A few decades ago a woman’s role in society was virtually unseen; women took a backseat and allowed men to be the captains of industries. Men made the important decisions in their homes and were literally responsible for ‘bringing home the bacon’. Women were mainly defined as the homemakers, but in the 21st Century there has been a massive shift in responsibility.
What informed this in South Africa?
It goes without saying that with the prominence of human rights and liberal ideals, the idea of the woman and her role in society has changed on a global scale.
A number of women in South Africa’s rich history have played a massive role in shaping yesteryear’s generation of leaders and galvanising their potential into what’s often seen as a display of quiet power.
On the 18th of August 1956, over 20,000 women across the colour, age and economic spectrum got together and made their way to the Union Buildings. There, they stood in silence for half an hour before delivering their petition of more than a 100,000 signatures. The women were protesting against the proposed amendments to the Urban Areas Act (also known as Pass Laws), which were meant to further segregate the country by assigning racial groups to different residential and business sectors.
The country officially started commemorating this day in 1994. The idea was to commemorate the spirit of the women who took part in the demonstration. Some of those women carried children on their backs and many put in months of planning, without giving up hope. It was ultimately these women who paved the way for so many other great female figures.
Women’s contributions to South Africa definitely go beyond the kitchen and are generally greatly received and lauded by majority of the country. A growing number of women are doing, what has traditionally seen as ‘men’s work’. Eyewitness News spoke to some of those women, about what their jobs entail.
1st call of duty – Sindiswa Sithole
Sindiswa Sithole has just had her hair done, a cute bob weave and is fully kitted in her Johannesburg Emergency Services uniform. After completing an ambulance inspection, she’s waiting for the first emergency call of the night. It’s her chance to save a life.
Sithole was inspired to become a Firefighter/Emergency Technician, after she witnessed an emergency official helping her brother, who had been involved in a car accident.
She loves working with her crew: “it was easy adjusting to working with men, they are a great team”. Sithole also hopes many more young women will answer the call to keep Johannesburg safe.
On the beat: Iris Phakathi and Thoko Ndlela
Iris Phakathi and Thoko Ndlela are Metro police inspectors in Kathlehong. The women have a shared inspiration; they both had a strong need to serve their communities and thus turned to the metro police service. Phakathi who joined ten years ago, says the absence of law enforcement officials and the alarming number of children being knocked over by motorists was her ultimate push. Ndlela who was the only female amongst 300 officers at the Boksburg Traffic Department 18 years ago, says she just wanted to try it out: “there were no females doing that job and I thought hey, let me give it a go”. Ndlela admits that she faced a lot of challenges, being picked on, having to ‘man up’ and adjusting to the policing environment.
Cruise control: Audrey Motseleng
Audrey Motseleng is popular. Whenever she walks around the constantly busy Noord Taxi Rank in the Joburg CBD, people call her name in greeting. Motseleng’s make-up is done, she’s nothing you’d expect behind the steering wheel of a taxi, yet there she is, beautiful, proud and a big part of that community. Eight years ago her uncle asked her to manage his fleet of taxis. He pointed to a vehicle, saying “your taxi is over there”. Without a second thought, Motseleng woke up at 4am the following day and started her shift. It’s a day, which she describes as a disaster: “passengers came in and weren’t pleased to find a woman in charge of their lives. Then I got lost, with a taxi full of people! I ended up being made to drop everyone off right outside their gates”. She recovered from that day and now gets a lot of calls from people surprised by her profession.
Motseleng says she’s never struggled to fit into a world dominated by men, who are often lambasted by society for their patriarchal ways. She stands up for her fellow drivers, saying they were never responsible for the actions which resulted in the miniskirt march. Motseleng says her quest is to ‘beautify the taxi industry’, but admits too many women are scared of the challenges associated with it.
The Spaza Queen - Lillian Ntoagae
If you go to any township or middle class area, you’ll most likely come across a little self-made corner shop. These become more prominent, the lower you go into the economic class system. Very often women here have little support from their partners, and with children to raise, no education and little money, the women are forced to take a quick and creative route towards changing their situation. They become entrepreneurs, opening up spaza businesses.
Ntoagae runs her little business at the Alexandra Women’s Hostel, from a chair at the entrance of the premesis. She says she decided to take on this venture after losing her job as a domestic worker when she was diagnosed with stomach cancer a few years ago. As a result she’s been able to start up another business in her home town in the North West, which allows her to buy food and pay the R27 needed to stay at the hostel. She finishes off by saying that when she has a good month, she can spoil herself with a shopping spree in the CBD.
Wathint’ Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo - You strike a woman, you strike a rock
*Images: South African History Online