In the month of August we celebrate extraordinary South African women and their achievements. No matter their race or religion, women from all walks of life have contributed hugely to South African society. Thus, in 1995, August was declared Women’s Month and August 9th was declared a national holiday.
Why August 9th?
On 9 August 1956 one of the most historic events in the struggle for freedom and women’s rights in South Africa, took place in Pretoria. It was on this day that more than 20,000 women of different races marched to the Union Buildings to deliver petitions to the then-Prime Minister, JG Strijdom, against the carrying of passes by women.
The women were led by:

  • Lilian Ngoyi – a trade unionist and political activist,
  • Helen Joseph,
  • Albertina Sisulu, and
  • Sophia Williams-De Bruyn

In South Africa today, more and more women are reaching top positions. Some have successfully reached for the stars against incredible odds. We wish to honour a few of them during this special month.

Miriam Makeba (Mama Afrika)

Zenzile Miriam Makeba was one of South Africa’s most influential singers of all time. She was also an important civil rights activist – a title which saw her exiled from her country for several years. She performed for the likes of John F. Kennedy and was admired by stars like Marlon Brando, Bette Davis, Nina Simone and Miles Davis. She won a Grammy Award in 1966 and several other awards during her lifetime.
Makeba had many great hits, but her song, “Pata Pata” is one that will undoubtedly be enjoyed by many generations to come. The song’s title “Pata Pata” means “touch touch” in the Xhosa language, in which the song was originally written and sung.

Pumeza Matshikiza

Simply known as Pumeza throughout the world, this South African operatic soprano is one of the most prominent female singers to have made it onto the world stage.
She graduated cum laude from the University of Cape Town College of Music and was awarded scholarships at the Royal College of Music and Royal Opera House in Convent Garden.
She later joined the Stuttgart Opera and has performed in world stages in renowned operas like La Boheme, De Zauberflote, Le Nozze di Fiaro, Carmen and the Minotar.

Karen Zoid

She’s most well known for being the first Afrikaans South African rock star. She’s noted as a game-changer in the South African music industry.
She’s shared the stage with international stars like John Mayer, Annie Lennox, Metallica, Simple Plan and UB40 and has won numerous awards during her career. She has become a prominent campaigner against drug abuse stemming from her youth as an addict.
Karen Zoid (Karen Louise Greeff) was born in Brussels. Her father was a diplomat to South Africa, thus she lived between Belgium and Johannesburg.
In her teens she worked as a street artist. She was signed to EMI in 2001, where she began work on her debut record Poles Apart, which was released a year later in 2002. The record was showered with accolades and won numerous awards. Both national and international press praised Zoid to the heavens, naming her “One of South Africa’s Top 100 people” and in another publication “One of South Africa’s Top 6 Rising Stars”.
Her Time magazine appearance marked her as a media figure of such weight that national press began referring to South African youth as the “Zoid Generation”.

Navanethem Pillay

This prominent South African woman has not only made her mark on the South African legal system, but also internationally. As a South African jurist, Pillay has served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
She was the first non-white female judge of the High Court of South Africa and has also served as a judge of the International Criminal Court and President of the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda.
She’s been awarded the Gruber Prize for Women’s Rights, has received five honorary degrees from international institutions and was ranked Forbes 64th most powerful woman in the world in 2009.
Judge Navi Pillay served as the fifth United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (2008-2014).

Ina Paarman

Like many South Africans, Ina Paarman’s love of cooking started with her grandmother. From a young age Paarman witnessed, sampled and enjoyed her gran’s home baked bread and other culinary creations.
She started her cooking career as Home Economics teacher in Edenvale before continuing her career in Sea Point and Wynberg. She then decided to start her own cooking school and wrote a book “Cook with Ina Paarman” for which se could not find a publisher. After taking a loan and self-publishing her book, her career took off.
She eventually established Paarman Foods and today her recipes, spices and condiments can be found throughout South African and international kitchens, while her cooking school has gone from strength to strength.

Natalie du Toit

At the age of 17, du Toit was hit by a car while riding her scooter back to school after swimming practice which led to the amputation of her leg. She started swimming again before she could walk with the intention of competing in the Commonwealth Games.
During these games, only a year after her leg was amputated; du Toit won the multi-disability 50m freestyle and the multi-disability 100m freestyle and set a world record. She also became the first athlete with a disability in history to qualify for the final of an able-bodied event.
Du Toit retired after the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games, where she won three gold and one silver medal. She was awarded an honorary MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in 2013.

Thuli Madonsela

Thuli Mandonsela has become the true icon of South African democracy – as Public Protector and South African advocate who has proven her worth.
Although the daughter of informal traders, nothing could stop her, and Thuli graduated with a BA in Law from the University of Swaziland, and LLB from the University of Witwatersrand and an LLD (honoris causa) from the University of Stellenbosch – later receiving another LLD (honoris causa) from the University of Cape Town. She helped draft the final constitution of South Africa.
She was appointed to the position of Public Protector by President Jacob Zuma but that did not deter her from investigating the presidency and other prominent politicians and businessmen for corruption and she’s taken a stand for the public in holding leaders accountable for their actions.
Presently Thuli Mandonsela, is Chair in Social Justice in the Law Faculty of Stellenbosch University.

Zola Budd

As South Africa’s favourite barefoot runner, Budd became attracted the attention of sporting enthusiasts worldwide.
In 1984, at the tender age of 17, Budd broke the women’s 5000m world record but was excluded from international competitions due to world’s boycott against apartheid. She subsequently applied for British citizenship but still received a lot of political heat after moving to the UK.
However, Budd pushed on, breaking records and winning races across the globe. She subsequently represented South Africa at the 1992 Summer Olympics, even though she’d retired from international competitions at the time.
Today she still runs, but mainly devotes her time to training young athletes.