Women’s Day: a time to honour the ‘rocks’, our unsung heroes

[From left: Elspeth Davids, Ruschda Conradie and Deelah. Click on image to enlarge]

9 August 2022

Today, Women’s Day, is the day we honour and pay tribute to women and the enormous contribution they made – and still make – in our society, not only their role in the fight against apartheid but in all areas of normal, everyday life.

Nothing encapsulates more their stand against injustice under apartheid than the clarion call, “wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo” – you strike a woman, you strike a rock!

Women’s Day in South Africa has now morphed in Women’s Month and has its genesis in the march of about 20,000 women on this day in Pretoria in 1956 to protest outside the Union Buildings against the country’s evil laws

Now it is an all-encompassing acknowledgement to the status of women in our society.

This blog focuses on entertainment and the performers in the industry, particularly those of yesteryear, some of whom were household names yet have never had their story told or documented so that the Millennials know who went before them.

Sure, we know of the likes of the Taliep Petersens, Terry Fortunes, Zane Adamses, Leslie Kleinsmiths who have continued to make the news well after their debuts in the Sixties. But what about the female entertainers? Do the names Latiefa Barnes, Dolly Radebe, Vivian Kensley, Jane Londis, Daphne Malgas, Deelah, Ruschda Conradie or Elspeth Davids ring a bell. Probably not

Vicky Sampson . . . a struggle for gender equality.

Singer Vicky Sampson, noted for her anthemic Afrikan Dream hit song and president of the Trade Union for Musicians of South Africa (TUMSA), was honest enough to admit she had never heard of Deelah.  Yet, in the mid to late ’60s, Deelah was always one of the main acts for almost every stage show put on in Cape Town, as were Ruschda and Elspeth. Daphne, Vivian and Jane were stalwarts on the Dixies and African Follies shows.  And, even before them, Latiefa Barnes was hailed as the “Red Hot Mama” in Cape Town.

“No, I must admit, I have never heard of Deelah,” Vicky said. “I heard of Elspeth, I even met her briefly, but I never saw her perform.”

This year’s Women’s Month theme is Women’s Socio-Economic Rights and Empowerment: Building Back Better for Women’s Improved Resilience and ties in with a global campaign for gender equality.

For Vicky, the fight for gender equality is ongoing and is one of the prongs of a multi-faceted union campaign for a better deal for performers particularly women.

“It’s time for female entertainers to stand up and work together,” Vicky says. We have to support each other; we have to step into the light, step into leadership roles for the benefit of those coming after us.

“I’d like to see more women in our industry so that we can be in control of our own destiny.  Our industry, historically, is male dominated. We are working to correct the imbalance but it is always going to be a challenge.

“Female performers have to deal with more than just equal opportunities in finding work. There are issues like sexual predation and domestic violence.”

Vicky is optimistic that through TUMSA they can make inroads in the battle for gender equality.

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Singers with their roots in the Sixties . . .  Zelda Benjamin (nee Uren), Candy (Sharon Hartman), Neesha Abrahams, Margaret Singana, Linda Jacobs, Bea Benjamin.

“TUMSA is growing in recognition and, with the support of COSATU and engaging with all our stakeholders, we can make a difference in the lives of people working in our industry,” Vicky said. “One of the big fights we have at the moment is with the Equality Court to get Covid relief for performers. Our industry missed out on Covid relief payments.  Performers had no income for months.”

Vicky is encouraged by the fact that the union has representation in most of the provinces with females in leadership positions in most of them. “And they are powerful entities and performers in their own right,” she says.

Yesterday Vicky celebrated her birthday with a show.  Today she will be at a protest at Artscape to mark Women’s Day

“Part of it will be a silent protest and then we’ll have the Rosa Choir of the Cape Cultural Collective, some poetry reading and guest speakers.”




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