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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 August 2006, 18:15 GMT 19:15 UK
Women re-enact South Africa march
Women demonstrating in Pretoria
The march drew attention to violence against women
Thousands of women have recreated a historic march through South Africa's capital, Pretoria, 50 years after the landmark anti-apartheid event.

The demonstration is being held to protest at South Africa's rate of domestic violence, which is reckoned to be among the highest in the world.

Political leaders and some women who were on the 1956 march led the rally.

The original action was in protest at a law which forced black people to carry passbooks with them at all times.

Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma were among several women cabinet members who headed Wednesday's re-enactment of the march.

Nelson Mandela's former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, and his current wife, Graca Machel, were also present.

Elderly women on the march

The BBC's Peter Greste in Johannesburg says 50 years on, women are politically advanced but still struggling with terrible rates of domestic violence.

President Thabo Mbeki made reference to the problem as he addressed the march as it arrived at the Union Buildings, the seat of government.

"Appropriately to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Women's March, we have to address the scourge of women and child abuse," President Mbeki said.

"We have to defend the view that women's rights are human rights."

According to one study, a South African woman dies at the hands of her partner every six hours, while rape and physical and mental abuse are said to be rampant.

As I looked at them, and looked behind them, there was just women that I could see - it was exciting
Amina Cachalia
Veteran of 1956 march

The One in Nine campaign - which campaigns against gender violence - used the occasion to argue that the justice system has failed rape victims, including a woman known as Buysizwe who was gang-raped last year.

"For Buyisiwe and countless other women whose rape cases are struck from court rolls due to 'missing or lost' evidence, National Women's Day is no cause for celebration," the campaign said in a statement.

Act of defiance

The original march was one of the most influential demonstrations against the apartheid regime.

On 9 August 1956 thousands of women assembled in Pretoria despite a ban on unauthorised gatherings, eventually coalescing in a 20,000-strong protest outside the Union Buildings.

Many were arrested and prosecuted, but activists say it was the moment which brought women into the anti-apartheid struggle.

"I saw an enormous group of women filing behind the four leaders," Amina Cachalia, a veteran of the 1956 march, recalled on Wednesday.

"As I looked at them, and looked behind them, there was just women that I could see. And we only read in the papers the next day that there were 20,000 women.

"But it was exciting. It was so adventurous in a way."

Earlier this year, Mr Mbeki said a woman should succeed him when he retires in 2009.

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