The 1950s and 1960s were a tumultuous time in South African history, marked by the rise of the apartheid regime and a growing sense of racial and ethnic segregation. At the same time, women’s identity was beginning to take shape in the country, reflecting the changing social and political landscape. This article examines how women’s identity in South Africa evolved from the 1950s to the 1970s, tracing the emergence of a distinct sense of female identity.
1950s-1960s: A Changing Landscape
The 1950s and 1960s were a period of significant change in South Africa. The National Party, led by Prime Minister Daniel Malan, was elected in 1948, bringing with it a new era of racial segregation known as apartheid. This system of racial discrimination was enforced through a series of oppressive laws that denied basic rights to non-white South Africans, including the right to vote, own land, and receive the same education and job opportunities as white South Africans.
In the 1950s and 1960s, women in South Africa were largely excluded from the political and economic process. Women were denied the right to vote, as well as access to higher education and professional positions. Women were also subject to discriminatory laws, such as the Immorality Act of 1957, which prevented interracial relationships and marriages.
Despite these restrictions, women in South Africa began to challenge the status quo and fight for greater rights. Women’s movements such as the Black Sash and the Federation of South African Women (FSAW) emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, advocating for greater rights and opportunities for women. These organizations also worked to raise awareness of the injustices faced by non-white women in South Africa, and to challenge the apartheid regime.
1970s: Women’s Identity Takes Shape
The 1970s saw a growing sense of female identity in South Africa. Women began to challenge the traditional roles assigned to them by society, and to question the oppressive laws and policies of the apartheid government. Women’s organizations such as the FSAW and the Black Sash organized protests and marches to demand greater rights for women, and to challenge the policies of the government.
The 1970s also saw the emergence of a new generation of feminist activists who were determined to challenge the status quo and fight for greater rights and opportunities for women. Women such as Winnie Mandela and Albertina Sisulu became prominent figures in the struggle against apartheid, and helped to bring attention to the injustices faced by non-white women in South Africa.
By the end of the 1970
The identity of women in South Africa from the 1950s to the 1970s has seen a range of changes. This has been largely due to the implementation of different repressive regulations and policies which occurred during the era of Apartheid. The Apartheid period not only discriminated against people of color, but also contingent upon a person’s gender. This meant that South African women faced a double burden under these oppressive laws. As a result, South African women have had to constantly establish a strong sense of identity and take part in a variety of forms of resistance in order to cope with living in a South African society that wasn’t designed to accept them.
During the 1950s, South African women were extremely limited in terms of their independent roles. Women were only allowed to establish their identities by partaking in similar activities to those of men, such as the workforce and university, when permission was granted. As the Apartheid era continued, women were not granted the same opportunities as men and were instead restricted to their homes and limited to domestic roles, such as cooking, cleaning and looking after the children while the men were out in the workforce. Women were not allowed to own land, nor was their labor counted as earnings due to the perception that women’s roles were less important than men’s in the workforce. This meant that women had to rely on their husband’s salaries in order to sustain their families.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the role of women began to change as more women actively took part in the various forms of resistance that occurred during this period. For example, the mobilization of women in the 1956 Women’s March, during the Sharpeville Massacre protests and during the 1976 Soweto uprising demonstrate that women were taking an active stand and standing up for their rights. Most famously, there was the establishment of The Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) which sought to empower African people and encourage them to take control of their own fate and destiny, and in the process, liberate themselves from the oppressive Apartheid laws.
As the struggle against Apartheid grew, South African women became increasingly visible, asserting their identity and taking part in campaigns against injustice and discrimination. This included participation in trade unions, political and social movements, civil rights struggles and mass protests. Examples of these protests include the Women’s March to the Union Buildings in 1956 to present a petition of grievances to the Prime Minister, and the formation of the Committee of Ten in the same year. The Committee of Ten consisted of ten African women from Cape Town, who collectively wrote and signed a letter to the Minister of Native Affairs outlining their grievances and demanding recognition as African citizens and equal rights.
The identity of South African women has seen a great transformation during this period and even more so over the decades following. While the repressiveness of the Apartheid period was detrimental to women’s progress, it also provided them with the opportunity to take part in various forms of civilian resistance, which helped in the establishment of a strong identity among South African women that still exists today.