On the 17th June 1931 representatives of the four provincial agricultural associations, established between September 1925 and December 1930, met in Bloemfontein under the chairmanship of Major EW Hunt, president of the South African Agricultural Union. After much discussion the four organisations TWAU, FWI, OFS, WAU and the CPWAA decided to form a national Women’s Agricultural Union and thus SAWAU came into being at a
congress in October of the same year.
The time was indeed ripe for a national body to promote national interests. In those early days higher education for women was the exception, rural areas were to a large extent isolated, and there was very real need for social discourse. The years 1929-32, a time of depression, made it incumbent upon the farmer’s wife to contribute to the family income, and to utilize homegrown products to the full. For the younger generation there was little inducement to stay on the farms, and adult education and improved facilities for the youth were pressing needs. Major Hunt’s inspired idea of organising countrywomen and uniting them in a national body for the improvement of rural life and the advancement of culture thus came into its own.
On the 28th October 1931 the first executive meeting was held at a Woman’s Club in Pretoria and was chaired by Mrs E O’Connor. Two days later, at the congress honoured by the presence of the Countess of Clarendon, a lengthy agenda came under discussion. Fifty-nine resolutions were discussed and a constitution was adopted. Members were urged to pay attention to school gardens, tree-planting and Arbor Day.
SAWAU was indeed fortunate in having Mrs Edith O’Connor, who delivered the inaugural address, as first president. Mrs O’Connor and her husband farmed in the Marico district, formed the Molope Farmers’ Association of which Mrs O’Connor was honorary secretary, represented the association at congresses, and eventually became vice-president of the Transvaal Agricultural Union, a signal honor for a woman in an organisation consisting entirely of men. In 1925 Mrs O’Conner founded the Woman’s Section of the TAU and was elected president, an office she held until 1946.
For sixteen years she guided the destinies of SAWAU with unflagging zeal, vision, persistence and above all in the faith that “our scheme – Adult Education – will assist us all.” She believed that SAWAU could become one of the greatest forces for good in South Africa, provided that it retained the principles on which is was founded, namely those of a non-sectarian, non-party political and bilingual movement.
Much has changed in South Africa, and also in the WAU. The TWAU was disbanded during their 70th Annual Congress and four new organisations came into being, namely WAU North, WAU North West, WAU Mpumalanga and WAU Overvaal.
Since October 1931, and despite the changes in the country, the SAWAU has managed to adapt according to the needs of its members and it has managed to link women across cultural borders and to provide training towards the development of our people and our country.