‘Ayanda, it’s time to go!’ Ayanda’s mother called her from the kitchen. ‘We don’t want to be late.’
‘I’m coming,’ replied Ayanda, as she carefully put on her shoes. Although a size too big, these were Ayanda’s special shoes. With a purple butterfly imprinted on the top of each shoe, Ayanda imagined she had wings on her feet. As though she could fly.
‘It’s going to be a long walk,’ said Ayanda’s mother. ‘Are you sure you are comfortable in those shoes?’
‘Yes, Umama (mother),’ replied Ayanda, with a big smile. ‘Today is an important day and I want to wear my special shoes.’ Ayanda took her mother’s hand and together they walked out onto the street.
When they eventually arrived in the centre of the city of Durban, Ayanda couldn’t believe her eyes. More than 500 women were gathered together. Many of them were interlocking arms. Some of them were holding signs. Ayanda and her mother quickly joined the crowd. Someone handed Ayanda’s mother a sign to hold.
‘It says, “RIGHTS FOR ALL!”’ Ayanda told her mother excitedly.
Her mother nodded. ‘That is why we are here,’ she said.
At that time, the laws of South Africa separated people according to the colour of their skin. Your skin colour determined where you lived, which school you could attend, what job you could have, and how easily you could travel. The darker your skin colour, the less freedom and opportunities you had.
Because of their dark skin colour, Ayanda and her mother – like the other 500 women who were marching – could not travel freely inside South Africa. Whenever they needed to travel, even within their own city, they had to apply for a ‘pass’. But it could take months before a pass was given, and it was often received much too late for the reason it was needed. Today, the women and girls were marching to abolish the ‘pass’.
They marched through the city streets and made their way to the government offices. As soon as they arrived at the government building a sudden hush fell over them. In complete silence they all sat down. Ayanda looked around her in awe. She noticed that hundreds of people had come to see what was happening. Although curious, they too were silent.
Eventually, a government official came outside. ‘Why have you come?’ he asked.
‘What do you want?’ he said impatiently.
The silence continued. Ayanda looked down at the purple butterflies on her shoes. ‘If only I were a butterfly,’ she thought to herself, ‘it would not matter what the colour of my skin was. I would be free to fly wherever I wished.’
Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the sound of a loud and strong voice: ‘We have come to ask for our freedom to travel.’
Ayanda looked up and saw that it was Bertha who had broken the silence.
Bertha was a young woman who had worked very hard to finish her schooling and then train as a teacher. Bertha believed that everyone should be given the same opportunities in life, no matter the colour of their skin. It was because of Bertha’s efforts, together with those of a few other women, that they had all come to march today.
Bertha believed that the way to reach equality and justice was through the use of words and by consulting. Ayanda remembered once hearing Bertha say, ‘Talk, just talk! Talk again until things come out right.’
Using her clear voice, Bertha described the injustices that the women were experiencing. She spoke with courage and determination. The government official listened carefully. When she finished, there was a long silence. Finally the government official nodded his head and agreed that the women no longer needed to use the ‘pass’.
Ayanda felt her heart soar! ‘It’s not my shoes that have set me free,’ she thought to herself. ‘Bertha’s courageous voice has let me fly.’
Did You Know?
- Bertha was one of South Africa’s first black women to have her own business.
- Bertha was arrested and imprisoned twice for speaking out for the rights of black women. This never stopped her from using her voice to promote equality.
- Although the ‘pass’ was later brought back again, it was finally abolished in 1986.