< Back

Malibongwe Conference: Programme of Action

13 - 18 January 1990


The Malibongwe Conference held in Amsterdam, Netherlands, from 13 - 18 January 1990, under the theme `Women united for a Unitary, non-racial, democratic South Africa,` draws great courage from the achievements scored by the struggling women of our country in their confrontation with apartheid colonialism.

Recognising the political achievements of the people thus far through unity under the National Liberation Movement and the Mass Democratic Movement, oppressed women of South Africa from outside and within South Africa have converged at this historic Conference.

Our aim is to further chart the way for mobilisation towards forceful unity in action against apartheid and commit ourselves to the creation of a united, non-racial, democratic, non-sexist society.

The emancipation of women in South Africa requires national liberation, the transformation of gender relations and an end to exploitation. We believe that our emancipation can only be addressed as part of a total revolutionary transformation of the South African social and economic relations. National liberation in South Africa does not automatically guarantee the emancipation of women.

We also take this opportunity to salute all women who have throughout history waged relentless struggles against apartheid colonialism. Apartheid repression is maintained through an inhuman legal system, a vicious military machinery and ruthless economic policies.

Drawing lessons from the heroic struggles and sacrifices in which women have participated, like the rent boycotts, hunger strikes and the historic mass defiance campaign, the Malibongwe Conference sought concrete ways of paralysing apartheid, whilst strengthening our own structures.

The Conference has taken place against a background of the apartheid regime in crisis, as evident in its lack of any viable or credible internal policy as well as its attempts at international image-building. They should be seen for what they are - reactions to reform apartheid.

The entire repressive apartheid machinery remains untouched and is still functioning. The State of Emergency still exists; detentions without trial are still enforced; bannings, restrictions and executions continue; and constant vigilence, killings and threats to the lives of activists through the vigilantes and hit squads is a reality.

To facilitate this unity in action, our desire for a national organisation of women should be made a reality, encompassing all women in our society, with particular attention being paid to mobilising our women in the rural areas.

Through our concerted efforts to forge unity and to build one national women`s organisation, we shall be able to place firmly on the agenda of the National Liberation Movement, the Mass Democratic Movement and all our organisations, the process of integrating women`s emancipation into the national liberation struggle.

In order to challenge and crush apartheid and exploitation and opressive gender relations in South Africa we hereby pledge to embark on the following programme:


This Malibongwe Conference from 13-18 January 1990 notes:

  • that women in wage labour, in particular African women carry the heaviest burden of oppression and exploitation, and the majority are not covered by labour legislation
  • that the participation of working women in trade union and political struggle is hindered by the double shift, whereby most women have sole responsibility for all home duties and child care
  • that the work most women do outside the home is an extension of their work inside the home
  • that the participation of working class women in progressive organisations is crucial because it will influence the position of the working class in a liberated South Africa
  • that women often work in unsafe and unhealthy conditions which compromise their health and the health of their unborn children
  • that even in countries which have achieved their liberation, women still fail to rise to positions of responsibility because of the sexist attitudes towards them
  • that women are dominated by men in our families and in our organisations because of the patriarchal nature of our society
  • the discrepancy between waged and unwaged labour is detrimental to women
  • that sexual harassment and abuse are prevalent in most workplaces


  • step up the organisation of working women into trade unions in order to fight more effectively for the basic rights of workers
  • encourage community-based organisations to call on all women members who are working to join non-racial democratic trade unions
  • ensure that domestic duties and child care responsibilities are shared within the family. Husbands / partners must acknowledge their shared responsibility for their homes and children. This is a crucial issue which requires the attention of all our organisations
  • implement the policy of affirmative action, and not tokenism in the training and educational opportunities for women. Women must be given esponsibilities so as to develop their leadership qualities
  • facilitate the discussion of the draft Workers Charters with the aim of including them in the discussions on the Constitutional Guidelines drawn up by the ANC
  • Pressurise the state and employers to provide child-care facilities in the community and at the workplace
  • to demand maternity leave and benefits for expectant women as well as paternity leave for the working father
  • to initiate programmes around sex education and contraception; to further ensure the establishment of proper family-planning clinics; and safe and appropriate family planning methods
  • strive for the recognition of the dignity of all labour
  • to intensify demands for a safe and healthy work enviroment for all workers
  • support the campaigns and demands of domestic and farm workers around the lack oflabour legislation and poor working conditions faced by workers in these sectors.


This Malibongwe Conference held from 13-18 January 1990 condemns the continued repression in our country against our militant compatriots whose only crime has been to demand justice in the country of our birth.

We note with grave concern the continuing State of Emergency, political trials, detentions, restrictions and executions.


