Principal & Teachers
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is my singular honour and pleasure to address 2016 Valedictory event. Let me start by paraphrasing the international scholar and author Mark Twain, who said: “Never let schooling interfere with your education”. To the class of 2016, your schooling nears the end, but your education has only just begun.
Programme Director; we are pleased that 22 years into our democracy, the key aspirations of women, mothers, sisters and girl children enjoy Constitutional expression. We must admit that a lot has been achieved but much more needs to be done to completely eradicate the legacy of oppression of women in particular Black women.
The formal promulgation of the Constitution of the Republic in 1996 was an important milestone, particularly for women, in our new democracy. However, while the Constitution outlawed unfair discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, and other considerations, it will be disingenuous to suggest that the battle against patriarchy had been won in the democratic South Africa. If anything, like racism, the evil of patriarchy still lives amongst us and often within us.
Programme Director; allow me to address the myth that since our world-renowned Constitution outlaws discrimination based on gender that means all is hanky dory. There is always a dichotomy between the declaration of gender based discrimination as unlawful and the defeat of patriarchy as an embedded social system. Patriarchy as a social system continues to define gender relations today. Our society is still characterised by current and historic unequal power relations between women and men whereby women are systematically disadvantaged and oppressed. This takes place across almost every sphere of life but is particularly noticeable in women’s under-representation in key private sector institutions such as Boards and Senior Management. Over and above limited advancement of women in key decision making institutions, there is always an elephant in the room, namely gender-based violence. Male violence against women, such as rape and assault has always been a key feature of patriarchy. Women in minority groups face multiple oppressions in this society, as race, class and sexuality intersect with sexism for example. To illustrate, to this day Muslim marriages enjoy no Constitutional recognition.
Programme Director; in a broader sense, feminists have correctly argued that the patriarchal culture seeks to regulate and control the body – especially women’s bodies, and especially black women’s bodies – because women, especially black women, are constructed as the Other, the site of resistance to the patriarchy. Because our existence provokes fear of the Other, fear of wildness, fear of sexuality, fear of letting go – our bodies and our hair (traditionally hair is a source of magical power) must be controlled, groomed, reduced, covered, suppressed. We have recently seen the magical power of hair at the recent hair protests here at the Pretoria Girls' High School. Academic feminist Maria Mies, author of Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale, put it accurately when she said: "Peace in patriarchy is war against women."
It is against this background that we have to be even more vigilant that the gains made in the post-apartheid era are not unwittingly rolled back.
Programme Director, despite patriarchy being a constant feature of women’s lives, some progress has been registered in the post-apartheid South Africa. This progress is noted in spite of the continued struggle against patriarchy in all its manifestation. I must say the future does look bright for the Girl Child in this century. In our country, according to the Human Science Research Council’s 2014 report entitled “Women leaders in the Workplace” a lot indeed has been achieved in the last 22 years. The report’s author Jane Rarieya says eloquently that the past 22 years of democracy in South Africa have seen significant strides being made to ensure that gender equality has become a societal reality.
Indeed, South Africa has received international recognition for these efforts and is currently ranked 16th in the world by the Global Gender Gap Index, a framework used by the World Economic Forum to capture the magnitude and scope of gender-based disparities among countries in the areas of economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; health and survival; and political empowerment.
Just to put these achievements into perspective let us look at the 2012 – 2013 Commission for Equity Annual Report. It says women’s participation in top management grew by 6.1 percent between 2002 and 2012. And, women’s participation in senior management grew only by 8.5 percent within the same period.
Some other notable achievements of the last 22 years include the appointments of Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chair of the African Commission; Ms Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director and Under-Secretary General, UN Women; Ms. Geraldine Frazer-Moleketi, Special Gender Envoy to the African Development Bank; Judge Navi Pillay, former Chairperson to the UN Human Rights Commission, as well as Ms Yvonne Chaka Chaka, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador to mention but a few. This bears testimony to the gravitas of women leadership in the country.
The greatest achievement so far achievement is that our young democracy is ranked number 10 out 152 countries as having made huge strides in having women parliamentarians. We currently have 163 women parliamentarians out of 400 members of the National Assembly. This constitutes 40.8 percent.
In the national executive (cabinet) we have 20 men and 15 women Ministers as well as 20 men and 16 women deputy ministers.
Globally, the new terrain of struggles is opening up for women. It is in this decade that the world most advanced democracy, the United States of America is poised for a women President. Current women Presidents include Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed, and Argentina President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. In our continent of Africa, we have trailblazers such as Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who became the 24th President of Liberia in 2006.
Programme Director, obviously the next layer of gender activists must indeed come from this current cohort. I must say next year - you’re going out into the real world. I hope the 12 years, you have spent with us has prepared you to take up your right place in the sun. As the situation in universities deteriorates, we look up you for leadership in 2017. The ideal for a free, decolonised, and quality higher education is a genuine call to be supported by all. Unfortunately, due to current negative global economic outlook, we may not be able realise this ideal of a free higher education soon. We remain committed to providing means for the academically deserving but poor students to access higher education. However, while we are grappling with the modalities for free higher education as a country, there can be no justification for arson, destruction of property and violence.
Finally, we must do our best to live according to our values in our Constitution and be active agents promoting nation building and social cohesion. This, Programme Director, brings me to the hair- storm that once threatened the learning and teaching in this school. The issue of black hair and schooling is a complex, controversial and historical matter. It requires multi-pronged and nuanced responses. While, I admit that the matter of black hair in particular and learners’ hair in general is complex, let’s not be caught flat-footed.
We as Constitutional beings have the moral obligation to advance the notion of nation building and social cohesion even if it means confronting the thorny political hot potato of black hair. We must admit that you, Girls, caught us unawares. Hence, it’s high time we address this issue of Othering. The consequence of Othering is that we drift apart instead of coming together. We ought to have had the foresight that our Code of Conduct shall evolve with the times to cater for new entrants. The review of the Code of Conduct and other rules forms part and parcel of disestablishing the concept of Othering. Every step we take towards understanding the Other means we are closer to social cohesion - which is a degree of social integration and inclusion in communities and society at large. We must understand that a school or a community is cohesive to the extent that the inequalities, exclusions and disparities based on ethnicity, gender, class, nationality, age, disability or any other distinctions which engender divisions distrust and conflict are reduced and/or eliminated in a planned and sustained manner. We are all ambassadors of social cohesion. We must build a cohesive society.
A cohesive society in this sense, and in the context of South Africa, cannot be the perpetuation of hierarchies of the past, based on pre-given or ethnically engineered and imposed divisions of people rooted in prejudice, discrimination and exclusion. It calls for something else; that is a rethinking, in South African terms, of what social cohesion, linked to nation-building, should be. It should, no doubt and in essence, be directed towards the practical actualisation of democracy in South Africa. We can only achieve this ideal, through advancing and protecting our Constitution and through constant dialogue to resolve conflicts and find each other.
In conclusion, Programme Director, I must say the Pretoria High School for Girls is a star performer within our basic education sector. The fact that you girls have made it to matric under the guidance of teachers of this school speaks volumes about your tenacity, dedication and value you place on good quality education.
Tonight, I congratulate you for reaching this milestone. I have no doubt that you will do well in the final examination. I urge you to prepare yourselves adequately without putting undue pressure. You’re our best asset and in the near future you will become excellent ambassadors for the public education.
I thank you!