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Margaret Gazo (1918 - )

The Order of Luthuli in

Margaret Gazo (1918 - ) Awarded for:
Leading the Women’s March to the Union Buildings and for her outstanding leadership and commitment to the ideals of democracy and her contribution to human rights and the struggle against apartheid.

Profile of Margaret Gazo

On the first day in January of the year that was to end the first-ever war of nations, the First World War in 1918, an anti-war heroine and freedom fighter was born. Her name was Margaret Gazo, one of the veterans and stalwarts of the African National Congress (ANC) Women’s League. She passed away on 8 April 1974. 

Ms Gazo was part of the organisers and a leader of the famous march by women to the Union Buildings who were protesting against the extension of the hated pass law to women in 1956. 

Ms Gazo lived in Payneville, Springs, east of Johannesburg at the time, defying gunshots by security forces in order to join the 20 000-strong Women’s March to the Union Buildings in Pretoria. 

Women throughout South Africa have played a pivotal role in ensuring that we enjoy the fruits of a democratic society. Ms Gazo was one such a woman who, although playing a pivotal role, remains unsung with barely a mention of her contributions. 

She played an instrumental role in orchestrating and spearheading what was to be known as one of the largest demonstrations in the country’s history, the 1956 Women’s March against the hated system of pass laws and their extension to women. 

More than 20 000 women from different races and diverse backgrounds, with all their differences brought together by their resentment of unjust laws such as the pass law, spoke with one voice that day as they marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956. They expressed their disapproval of the proposed legislation of pass laws that would tighten the apartheid Government’s control over the movement of black women in urban areas. This law, if passed, would compel them to carry their passes everywhere they went.

The intention was to present a petition to then Prime Minister JG Strijdom against the carrying of passes by women. Although the prime minister was not there to receive the petition, the women’s voices were heard. 

Ms Margaret Gazo led the march from Payneville where she stayed and as they approached town, both the soldiers and police started shooting at the women. Fearing for their lives, some of the protesters decided to abandon the march, but to most people’s surprise Ms Gazo and a small group continued to the Union Buildings to be counted among the multitudes who gathered there that day.

This act of bravery displayed by women surprised their male counterparts in the anti-apartheid movement and contributed to women playing bigger roles in the struggle for freedom and the attainment of democracy. 9 August is now celebrated as National Women’s Day in South Africa. 

Those who knew her describe her as a disciplined, visionary and determined woman. This is evident in the fact that she spent five years in prison for political activism after she led a local anti-pass demonstration and thereafter helping to organise the larger national march.

Ms Helen Joseph recalls how radical Ms Margaret Gazo was during a meeting where she reported about the Black Sash protest: “The white women did not invite us to join their protest, but we must go to the Union Buildings ourselves to protest against pass laws which oppress us and we shall invite white women to join us. We too shall sleep there for we shall not leave the Union Buildings until our demands are met.” 

Margaret Gazo died on 8 April 1974 of natural causes but she left a legacy behind, one that will remain engraved in every South African woman’s heart – that of standing up for what you believe in. She remains synonymous with the chant: “Wathinta abafazi, wathinta imbokodo”. What she and her generation did inspired millions of future generations, and struck a blow for equality and women’s emancipation. 

We are proud to honour Ms Margaret Gazo with the Order of Luthuli in Bronze for her sacrifices and her determination in leading a struggle for the creation of an equal and free society.