The plight of women who defied King Cetshwayo 131 years ago by refusing to marry decommissioned warriors was highlighted at a Women Day's celebration in KwaZulu-Natal yesterday.
Members of the public and government officials gathered in Vryheid, northern KwaZulu-Natal, to honour the Ingcuce Zulu maidens for the stance they took in defence of their right to choose their partners.
The commemoration began with a visit to the gravesides of Zulu kings and Princess Mkabayi ka Jama, sister of King Senzangakhona, King Shaka's father.
The province's premier, Sbu Ndebele, safety and security MEC Bheki Cele, Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and other government officials led the graveside visit.
Princess Mkabayi ka Jama was the power behind the throne for decades during the reign of successive Zulu kings.
"She lies buried here in Vryheid at KwaSgwegwede and led the only woman-headed royal homestead of the time, eBaqulusini," Ndebele said.
A military genius, a political strategist, a networker and mobiliser of note, Princess Mkabayi ranks alongside the well-trained army of women in the West African kingdom of Benin/Dahomey.
Ndebele said this army was reported to be vastly superior to that of men. Its soldiers undermined and sabotaged the new French colonisers even after Dahomey's official defeat at the end of the 19th century.
He said although South Africa had placed women in jobs they were deprived of by the previous government, women were still subjected to many abuses.
Addressing the crowd of 10000 people, Ndebele said the challenges that women faced today of rape, violence, poverty and unemployment should be put in the spotlight.
He said focusing on the girl child will help deal with teenage pregnancies, HIV and Aids.