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Winnie Mandela. (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia) by .
Winnie Mandela. (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia)

Each year, South Africa – fondly known as the Rainbow Nation, honours August as Women Month. Why August? In August 1956, 20,000 women of colour marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against amendments to the Apartheid laws. Ever since, the month of August has been set aside with a special focus to empower, honour and celebrate the beauty and strength of South African women.

South Africa is a great example of a nation constantly striving for women empowerment, and achieving it! Prior to 1994, the South African Parliament had a mere 2.7 per cent representation of women. However, after two decades of taking long strides in the right direction, post the 2019 elections women ministers comprise 50 per cent of the Cabinet, women deputy ministers make up 46 per cent of the total number of deputy ministers and women voters are consistently at 55 per cent.

Here’s more about strong and determined South African women, who changed the course of history through grit and courage:

Winnie Mandela

Winnie Mandela is well-known as a South African anti-apartheid activist and politician, and also the second wife of Nelson Mandela. Post Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment in 1963 following the Rivonia Trial, she became his public face and remained so during the 27 years he spent in jail. During this period, she rose to prominence within the domestic anti-apartheid movement.

Winnie also served as a Member of Parliament from 1994 to 2003, and from 2009 until her death in April 2018. She was the deputy minister of arts and culture from 1994 to 1996.

South Africa is renowned for its rich historic fabric, and Mandela sites – chronicling his life and journey, can be found all across the Rainbow Nation. In fact, Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 18 immensely challenging years in prison, is now a World Heritage site and museum. Although from the 17th to the 20th century the island was a place of imprisonment – today it is a beacon of hope where visitors can gain some insight into the life and times of Nelson Mandela and his fellow freedom fighters.

Google offers a narrated tour – complete with a visit to Mandela’s 6.5 x 6.5-foot cell – led by Vusumsi Mcongo, an anti-apartheid activist who was imprisoned on Robben Island from 1978-1990.

Gerda Steyn

Gerda. (Photo Courtesy: Twitter) by .
Gerda. (Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

Gerda Steyn, Comrades Marathon record-breaker, is one of the most popular South African marathon and ultramarathon athletes. At the age of 29, she set the Comrades Marathon up-run record in 2019 with a mark of 5:58:53, rightfully claiming the title of the first woman under 6 hours for that race! She also won the 2019 Two Oceans Marathon, clocking in at 3:31:28.

The world’s greatest ultra-marathon, 89 kilometres long, the Comrades is a South African institution, internationally recognized for the invigorating challenge it poses and the camaraderie it fosters among its thousands of participants. Run between the capital of KwaZulu Natal, Pietermaritzburg, and the coastal city of Durban, the race alternates annually between the up run from Durban and the down run from Pietermaritzburg.

The Two Oceans Marathon is hosted in the beautiful seaside city of Cape Town, and attracts some 20,000 participants who willingly take on 56 kilometers of open road and challenging mountain climbs. An interesting feature of the route of Two Oceans Marathon is as the name indicates, it passes both oceans surrounding the South African shoreline – the Indian and Atlantic Oceans.

Zenzile Miriam Makeba (Mama Africa)

Zenzile Miriam Makeba. (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia) by .
Zenzile Miriam Makeba. (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia)

Zenzile Miriam Makeba (Mama Africa) wears many hats. She is a world-renowned South African singer, songwriter, actress, United Nations goodwill ambassador, and also a civil rights activist. Mama Africa has been associated with musical genres like Afropop, jazz, world music, and was an advocate against apartheid and white-minority government in South Africa. Among the first African musicians to receive worldwide recognition, Makeba brought African music to the Western audience, and popularised the world music and Afropop genres.

She also composed several popular songs that became anti-apartheid anthems. Upon her death, former South African President Nelson Mandela said that “her music inspired a powerful sense of hope in all of us”.

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