Maverick Citizen


Civil society launches #JusticeforBabita petition, reflects on 1956 Women’s March

Civil society launches #JusticeforBabita petition, reflects on 1956 Women’s March
Murdered whistle-blower Babita Deokaran. (Photo: Supplied | Image sharpened with AI)

An event to remember the 1956 Women’s March called for justice for murdered whistle-blower Babita Deokaran and focused on the need to uphold democratic values such as equality and multiracialism.

On Sunday, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation and Sophie and Henry De Bruyn Legacy Foundation held the public launch of a petition calling for action to be taken against individuals and companies identified by the Special Investigating Unit as being involved in corruption at the Gauteng Department of Health (GDoH).

The individuals and companies were part of the network flagged by whistle-blower and GDoH chief director of financial accounting Babita Deokaran, who was gunned down outside her home in August 2021.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Babita Deokaran murder trial on ice yet again as illness prolongs family’s long wait for justice

The #JusticeforBabita petition was launched during the two foundations’ annual remembrance of the leaders of the 1956 Women’s March in which more than 20,000 women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against the unjust pass laws of apartheid. The leaders included Helen Joseph, Lilian Ngoyi, Rahima Moosa and Albertina Sisulu. 

Consistently remember

The remembrance focused on the need to uphold democratic values such as equality and multiracialism.

“It is very important for us to consistently remember and call upon values that they [the 1956 Women’s March leaders] lived for,” said Sonja de Bruyn of the Sophie and Henry De Bruyn Legacy Foundation.

“Here we stand 67 years later and as a society, we reflect on whether we are continuing to live based on those values.”

She voiced the need for political parties to reflect and showcase those democratic values. On Sunday, the civil society groups visited the Avalon Cemetery in Soweto where Helen Joseph and Lilian Ngoyi share a grave.

justice babita

Representative at the annual remembrance of the 1956 Women’s March leaders on 6 August 2023. (Photo: Gaby Ndongo)

Written on the back of their tombstone are the words: “Their burial together in one grave is a colossal symbol that transcends racial segregation. It is a memorial of defiance against racial discrimination. The social cohesion they could not achieve in life, they attained in death.”

The group then went to Newclare Cemetery to visit the graves of Rahima Moosa, Albertina Sisulu and Walter Sisulu. During the walkabout at the cemeteries, the lack of maintenance was evident, and there was garbage at the Albertina Sisulu entrance of the Newclare Cemetery.

Neeshan Balton, the executive director of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, noted that the situation was worse at Avalon Cemetery because of the lack of security and the absence of a wall separating the cemetery from neighbouring infrastructure.

As the visits proceeded, representatives of the foundations reflected on some of the key issues threatening the wellbeing of women, democracy and whistle-blowers. 


De Bruyn said that women continued to face challenges in sport that prevented them from gaining recognition despite their successes. This was the case with the limited funding afforded to Banyana Banyana amid their stellar performances of the past few years, including qualifying for the Women’s World Cup.

“We know that young women of today are suffering with their own challenges, [including] the lack of access to hygiene products such as sanitary pads. We know the scourge of gender-based violence. 

“There are many issues that young women face in South Africa today and all of us have the responsibility to join together to fight against all of the difficulties that women are facing and to promote their interests in each and every sector where we find ourselves,” De Bruyn said.

Jacques Bona, the chairperson of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation’s Lehae Youth Club, said: “Let us respect, engage and love our women.”

Phula Williams, a board member at the foundation, said “The rights of women are the rights of humanity.”

Strengthening democracy

“Corruption and mismanagement in government takes away the dignity of every single person in our country; it takes away their constitutional right to healthcare, water, education and electricity,” said Zarina Motala, a community organiser at the Action for Accountability project, who encouraged participants to emulate the 1956 Women’s March leaders.

Motala added: “Each of us, and our youth in particular, should continue to address the issues of inequality, talk about non-racism, talk about social cohesion and put them into practice.”

Some of the ways to address those issues, according to Balton, include consistent pressure through protests, the linkage of protests with legal avenues enabling accountability, the evaluation of political choices and using the democratic processes to elect competent, ethical representatives.

One should not “vote based on history, nor emotions”, he added. DM


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