Women’s Month ended on an emotional note when the only surviving organiser of the famous 1956 Women’s March, Sophie De Bruyn paid a symbolic visit to Bloemfontein from Friday to Saturday last week.
De Bruyn, 77, was an executive member of the Textile Workers Union in Port Elizabeth, and one of the founding members of the South African Congress of Trade Unions (Sactu). She was a full time organiser of the Coloured People’s Congress in Johannesburg.
She started her political career during her higher primary education when she started working at a textile factory during school holidays.
That was where she was chosen as a shop steward because she helped workers solve their disputes with their employers.
“I did not expect this visit to be so emotional. From the moment I landed at the airport I was taken aback by the warmth and compassion of the people of Mangaung.
On more than one occasion I had to hold back my tears,” De Bruyn said during her visit to the Waaihoek Church.
Also known as the Wesleyan Church, Waaihoek is the birthplace of the ANC in 1912. It was renovated in time for centennial celebrations held in 2012. It has since been declared a heritage site.
“The multi-cultural history of Waaihoek is not properly noted in our history books; someone must be commissioned to research and expose the beauty of this great place,” said De Bruyn.
De Bruyn encouraged Free-Staters to never let others downplay the integral part Mangaung played in bringing this truth to the world, especially the first Women’s March of 1913.
“The true history of our people is not in the history books, but recollections in the minds of elders and passionate youth, who make time to know their history.
Thank you, Mangaung, you have done us proud,” De Bruyn enthused.
“I will be back, God willing! Mangaung has crept into my heart,” De Bruyn said.
De Bruyn was scheduled to visit the grandchildren of two other organisers of the 1956 Women’s March at Heidedal Township, Clorence Ann Peters who died in 2007 and Cathrine Louw who passed on in 1968.
But she only managed to visit Peters’ family but promised to come back to visit the other family.
Peter’s granddaughter who is named after her, Annie Clorence Peters Junior (43) is one of the five grandchildren still living in the house where Peters lived while she was active in community activities in Heidedal.
The department of human settlements has said it will build a house for Peters’ grandchildren to honour the memory of their grandmother. Peters Jr said this would fulfil her grandmothers’ wish.
“She wanted to own a decent house. She fought for a better life for all, not her family only. I am happy that her dream will now come true,” Clorence said.
The Angels Foundation, a non-profit organisation in Bloemfontein, hosted De Bruyn in partnership with the ANCWL, University of the Free State, Central University of Technology, the provincial government and the Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality (MMM).
Angels Foundation’s Mark Murison acknowledged the role played by their partners during this visit.
“We want to acknowledge the office of the premier, the honourable Ace Magashule, the office of the honourable Thabo Manyoni, our patron MEC of social development Sisi Ntombela, deputy mayor Constance Rampai and the members of the community who really owned this visit from one icon in the struggle for the emancipation of our country and people,” Murison said.