Statement from the Oliver & Adelaide Tambo Foundation on the observation of International Women’s Day and Human Rights Month

Statement from the Oliver & Adelaide Tambo Foundation on the observation of International Women’s Day and Human Rights Month

This year, South Africa celebrates the 22nd anniversary of the Constitution’s signing in to law. March, therefore, represents an important month as we observe Human Rights Month. The 8th of March is also International Women’s Day. And while these two events may not seem related, their commemoration cannot be done in isolation.


It is well-known that our Constitution is the best in the world, for, amongst many other reasons, its uniqueness in paying special attention not only to non-racialism, but to non-sexism too. The commemoration of Human Rights month, therefore, cannot come without the reaffirmation of the commitment to the rights of women; acknowledgement of their still-daily struggle; and gratitude for their sacrifices.


Former Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Frene Ginwala, describes Oliver Tambo’s ANC presidency as profound because of his ability to garner international support for the fight against the apartheid regime, but more importantly, because of his deliberate inclusion of women in the ANC’s structures and in the fight for freedom. Their inclusion was not, however, to fill quotas. Tambo placed tremendous confidence in them to carry the mission forward. In his speech at the concluding session of the September 1981 Conference of the Women’s Section of the ANC, Tambo said: “In fear of being a failure, Comrade Lindiwe Mabuza cried, sobbed and ultimately collapsed on top of herself when she learnt she had been appointed ANC Chief Representative to the Scandinavian countries. But, looking at the record, could any man have done better, or even as well?


Tambo’s presidency was not only about the creation of idealistic inclusion policies, but also about the creation of structures and organisations to implement equality. For example, the Commission for the Emancipation of Women” in the ANC.


Former Constitutional Court Justice, Albie Sachs, can often be heard saying: “If you did an analysis of the Constitution, whose DNA would you find? That of Oliver Tambo”. South Africa’s Bill of Rights is exemplary. It covers a wide range of rights accorded to different individuals and groups, but also enjoins us to exercise these rights with responsibility. But a Bill of Rights with ineffective mechanisms of implementation is of little use to anyone. It requires strong, capable institutions to protect, entranch, monitor and support the use and application of such rights. The ever-increasing levels of violence against women and girls, most of which is committed by the men they trust, with little to no punishment,  is a testament thereto. Apartheid saw the trampling of human rights of black South Africans, and yet, with the advent of freedom, women, and especially black women, are still the most oppressed, dispossessed, impoverished sector of society.


In observing International Women’s Day today, it would be futile to commemorate this occasion in a vacuum. Human rights should be the context of every month and every holiday’s commemoration. The rights of women are the rights of humans. And with rights, come responsibilities.


The Department of Education launched, in 2011, the Bill of Responsibilities for the youth of South Africa. This Bill accompanies some of the rights spelled out in Chapter Two of the Constitution. The preamble reads:

I accept the call to responsibility that comes with the many rights and freedoms that I have been privileged to inherit from the sacrifice and suffering of those who came before me. I appreciate that the rights enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa are inseparable from my duties and responsibilities to others. Therefore, I accept that with every right comes a set of responsibilities[1].


Oliver Tambo said that liberation for all will only be won when “the process [of national liberation] confronts the liberation of the women of our country from their triple oppression, on the grounds of sex, class and colour.” Let us, therefore, reaffirm our commitment to honouring human rights, and their accompanying responsibilities. Ma Sisulu’s relationship with Ma Adelaide Tambo epitomised the power and strength of women united in action against all forms of injustice. And in the centennial year of Ma Sisulu, let us celebrate women, women’s groups, and the freedoms and change attained when women organise.


It is fitting that South Africa commemorates International Women’s Day, some five months before our own national Women’s Day, because the rights of women should be observed globally. The fight for women’s rights is, therefore, the fight for human rights, the world over.


The Tambo Foundation challenges all South Africans by asking: what role are you playing in the preservation, enhancement, support and protection of the human rights of all citizens?

Ruth Mompati, Agnes Msimang, Albertina Sisulu, Adelaide Tambo and Gertrude Shope. © Gallo Images – Sowetan


Enquiries: Natsha Allie Tel: +27 11 880 2680



 Commemorative dates/months in our calendar:


  • March – Human Rights Month (21st March, Human Rights Day)

We celebrate the human rights of all South Africans, and the responsibility of every person to treat everyone equally and fairly; and to not discriminate unfairly against anyone on the basis of race, gender, religion, origin, disability, culture, language, status or appearance.


  • April – Freedom Month (27th April, Freedom Day)

We commemorate  the hard-won freedoms for the oppressed. The right to observe with responsibility the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution. For example, freedoms of expression, association, religion, belief and opion.


  • May– Africa Month ( 25th May, Africa Day) The African Union adopted Agenda 2063, a strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the continent over the next 50 years, precisely to guide the development of a prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in international arena.

The responsibility is, therefore, on us to embody the spirit of pan-Africanism, respecting and fairly treating all our fellow Africans.


  • June – Youth Month (16th June, Youth Day)

We observe  the anniversary of the 1976 Soweto uprising, where students took to the streets to protest the apartheid government’s decision to use Afrikaans a medium of instruction. Many black students died fighting for the right to a good education, and it is, therefore, the responsibility of the children today to ensure that they attend school, learn and work hard, while adhering to their school’s code of conduct. It is also the responsibility of all adults to ensure that children receive quality  education that equips them to be informed, active, engaged citizens.


  • July – Mandela Month (18th July, Mandela Day)

Born on 18 july 1918, Mandela would have turned 100 years old this year. During this month, we are reminded to emulate the values of Madiba. The right to human dignity enjoins us to treat people with reverence, respect and dignity. Madiba’s selflessness should be embodied by the world during this month, and every day.


  • August – Women’s Month (9th August, Women’s Day)

This year marks the 62nd anniversary of the women’s march to the Union Buildings, protesting pass laws and the gender inequality experienced by black women. Albertina Sisulu was one of the organisers of the march. In celebrating the 100th anniversary of her birth, we honour her and her commitment to this country’s liberation, by realising that we have a responsibility to ensure women are treated equally, fairly and with dignity. Women have the right to life; to freedom and security of the person; to live in a safe environment; and the right to education, amongst many other rights in the Bill of Rights.



[1] See Commemorative dates calendar above.