First women’s march 108 years ago today


August is an appropriate month for us to commemorate female heroes from Afrikaner history, because in this month, 108 years ago, Afrikaner women led the very first women’s march in South Africa.

9 August is South Africa’s National Women’s Day and it commemorates the national march of women on this day in 1956 (67 years ago) to object to passport legislation. But this was not the first women’s march in South Africa.

The first women’s march took place on August 4, 1915. Hendrina (Drienie) Joubert, the 84-year-old widow of the ZAR’s commanding general, Piet Joubert, led this women’s protest march to the Union Building. She was one of many women who were outraged by the Rebel leaders’ punishment. When your parents say that you are a rebel, it is certainly not a compliment, so let’s first refresh the memory on why we speak respectfully of the 1914 rebels.

The Rebellion of 1914 was an uprising against the government’s decision to fight on Britain’s side against Germany in the First World War, and to invade German South West Africa (today known as Namibia). The rebels were not prepared to fight with the British just 12 years after the Anglo-Boer War ended in 1902, nor to fight against Germany, which had been kind to the Boer Republics during the Anglo-Boer War. It was certainly a very complex chapter in our history.

The wounds caused by the British concentration camps and scorched earth policy were still raw, and many Afrikaners had good friends and close family in Germany. The Rebel leaders, such as Christiaan De Wet, Manie Maritz and Jan Kemp, as well as their supporters actively revolted against the government’s troops.

The government declared martial law to suppress the Rebellion and with much more military resources at their disposal they were able to achieve this after four months. After this outcome, the government wanted to punish the rebels for treason. One Rebel leader, Jopie Fourie, was executed, while about 5,000 rebels were fined and sentenced to prison.

Drienie Joubert and between 3,000 and 6,000 Afrikaner women took part in the first women’s march on 4 August 1915. They represented more than 65,000 women from all over the country who wanted to put pressure on the government to release convicted rebels. The group of women handed over a petition to the government to ask that De Wet be released, and that the other rebels who were sentenced be granted amnesty.

Unfortunately, the government did not give in to the women’s requests, but that does not mean that the march was unsuccessful. Among the successes were:

  • a stronger national feeling among the Afrikaners
  • a source of courage and inspiration for future events
  • the awakening of the Afrikaner woman as a politically active figure

Today we can look back with pride and look up to African women who have done heroic deeds. If we look at the passage of time as a relay race, we can say that we will proudly take the baton from these women and in our unique challenges will also strive to preserve and promote a sense of nation among Afrikaners.