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Strike The Woman Strike The Rock: Wathint' Abafazi Wathint' Imbokodo (2002)

(A memorial to the woman of South Africa, Union Buildings, Pretoria (in collaboration with Marcus Holmes) Commission for Government of South Africa, unveiled 9 August 2002)

Artist Photo

Artist Photo


In 1956 on the 9 August, twenty thousand women gathered at the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against the pass laws on women. They came from all walks of life; they represented all races and a wide range of political opinion. Yet they were united in their purpose in demanding the end of apartheid rule. They presented the Prime Minister, JG Strijdom with bundles of protest letters demanding the repeal of the pass laws. The Prime Minister fled even though the protest was peaceful, organised, quiet and dignified. Defiant, in the face of the Prime Minister's absence the women stood in silence and then sang the song that was to become the rallying call of the movement - wathint' abafazi wathint' imbokodo (strike the woman strike the rock). The memorial celebrates this event. It is a multi media installation, which incorporates a FOUND OBJECT, a chorus of WHISPERED VOICES and TEXT. The figurative element is supplied by the viewer/s themselves.

THE FOUND OBJECT (imbokodo (Zulu): grinding stone)

The imbokodo is a symbolic reference. This object is both particular to the women's march and general in its reference to the Black women of Africa. The imbokodo provides the grinding surface for maize. It is the site of sustenance and nurture. Its significance is reflected in its use in the 1956 rallying call, "Strike the women strike the rock”. The imbokodo is used as the central motif in the vestibule. It is placed on bronze plates set into the sand stone floor in full registration with Herbert Baker's design. The plates, one highly reflective the other more light absorbent, represent earth and fire.


When the viewer approaches the imbokodo, the phrase, "Wathint' abafazi, Wathint' imbokodo", (Strike the women strike the rock) is heard. It is quietly repeated in each of the eleven official languages. The circuit is repeated. It is as if the women are whispering down the tunnel of history. They provide an exhortation and a reminder that tampering with the women is tampering with the very source of life. The sound is enhanced by the projection into space of some of the resistance phrases used in the 1956 march. These are produced by a state of the art computer-generated light system.


On the risers of the stairs leading up to the vestibule a section of text is imposed. Extracts from the protest letter, The Demand of the Women of South Africa for the Withdrawal of Passes for Women and the Repeal of the Pass Laws is applied to the surface of the sandstone in raised brushed stainless steel letters. The inscription on the risers provides a record of the actual protest - a gentle reminder that history should not repeat itself. It also functions as a visual announcement of the memorial in the vestibule. The stairs provide a sweep up to the hallowed site. They lead as it were to the point of climax. The viewer on entering Malibongwe is led up to the place where they pause to contemplate the monument.

Kathryn Smith has described the memorial as creating, "'equivalences of experience' without falling into an old fashioned rhetoric. It is not about a simulation of experience, but an experience made up of 'real' objects that are more evocative that didactic" (Artthrob August 2000).