Public Protector says investing in women development grows communities
Delivering a keynote address at the Business Women’s Association of South Africa (BWASA), Public Protector Adv. Thuli Madonsela cited research that shows that when women are empowered through education or business their families and communities are advanced.
She congratulated BWASA for setting an example of demonstrating courage and leadership by coming together 35 years ago across race to network and pave the way for women.
Speaking on the topic “35 Years of Courage, Achievement and Leadership”, in Sandton on Tuesday, the Public Protector said courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to press on powered by the belief that you are doing something that is greater than that which you fear.
She singled out Charlotte Maxeke as a woman who used courage and leadership to defy being defined by apartheid and patriarchy. She said women such as Charlotte Maxeke, who was the first black woman in South Africa to obtain a university degree, had the courage to believe that her purpose in life was not going to be determined by fellow human beings but her creator. She said Maxeke initially persuaded a career in music which took her to concerts in the United Kingdom and the United States as part of a choir. When her singing career did not take off, she decided to study and got a BSc Degree from Wilberforce College in the United States. After completing her studies, like many BWASA women she started a business that was not just going to give her money but uplift her community. She started a school at her village and when that school failed due to financial difficulties, she tried another door by starting a college with her husband in Vereeniging. When the business did not succeed as envisaged she took up a job as a probation officer and used the opportunity to understand the plight of women and children in justice system.
“As a probation officer, she pursued a reform program asking the powers that be to reform the justice system to make it friendly and responsive to the circumstances of women and children. She also wrote to the President seeking a meeting to ask him not to extend the pass laws to women and when that failed, she led the first march by women in this country to protest against the pass laws and ultimately leading a delegation to meet the President before her passing in 1939. She did this at the time when black women were not even regarded as persons under the law and a married black woman was regarded as something less than a child but she considered herself fit and worthy to write to the President and later to request a meeting with the President, said the Public Protector.”
She added that Maxeke formed the Bantu Women’s league that became a predecessor to the ANC Women’s League and joined various other associations that fought against racial and gender discrimination. Like Maxeke, who was oppressed for being a woman and could have just succumbed to the circumstances but she broke all boundaries through courage and leadership, today’s women should also define themselves and not allow life circumstances to define them.
She said BWASA has made women like Charlotte Maxeke, starting with women like Nana Magomola, Adv Kgomotso Moroka and their contemporaries who are the visionaries behind BWASA. It took a vision beyond what could be seen and believed at the time to conceive and achieve the establishment of BWASA. It took further courage to keep the idea of women in business alive and these women are walking in the footsteps of giants such as Charlotte Maxeke. In the area of business they are walking in the footsteps of women such as Olive Schreiner.
Public Protector said many industries have household names like Jane Raphaely, Pam Golding, and Marina Maponya who defied apartheid and gender stereotypes. They were successful business people in their own right and led on non-racialism. She also lauded the women of Whiphold for showing the spirit of courage by going into an area that many women had never gone before.
“I am all I am because of women, at some stage I dropped out of university and it took my mother to get me back on track. I was nominated by South African Women in Dialogue to be considered for the Public Protector position. While women are good at uplifting other people; they need to use the same spirit they use to nurture others to nurture themselves to grow emotionally, spiritually and professionally. There is a perception that women cannot not work together and pull each other down. This is a myth because the 1956 iconic march would never have happened if women could not work together. It was a mammoth task to organise 20 000 women to march from all over the country with no cell phones, twitter or fax but was possible through courage, leadership and the spirit of cooperation and human solidarity,” she said.
She also said it is a proven fact if you educate mothers, they are more likely to raise educated children. If you invest in women businesses, they are more likely to spend that money in raising the welfare of families and welfare. The burden of a caring society should however remain the duty of both men and women.
The Public Protector concluded by saying part of courage going forward, is women believing in themselves more than they have done and allowing themselves to be raised to these other positions. She said for this continent to rise and for our country to rise, women have to raise themselves as they raise others.
She said her message to the women in general is that the greatest barrier to their success is not outside but is within them. Women have the ability to lead in any circumstances but have the tendency to look for someone else to lead. She further said that going forward she would like to see more women such as Lebohang Pheko and her colleagues boldly leading associations and other industries. They can achieve this by learning from leadership lessons of the past by leading with courage and believing in themselves but above all embracing steward leadership. Charlotte Maxeke was all about service to humanity and getting benefit from serving humanity and at all stages when one door closed, she kept on looking for another and all those doors were about how she can leave this world a better place than she found it.