Today in History: 23 September

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The protest was led by Charlotte Manye Maxeke, co-founder of the Bantu Women's League, the organisation that had organised the protest/Photo: sahistory.org

In 1913 Women protested against passes in the Free State

The first protest of women against them having to carry passes took place in Bloemfontein, Orange Free State (now Free State), where there was a large concentration of women working mainly as domestic workers.

The women involved were an urbanised group living in the Waaihoek Location under the control of the town council of Bloemfontein. The protest was led by Charlotte Manye Maxeke, co-founder of the Bantu Women’s League, the organisation that had organised the protest.

Two hundred angry women marched into town to see the mayor, who maintained that his hands were tied. The women then burnt their passes or tore them up, while they shouted remarks at the policemen and provoked the authorities into arresting them. Eighty women were arrested.

Unrest spread to other towns throughout the province and hundreds of women were sent to prison. Civil disobedience and demonstrations continued sporadically for several years, but ultimately, the permit requirement was withdrawn.

There is some controversy about the actual date of the protest, though all sources agree that it was in 1913. One* source mentions that on 28 May 1913 a mass meeting of women was held in Waaihoek and it was decided to adopt a passive resistance stance.

This source does not mention the date of the actual march.

**Another source gives the date of the march as July 1913, which is in conflict with the date in SAHO’s chronology, but seems to fit in if we assume that the protest was organised on 28 May 1913.

Source: sahistory.org

Compiled By: REFILWE GAESWE