Paying tribute to living legend Sophie De Bruyn this Women’s Month

By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor

Today is Women’s Month and in this country that means a lot, simply because  it marked a moment in history when the women of this country drew a line in the sand took a stand against the Apartheid fathers, yes fathers because those that designed and implemented apartheid are men.

And it is also significant to note that the women who marched to the Union Buildings in 1956 were brave women of all races united by one thing, to fight the extension of the much-hated Pass Laws to black women.

In time of racial discord, such as the present time, sometimes it becomes too easy to forget that women that confronted the apartheid rulers in 1956 represented all racial groups.

It is also important to remember this because just like the students of June 1976, the women of this country took a risk of being arrested and possibility of state violence to confront a system that was diabolic and dangerous.

And therefore this day is a day that we should all be celebrating all women. However we are all aware of the issue of Gender Based Violence that today defines male to female violence which has reached pandemic levels  even as we celebrate women. 

However CITYLIFE/ARTS today says let us take note of this important day and celebrate the achievements of these wonderful beings and in this special Women/s Day edition, we do so by paying tribute to a living legend and a wonderful human being Sophia Theresa Williams-de Bruyn, the only surviving woman among those that marched to the Union Buildings in 1956.

We also take pleasure to note that we are not the only ones paying tribute to her this year.

“The Gauteng Provincial Government in partnership with the City of Tshwane will celebrate the 2022 Women’s Day under the theme: “Women’s Socio-Economic Rights, Empowerment: and Resilience!”.  

MEC Mbali Hlophe

Led by Gauteng Premier, David Makhura and MEC Mbali Hlophe, this year’s celebrations will take place in the form of an exclusive inter-generational dialogue addressing the challenges women continue to face today and possible solutions that could be used to address such challenges, in particular poverty and financial exclusion, as well as gender-based-violence.  

Panellists will include Mama Sophie De Bruyn, the only surviving leader of the historic 1956 Women’s march and a former anti-apartheid activist, Zulaika Patel, a member of the Gauteng Youth Advisory Panel, Dr Mauli who holds a PHD in Fashion Design and Ms Elaine Vadivelu, a director and entrepreneur.  

Women’s Month is celebrated annually to tribute to the more than 20 000 women who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 in protest against the extension of pass laws to women.  

The day’s programme will kick off with a march from Church Square to the Union Buildings,” says a statement released by the Gauteng Department of Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation yesterday.

 About Sophia de Bruyn

Sophia Theresa Williams-de Bruyn (born 1938) is a former South African anti-apartheid activist. She was the first recipient of the Women’s Award for exceptional national service. She is the last living leader of the Women’s March.[1]

Sophia Theresa Williams-De Bruyn was born in Villageboard, an area that was home to people of many different nationalities.[2] She was the child of Frances Elizabeth and Henry Ernest Williams.[3] She says that her mother’s compassion for others helped her develop a sense of empathy.[4]

When her father joined the army to fight in World War II, Sophia’s mother moved the family to a new housing development, specifically built for coloureds, called Schauder. She continued her education at Saint James Catholic School.[3] She dropped out of school and started working in the textile industry.[1] Workers in the Van Lane Textile factory asked her to help “solve their problems with factory bosses,” and she eventually became the shop steward.[2] She later became an executive member of the Textile Workers Union in Port Elizabeth.[2]

Political career

Sophia Theresa Williams-de Bruyn  was a founding member of the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU).[2] After the government introduced the Population Registration Act in the 1950s, she was appointed as a full-time organizer of the Coloured People’s Congress in Johannesburg.[1]

On August 9, 1956, she led the march of 20 000 women on the Union Buildings of Pretoria along with Lilian NgoyiRahima MoosaHelen Joseph,[5] Albertina Sisulu and Bertha Gxowa to protest the requirement that women carry pass books as part of the pass laws.[1] Sophia was only 18 years old, making her the youngest of the four leaders.[6] These women ducked through the guards at the doors to deliver their petitions outside the ministers’ doors.[7] After the Coloured Population Act was passed, Williams-De Bruyn was assigned by the Coloured People’s Congress to work with Shulamith Muller on issues relating to pass laws.[2]

In 1959, she married Henry Benny Nato De Bruyn and they had three children. Her husband was also an activist in the liberation movement, and an Umkhonto we Sizwe soldier. Their home became a haven for other anti-apartheid activists such as Raymond MhlabaElias Motsoaledi and Wilton Mkwayi.[8]

By 1963, her husband was forced into exile in Lusaka, Zambia where he was appointed Chairman of the Regional Political Committee of the ANC.[9] She joined him six years later and went on to complete her studies and obtain her teacher diploma by 1977, all while working as an administrator for the ANC in Lusaka.[9] She was one of the founder members of the ANC education council formed in 1980. The council set the curriculum for the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College. The college was established in 1978 by the exiled African National Congress (ANC) in Mazimbu, Tanzania.

She returned to South Africa with her husband after the ANC was unbanned[6] Her husband served as South Africa’s ambassador to Jordan until he died in 1999.[9] She was a member of the Commission of Gender Equality before joining the Gauteng Legislature in 2004 and becoming its deputy speaker from 2005 until 2009, before moving to national parliament.[6]


She addressed a large crowd on the 60th-anniversary commemoration of the Women’s March in 1956 in Pretoria on August 9, 2016.[6]

In 1999, Williams-De Bruyn was awarded the Ida Mntwana Award in Silver.[10] In 2001, she was the first to be awarded the Women’s Award for exceptional national service and in the same year received the Mahatma Gandhi Award.[10]

She is currently a provincial legislator in Gauteng Province for the ANC: Source on Sophia de Bruyn-Wikipedia.

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