Esteemed Women Legends and Colleagues,
It is exciting to celebrate with you, during Women’s Month, women icons of the past, women activists of the present and women leaders of the future. In the bigger scheme of things, this is another way of marking the centenary of Africa’s oldest liberation movement – the African National Congress (ANC).
I thank you all, especially the event organisers, for putting this splendid work together. We celebrate, collectively, heroes and heroines of the struggle. We commemorate events of national importance in every cranny of South Africa, even at work.
This we do as free citizens of a democratic state precisely because women have always been the collectors of treasures, in a positive sense of this expression from Bessie Head, a prolific African writer. With the women’s touch, like the Midas touch, we’ve moulded the new nation and are hard at work giving it a human and humane look and feel. This is what our children expect of us, what Africa and the world expect of us.
When the women of South Africa converged on the Union Buildings 56 years ago, on 9 August, from every corner of South Africa, they created one of enduring landmarks of the country’s history. They declared that women would insist on their role in making history, herstory.
Accordingly, today we have much to celebrate. 2012 is a significant year as we mark the ANC’s 100 Years of Selfless struggle. The National Liberation Struggle and the struggle for women’s emancipation and equality are built on the foundation of heroic deeds of generations of women, and men.
It is the role of women during the liberation struggle that has brought us here. The pioneers of the anti-pass march have left their footprints indelibly in the history of the liberation struggle.
In the face of the might of the apartheid junta, these heroines did not flinch in their commitment to women’s emancipation, human rights and justice.
They were ably led by gallant activists the calibre of Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Sophie De Bruyn, Rahima Moosa and others.
There are many moments in our history that we can savour. But we dare not forget the contributions of those fearless and selfless heroines of generations past.
One of these rare treasures our struggle for self-determination had collected is the impeccable Charlotte Maxeke, the founder of the Bantu Women’s League – a precursor to the ANC Women’s League. President Jacob Zuma describes her as:
“A woman of substance who was a pioneer in many fields – science, education, missionary work, social work and leadership” (Memorial Lecture in Honour of Charlotte Maxeke).
We are fortunate today to have in our midst these icons of the struggle, across generations: Mama Emma Mashinini, Ruth Mompati, Sister Bernard Ncube and Cheryl Carolus. We salute you all. The Department of Basic Education commends you highly for your efforts and sacrifice.
Charlotte Maxeke summed up the unimpeachable patriotism, selfless sacrifice and unblemished solidarity of women when she said, fearlessly: “Do not live above your people, but live with them. If you can rise, bring someone with you”. Today we celebrate legions of history because revolutionary women had lived up to this precept. As we say: Motho ke motho ka batho, Mmangwana, o tshwara thipa ka fa bogaleng.
We celebrate achievements of women knowing fully that we still have a long way to go to reach new frontiers in the struggle for women’s emancipation and gender equality.
As government, we continue to facilitate the empowerment of women to make them equal participants in the economic, social and political spheres of society. We’re not doing badly on this. 43% of Cabinet Ministers are women, with 44% in Parliament.
The 2011 Women in Leadership Census of the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa confirms that:
“The South African government has been noted for its efforts towards gender equality: Many of the country’s ministers, deputy ministers, directors-general and deputy directors-general are women.”
It has found that in the tally of women at all levels (from the lower skilled to senior management) in government, there are more women (56.3%) employed in government departments than men (43.7%).
It has concluded that: “South Africa is not lagging far behind some of its international counterparts and is indeed, in some instances, leading in terms of gender inclusion.” In countries such as France, Spain and Switzerland, women represent 40% of ministerial positions compared to 43% in South Africa.
Education is a vehicle to a non-sexist and equitable society. Hence the DBE takes full responsibility for providing education that is gender inclusive.
It is only through the full and equal participation of women and girls in all areas of public and private life that we can deliver a sustainable, peaceful, prosperous and just society as promised in government’s programme of action.
Our children should know of remarkable achievements and the tenacious spirit of fearless women who continue to advocate for change and a new deal for women and the girl-child.
As DBE we all have a duty to ensure that the treasures of democracy bestowed upon us by women stalwarts and legends of the struggle do not disappear into the black-hole of history.
To this end we have developed, as part of the History and Heritage Series, a valuable booklet profiling women icons.
Today we’re officially launching the Legacy Series For Freedom and Equality Celebrating Women in South African History.
This booklet examines the women’s struggle from the 1950s with particular focus on the 70s to the present.
We hope the profiles of heroic women will serve to inspire the young not to live above the people, “but [to] live with them”.
It is our task to facilitate a policy and learning environment that would enable the learners – both boys and girls – to “rise” to their full potential. And, as they do so, to “bring someone with”.
We will create a better life for all to the extent that we strengthen measures for tackling gender-based violence and abuse of women and children, head-on. You must speak out!
Don’t whisper in the dark. Don’t be afraid to say: “I was born free as Caesar; so were you/ We both fed as well, and we can both/ Endure the winter’s cold as well as he.”
Ladies and gentlemen,
My message to you is therefore that women have the power to change the world. It begins with you. Take this message to your workspace and to your communities like you did selflessly take the plight of our schools to the people on the occasion of the 94+ Projects for Madiba.
In closing, I urge the flowers of DBE to allow none to tamper with their rights. Those who dare stand between you and your rights, show them they’ve knocked against a rock.”