The Story of Sophia de Bruyn

Women’s day is held on the 9th August to commemorate the march by more than 20000 women of all races against the pass laws that was meant to humiliate and oppress black people. There were 4 main organisers and leaders of the march, one of them being Sophia De Bruyn, at the time the full time organizer for the Coloured People’s Congress.

Born in 1938, Sophia grew up with her older brother and sister in the mixed race area of Villageboard after which they were forced to move to the Coloured area of Schauder. During this time, her father was a soldier fighting in World War 2 against the Nazis. While living in Villageboard, she attended the Saint Patrick Catholic School in the North-end Port Elizabeth and after having moved to Schauder, she attended the local Saint James Catholic School.
To earn extra pocket money, Sophia started working in a factory during school holidays and she was constantly being asked by the other workers to help them solve their problems with the factory bosses. As a result, she became a Shop Steward, later on becoming an executive member of the Textile Workers Union in Port Elizabeth. She was also a founder member of the South African Congress of Trade Union (SACTU), which would later on become to be known as COSATU.
In 1955 Sophia was appointed as a full-time organiser of the ‘Coloured People’s Congress’ in Johannesburg and she was assigned to work on projects that opposed Coloured Population act and in 1956 she was assigned to organize women for a march to the Union building to oppose the pass laws. The march took place on the 9th of August, 1956 and was led by Sophia, Rahima Moosa, Lillian Ngoyi and Helen Joseph. Sophia is currently the only surviving member of the four leaders of the march.

Other positions that Sophia held includes carrying out special” administrative functions for the late ANC president Oliver Tambo, being secretary of the ANC’s Women League during apartheid, serving on the
Sarah Baartman Eminent Person’s Group (to advise on the returning Sarah Baartman’s remains), being appointed by former President Mbeki to be Commissioner on the Gender Commission, being appointed deputy speaker Speaker in the Gauteng Legislature, and she served on several other committees.
Her awards include the 1999 Class Silver for meritorious service in the interest of the general public (presented to her by former President Nelson Mandela), the1999 Ida Mntwana Award Silver for exceptional service rendered to the women of South Africa, the 2001 Women’s Award for exceptional national service, a Commendation Certificate for having demonstrated devotion and loyalty to South Africa, the 2001 Mahatma Gandhi Award for her immense contribution to the establishment of democracy in South Africa (presented by former president Thabo Mbeki).

Despite all her positions and awards, Sophia still remains a true activist and is openly critical of people who only wants to be in government for positions. She says that, at the height of the struggle against apartheid, her generation did not know the word “deployment”. It was all about fighting injustice and being committed to social upliftment.

We dedicate women’s day to all the heroines who fought bravely to ensure that all women that came after could be treated with dignity and respect. One of the heroines is Sophia Theresa Williams de Bruyn. We salute you Sophia.


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