  • demand the immediate and unconditional release of our women patriots and all political prisoners, and further demand granting of prisoner of war status for all combatants
  • demand the immediate and unconditional release from Death Row of Daisy Modise, Evelina de Bruin and all patriots awaiting execution
  • demand the immediate abolition of the death penalty
  • call on the international community to intensify the relentless campaign for the release of all political prisoners and detainees and the abolition of the death penalty in South Africa
  • demand a Judicial Commission of Enquiry into the assassination of political activists by vigilantes and death squads, and further demand that a public trial be held of all those involved in death squads in South Africa


This Malibongwe Conference held from 13-18 January 1990 extends revolutionary salutations to our sisters throughout the world who have consistently supported the struggle of the people of South Africa for liberation.

We pledge solidarity with our sisters and brothers the world over fighting against injustice and oppression.

We note that without this solidarity, we would not have reached this stage of our struggle. In particular we greet the women and people of the Netherlands who, through commendable efforts, have made it possible to hold this Malibongwe Conference.

We confirm our belief that it is through internal and international pressure against the white racist minority regime that we have scored so many victories against the apartheid regime.

We salute the liberation movements around the world who support our struggle in South Africa.


  • urge the international community to maintain and increase pressure against the racist regime
  • step up the campaign for sanctions and the isolation of racist South Africa on all fronts
  • campaign internationally for the widest possible support for the demands of the fighting people of South Africa as embodied in the Harare Declaration of August 1989


    This Malibongwe Conference highlighted the plight of children in South Africa and agreed:

    • that our children are the future of our nation and one of the principle reasons for our struggle
    • that the dehumanising system of apartheid is destroying our future leadership who are being robbed of a meaningful education, normal childhood, thereby destroying our future
    • that our children are the hardest hit victims of both injustices and violence of the apartheid regime - thousands have been killed, detained, sentenced and some even executed; many more are made homeless and forced to be internal refugees and into exile

    We noted that 1989 had marked the 10th Anniversary of the Year of the Child declared by the United Nations, and that racist South Africa violates each clause in the Chidren`s Charter


    • intensify campaigns to end the continued arrest and brutalisation of children
    • give priority to the plight of our children on the agendas of all our organisations
      reinvigorate a national and international media campaign around the plight of our children
    • reinforce the implementation of all resolutions of the 1987 Harare Children`s Conference
    • commit ourselves, together with health and social service organisations to investigate methods of addressing the question of physical, mental and social rehabilitation of our children
    • build people`s education whilst simultaneously increasing pressure on the state to uphold its responsibilities towards education
    • address the militarisation and indoctrination of our children which is effected through the brutalisation of our society, SADF occupation and infiltration of our schools and communities, apartheid education, the media, war games and toys
    • initiate a national campaign around the plight of street and homeless children


    This Malibongwe Conference held from 13-18 January 1990 notes:

    • that we live in an apartheid culture, which has created division and oppression amongst our diverse cultures
    • that culture is a way of life and that many aspects of cultural tradition and practice are oppressive to women
    • that culture and traditions are dynamic and are constantly being shaped and distorted by changing social conditions
    • that women`s emancipation depends on the transformation of all aspects of our culture which are oppressive to women, whether these are manifsted in: language, the media, the workplace, home and family life or performance culture


    • encourage all structures, particularly women`s organisations to form cultural forums to facilitate cultural education and debate, particularly around culture and the oppression of women. The task of these structures should be to facilitate this on a grassroot level
    • ensure that research which is taking place - for eg through the Centre of Development Studies Commission on Culture and Media - prioritises research on women and cultural traditions, towards building a people`s culture. Women should actively participate in this research
    • to increase the participation of women in cultural life through affirmative action - equipping them with skills and confidence in the media, film and production and performance culture


    This Malibongwe Conference held from 13-18 January 1990 notes:

    • that education is used as a tool to entrench the apartheid system as manifested in race, class and gender oppression and exploitation
    • that some traditions of our traditions and cultures propagate a gender-based educational system and thereby re-inforce the subordination of women
    • that a lack of awareness campaigns and education limit and hinder women`s development and contribution in a number of ways


    • initiate campaigns to raise consciousness about women`s oppression in all aspects of our social life
    • urge all organisations to facilitate the full and equal participation of women at all levels
    • initiate literacy programmes with a clear political content aimed especially at black, working-class and rural women
    • embark upon skills sharing and training that is not gender specific but allows women access to any field of their choice
    • initiate bursary schemes for both rural and urban women. We call for support for the Malibongwe Bursary Trust created at the Conference to raise funds for rural women`s training and development programmes
    • develop accessible and accountable research on the position of women in all areas and that this be fed back into organisations.

