one hand and a candle in the other to light her way. The moving ceremony was combined with the unveiling of new street names in the Johannesburg city centre in honour of the four stalwarts who led the 1956 women’s march – De Bruyn, Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph and Rahima Moosa.

The newly unveiled street names are Lilian Ngoyi Street (formerly Bree Street), Rahima Moosa Street (formerly Jeppe Street), Helen Joseph Street (formerly President Street) and Sophia de Bruyn Street (formerly Noord Street).

Speaking at the unveiling of the Democracy Monument, De Bruyn, 77, said: “As the last living leader of the 1956 Women’s March to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, which saw the mobilisation of 20 000 in opposition to the pass laws, I feel I represent them and want to extend my sincere and humble thanks for being honoured and remembered.

“We’ve come a long way and the change I’ve seen in the people of this country, especially in women, gives me great joy and makes my heart swell with pride.”

Johannesburg Executive Mayor Councillor Parks Tau said the creation of new spaces for recognising and honouring those who had made significant contributions to the new society was an important step in achieving and realising an inclusive city.

“The transformation of public spaces as spaces of memory plays a vital role in transforming the identity of the city and is a physical realisation of an inclusive city. This transformation of public spaces is a form of redress and honours those who opposed a regime. Renaming the streets in celebration of these women allows us to belatedly honour these actions.

“The recent Rhodes Must Fall public monument movement served to highlight key issues in transformation and democracy, as well as in reclaiming public spaces, and demonstrates how monuments can mobilise and stir emotion. Monuments can sometimes be ignored for years but have the power to influence behaviour and move people to action,” said Mayor Tau.

On the renaming of streets after 1956 struggle women icons, the Executive Mayor said: “Previously streets were named exclusively after men. The honouring of these women by renaming streets after them guides us to transforming the identity of Johannesburg’s city centre and makes it more inclusive and representative and adds another layer in the tapestry of the city’s history.”

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Last Updated on 26 August 2015