Celebrating women during 16 Days of Activism

'In Prayers and Protest' – de Bruyn photographed in the gardens of The Union Buildings, Pretoria as part of photographer and filmmaker Adrian Steirn's 21 Icons South Africa series.

In Prayers and Protest – Sophia Williams de Bruyn, photographed in the gardens of The Union Buildings, Pretoria as part of photographer and filmmaker Adrian Steirn’s 21 Icons South Africa series.

Each year the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign aims to raise awareness and works toward eradicating these actions. At this time, we acknowledge the need to promote the rights of women and children. In doing so, we celebrate some of the South African women who’ve paved the way for subsequent generations, as well as those who’re creating a more positive future. We’ve created a list of women to inspire you, based on some of the women honoured by the 21 Icons series.

21 Icons is a visual tribute to South Africans who’ve contributed to making the country and world a better place. This year, three seasons of visionaries were recognised by the project through powerful images, texts and videos. Adrian Steirn, photographer and filmmaker – together with photographer Gary van Wyk – provides a unique insight into these icons.

Sophia Williams de Bruyn

Sophia Williams de Bruyn (above) was just 18 years old when she, together with Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph and Adelaide Tambo, led over 20 thousand women to the Union Buildings in 1956. These activists protested against the pass laws developed by the apartheid regime, which were a gross violation of dignity, and were to be extended to women. [In South Africa, we celebrate Women’s Day on 9 August each year – the anniversary of the Women’s March – as a result of these actions]. See the 21 Icons video here.

Thato Kgatlhanye

‘Bright Spark’ – Thato Kgatlhanye is pictured with a Repurposed Schoolbag and symbolic lights. Photo: Gary van Wyk.

Bright Spark – Image by Gary van Wyk.

22-year-old social entrepreneur, Thato Kgatlhanye is co-founder of Rethaka Trading and the Repurpose Schoolbags innovation. The concept emerged from a university project where the decision was made to make a schoolbag from recycled plastic. Each bag is fitted with solar technology, which allows children without electricity to have a light to use for night-time studies. The bags – which are waterproof and fitted with retro-reflective material – insure safety and durability. See the 21 Icons video here.

Jes Foord

'Cinderella Story' – Jes Foord is photographed in a bright red dress, an inspiration drawn from on of her foundation's initiatives that provides matric dance dresses to girls in need of them. Photo: Gary van Wyk.

Cinderella Story – Image by Gary van Wyk.

The epitome of women’s strength, Jes Foord has become a role model to many South Africans. After being brutally gang raped by four men in 2008, Foord embodied perseverance and vowed not to let the act of violence destroy her. She created The Jes Foord Foundation to help other rape survivors take back their lives. The foundation aims to provide counselling, empowerment and education. Through this initiative, Foord took an act of extreme hatred and found a way to promote love and solidarity. See the 21 Icons video here.

Pregs Govender

‘A Balanced Life’ – Pregs Govender. This photo reflects the accomplishments of Govender's life, together with her ability to remain balanced. Photo:Adrian Steirn.

A Balanced Life – Image by Adrian Steirn.

Gender and human rights activist Pregs Govender has spent over 30 years dedicated to promoting gender and class equality. She is celebrated for her contributions at a time when Indian women were severely undermined in the country. Govender – who serves on the South African Human Rights Commission – continues to strive towards irradicating poverty, racism, injustice and gender inequality. She is hopeful that South Africa’s future will be a bright one. See the 21 Icons video here.

Phindile Sithole-Spong

'Still Me' – Phindile Sithole-Spong. This close-up features parts of Season Three. Stifle-Spong appears to be naked in the shot and this represents the fact that she was born HIV positive and her advocacy against stereotypes. Photo:Gary Van Wyk.

Still Me – Image by Gary Van Wyk.

Phindile Sithole-Spong is challenging stereotypes linked to HIV through education in an attempt to create an “HIV aware generation”. She found that the basis of much of the discrimination surrounding HIV is caused by misinformation and hopes to change this. Sithole-Spong has become known, both locally and internationally, for her promotion of information on HIV and sexual health. Through her initiative, Rebranding HIV, Sithole-Spong provides organisations and companies with programmes and products, which help to create an HIV and sexual health strategy. See the 21 Icons video here.

Michaela Mycroft

'Full Potential' –Michaela Mycroft. Pictured here in her ballroom dancing gear, this image of Mycroft promotes ability. Photo: Gary Van Wyk.

Full Potential – Image by Gary Van Wyk.

21-year-old Michaela “Chaeli” Mycroft is a student and ability activist and co-founder of the Chaeli Campaign. The campaign aims to “mobilise the minds and bodies of children with disabilities”. The non-profit has provided over 3 000 children with wheelchairs, hearing aids and food supplements, among other items. Mycroft, who has cerebal palsy, was the first female quadriplegic to summit climb Mount Kilimanjaro. She’s also a competitive wheelchair ballroom dancer. See the 21 Icons video here.

Miriam Tlali

‘Her Story’ – Miriam Tlali. This image features a quote from one of Tlali's books. Photo: Adrian Steirn.

Her Story – Image by Adrian Steirn.

The first black South African woman to publish a novel, Miriam Tlali developed a passion for reading at a young age. She soon transitioned into writing and Muriel at Metropolitan was published in 1975, shortly followed by Amandla in 1980. The apartheid government banned her first novel, but when it was published internationally, the world was able to get a glimpse into what it was like to be a black woman living in South Africa at that time. See the 21 Icons video here.

Catherine Constantinides

‘Force of Nature’ –Catherine Constantinides. This image of Constantinides embodies her persona as an environmental activist. Photo: Gary Van Wyk.

Force of Nature – Image by Gary Van Wyk.

Executive director of Miss Earth South Africa leadership programme, Catherine Constantinides is an advocate of sustainable community development and creating environmental consciousness. The programme is aimed at empoweing South African women and combating the degradation of the country’s natural resources and heritage. She is co-founder of Generation Earth, which is an international youth leadership initiative that promotes discussion surrounding environmental issues among students. She aims to help to educate future generations in order to preserve the history attached to the natural elements of South Africa. See the 21 Icons video here.

Kitty Phetla


The Black Swan – Image by Adrian Steirn.

Kitty Phetla – award-winning ballerina, model and choreographer – is well known for her performance of the iconic ballet role The Dying Swan. She broke conventions when she performed this piece in a black tutu, tights and shoes rather than the traditional pink gear associated with the industry. Phetla works with the Joburg Ballet in the hopes of being able to help black children  stand out in the world of ballet. “Ballet has always been seen as a Westernised art, but we’re slowly breaking that stigma. Ballet and the arts are for our people and there’s a hunger for them in our communities,” she says. See the 21 Icons video here.

Zubeida Jaffer

‘The Full Report’ – Zubeida Jaffer. This photograph represents Jaffer's profession in the field of journalism. Photo: Adrian Steirn.

The Full Report – Image by Adrian Steirn.

Journalist of over 30 years, Zubeida Jaffer is acclaimed for her anti-apartheid activism and determination to report the truth. She ensured that the brutal actions of the apartheid government were exposed. As a result of her brave actions, she was arrested, beaten and tortured. Jaffer’s work in the field of journalism has won her a number of awards on both a local and international scale. She believes that citizens must continue to hold government accountable and value the truth. See the 21 Icons video here.

The 21 Icons coffee table book is a great gift for the festive season. Get it here.

Images and video supplied by the 21 Icons Project.

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