    We therefore resolve to ensure that in a post apartheid society, education be geared towards redressing the imbalances caused by women`s oppression


    This Malibongwe Conference held from 13-18 January 1990 notes:

    • with grave concern the continuing violence in Natal and the increasing manisfestations of vigilante activity in other parts of the country
    • that the state has been directly involved in vigilante attacks against the supporters and activists in Natal
    • the deplorable role of Inkatha and the state in impeding the peace initiative which is so vital to the resolution of conflict in the area
    • that institutions of the Western powers continue to fund Inkatha


    • support and strengthen any meaningful initiative aimed at ending the conflict not only in Natal, but in other parts of the country where vigilante activities have emerged.
    • call on the international community to stop all support to Inkatha and its affiliates until such time that Inkatha ceases to serve the interests of the apartheid state


    This Malibongwe Conference held from 13 - 18 January 1990 notes:

    • with concern the inadequate and deteriorating conditions of health care, especially in the rural areas
    • with concern the strategy by the regime to privatise health service which will further contribute to the inequalities, inadequacies and high costs of services
    • with concern the disproportionate allocations of money going into SADF at the expense of health
    • the inadequacies in services and attitudes towards mental health and the mentally / physically disabled
    • with concern the domination of health care by professional health workers and that health education is urban hospital based
    • with concern the potential suffering and loss of life and effect on the economy of an AIDS epidemic


    • intensify the campaigns for comprehensive and intergrated care for all
    • intensify campaigns which address women`s health issues
    • oppose the privatisation of health care
    • promote progressive primary health care for community organisations
    • encourage women to join community based campaigns which demand the provision of housing, sanitation, clean water, living wage, employment etc.
    • demand the right of informed choice for contraception which preserves and maintains fertility
    • promote health education issues such as contraception, nutrition, abortion, AIDS and simple preventative measures such as water purification and oral rehydration amongst women
    • promote sex education and counselling from as early an age as possible with particular emphasis on schools. This education should include information on sexually transmitted diseases, especially AIDS
    • to encourage the development of cummunity based education for all health workers
    • develop AIDS awareness and education in community based organisations.


    this Malibongwe Conference held from 13 - 18 January 1990 notes that:

    • some cultural and traditional practices and beliefs retard women`s emancipation and relegates them to the status of minors within their families and societies.
    • legislation entrenches the inferior position of women and offers no protection to violence against them e.g rape and wife battering cases.
    • apartheid and capitalism have reduced, abused and taken advantage of the family as a socio-economic unit in society as witnessed amongst others migrant labour system, high taxation of married women, and more generally the emphasis on the nuclear family to the detriment of the extended family.
    • the prevalence of different family types and high incidents of single parent families in S.A.
    • the family being both the prime seat of socialisation and women`s oppression, it is a crucial institution for the transformation of society and in particular the emancipation of women.
    • women`s participation in the MDM and National Liberation Movement is greatly undermined and hampered by social stereotypes and attitudes of both women and men which perpetuate women`s inferiority.


    • more research be done on cultural and traditional practices and beliefs as well as their effects on women including definition of family, marriage and different types of bonds.
    • organisations should expose and challenge legislation that encourages and entrenches the status of women as minors.
    • the MDM and the National Liberation Movement structures should commit themselves to educate both men and women within their structures and the community at large about the specific role played by the present system in South Africa in the oppression of women.
    • organisations should embark on affirmative action to develop support structures to free women of domestic cores and encourage them to take up responsibilities and leadership positions within organisations and society at large.
    • education campaign should be conducted to enhance the emancipation of girls and women and to effect appropriate socialisation of boys and men within the family
    • the MDM and the National Liberation Movement should expose and actively challenge and eradicate attitudes and practices that retard the emancipation of women particularly amongst activists within our organisations.


    this Malibongwe Conference held on 13 - 18 January 1990 notes:

    • that a serious problem facing women is the lack of strong organisation and structures through which the tripple oppression of women can be addressed
    • that there is an urgent need for united action towards the formation of a national women`s structure
    • the necessity to continue within various organisations the process of clarification and discussion of objectives and form (whether alliance, federation, assembly or other) of the new structure
    • the need for solidarity among women and between women and men in jointly combatting divisive tendencies, elitism, personaliticals and misconduct in organisations
    • the need to forge a working programme that will unite women from various sectors and organisations in a common struggle


    • develop and consolidate our organisations
    • broaden existing initiatives and to facilitate discussions in our organisations about the formation of a national women`s structure as a priority for building unity in action
    • ensure that the issue women`s liberation receives priority on the agendas of the ANC and all progressive organisations and that there is an ongoing discussion about the relationship between national liberation, women`s liberation and working class victory in these formations
    • urge organisations to include women`s issues in their political education programmes particularly in the rural areas
    • to urge organisations to furmulate and adopt a code of conduct and set up disciplinary structures to address the problems of misconduct, sexual abuse and harassment and exploitative personal relationships
    • empower women at all levels within organisations
    • urge women to initiate programmes which address community issues, thereby mobilising women and encouraging greater participation.

    In conclusion, we, the struggling women of South Africa gathered at this Malibongwe Conference, undertake to implement this Programme of Action in an effort to being closer our objectives of creating a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic South Africa



    This Malibongwe Conference held in Amsterdam, Netherlands, from 13 - 18 January 1990 noting the plight of our comrades in apartheid jails for their actions in fighting the apartheid regime and believing that such actions are part of a just cause for the liberation of all South Africans resolved to express solidarity with all comrades awaiting trial or presently on trial and those serving terms of imprisonment.