Feisty survivor of the 1956 Women’s March finally recognised after being ignored last year
Feisty Nelson Mandela Bay struggle hero Lillian Diedericks finally took her rightful place among the already honoured leaders of the 1956 Women’s March yesterday, when President Jacob Zuma announced that a statue would be erected in recognition of her contribution to the country’s fight for democracy.
Speaking at a Women’s Day rally in Kimberley, Zuma said: “The government will erect a statue honouring mama Lillian Diedericks, who is one of the surviving leaders of the 1956 march.”
An unimpressed, but still sprightly Diedericks, 91, said at her Gelvandale home: “I’m only being recognised for my contribution now – it makes me feel like the phoenix has risen from the dead, because I wasn’t mentioned last year.
“It makes me feel like an afterthought.”
Diedericks was at the forefront of the 1956 march along with struggle icons Rahima Moosa, Helen Joseph, Lilian Ngoyi and Sophia de Bruyn.
But the Women’s Living Heritage Monument, which was unveiled by Zuma in Pretoria on Women’s Day last year, only included statues of Moosa, Joseph, Ngoyi and De Bruyn.
Diedericks watched the unveiling of the statues on television and was taken aback that no mention was made of her at the 60th anniversary celebrations of the 1956 women’s march.
Making matters worse, the anti-apartheid activist only found out about Zuma’s announcement yesterday when a reporter called her for comment on the statue.
Diedericks said she had received an invitation from the office of the presidency to attend the national Women’s Day rally in Kimberley on Monday, but chose not to go as the invitation was at such short notice.
It had also made no mention of the planned announcement.
Dr Bongani Ngqulunga, spokesman for the president, could not be reached for comment.
Diedericks said that after last year’s blunder, people close to her had started asking why she had not been included in the commemorations.
Diedericks, who received plaques commemorating the women’s marches over the years from former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela, said: “I did not know what to tell them – but I cannot blame President Zuma, because he was not informed that there were five women and not four. Someone should have corrected him.”
In a bid to smooth over relations with Diedericks, MEC Nancy Sihlwayi visited her at her home afterwards and gave her a fruit basket and a R40 carrot cake. Diedericks said she had been surprised to see that an entire convoy of ANC members had come to visit her only days after the statues were unveiled.
“Nancy [Sihlwayi] was a bit rude when speaking to some of my other guests and I told her this was the Diedericks’s house, not the ANC’s, and you respect whatever you find inside this house.
“I can’t say for sure, but I think she took offence at my utterances.”
Diedericks, who was detained and closely watched for five years between 1963 and 1968, said she had felt betrayed, especially because of the struggles she had gone through, the sacrifices she had made and the loved ones she had lost.
Expressing her thoughts on the vote of no confidence against Zuma in parliament yesterday, she said it was disappointing to see the decline of the country.
“It’s disappointing for me to see where we [as a country] come from only to be dropped into the status of being a junk country, does that mean I am also junk?” she asked.
She said despite Zuma coming to the end of his term, there were still people who elevated him by inviting him to their conferences and rallies.
“Let him be, just don’t give him a platform – let him have the name of the president, but ignore whatever he says, don’t make a noise about it. He will feel it when he sees no one takes notice of him.”
She blamed the current state of the country on the president and his cabinet.
“Everybody who could get on the bandwagon and get money has done so – all they care about is filling their pockets.
“They did not bring South Africa to where it is today – but they are the ones digging the country deeper into the grave, while their pockets remain full.”
She said the values of the early ANC days were now only a distant memory.
“I don’t think they are living up to the party’s values set out in the early days, because they are driving big cars, living in mansions.”
At the rally yesterday, Zuma said the government wanted to enforce equality in the workplace, saying the private sector had been lagging behind in ensuring that women occupied senior leadership positions.
The government was also making progress in empowering women economically‚ with R300million worth of goods procured from women-run cooperatives, he said.
“Progress has also been made in the workplace‚ especially in the public sector.
“Women are increasingly occupying positions of authority and great responsibility‚ and occupy careers that were previously an exclusive preserve of men.
“While we celebrate the advancement of women in the public sector‚ there is a continued exclusion of the majority of the population‚ both women and Africans‚ from decision-making positions in the private sector.”