19 April 2013
ANC Secretary General,
Cde Gwede Mantashe Family members of Cde Maxeke
University staff members and students Colleagues,
comrades and friends,
First and foremost, allow me to thank all of you warmly for accepting our cordial invitation. And, thanks to Wits University for allowing us here to converge.
Your presence gives full expression to the fundamental importance of this occasion, in honour of the indomitable life of Charlotte Maxeke. It says the country is well behind us as we seek to summit this longest revolution of women with the sole purpose of fulfilling the historical mission of our forerunners. It`s great to have among us young women. You are the future! But this message is also for everyman. Your presence shows how correct our decision is to celebrate the Centenary of the women`s struggle for liberation, this year. We said last month, when we met in Pretoria as the ANC WL NEC, that one appropriate way to chronicle the fundamental role of women in society is to remember our heroines. In this way, we want to inspire young women to complete the work that was started by heroines of our country. This is why we chose the theme of "Inspiring Young Women by Remembering our Heroines."
I think Freedom Month, April, which also celebrates heroes and heroines of the struggle, is the best time to begin this inspirational journey to give meaning to young women`s lives. This lecture follows closely the 20th anniversary of the death of OR Tambo, Chris Hani and Solomon Mahlangu. Allow me therefore to pay tribute to these giants of the struggle. Comrades and compatriots, today sets in motion the WL`s roaring campaign encompassing a series of memorial lectures in honour of our heroines, starting with this august occasion that`s dedicated to Charlotte Maxeke. The leadership, staff members, students and the entire community of Wits University are therefore truly blessed to host the very first of these lectures. Why in 2013?
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first organised march of women against the segregationist 1913 Land Act. That draconian law got Sol Plaatje lamenting in 1916, in Native life in South Africa (Dubow, 2000: 5), thus: "Awakening on Friday morning, June 20, 1913, the South African native found himself, not actually a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth".
As celebrations of the ANC Centenary did show, the liberation struggle, which sought also to restore the African people`s birthright to land, lasted for most of the twentieth century. Africa`s first major African nationalist movement did survive to lead the last African country to political freedom (Dubow, 2000: 110). The ANC is now bent on leading the country to socio-economic freedom, drawing strength from our unity in action. Equally, it is this long history of the women`s struggle that dictates we should accord high respect, honour and pride of place to this remarkable patriot, Charlotte Maxeke, who led bravely the 1913 Women`s March.
It is her example that I want you to follow. She lived, by blood and soul, according to the sacred principles of ubuntu, botho, fellow-feeling. It is this spirit we all say we want to see across government, and among all public servants. Friends, Yolanda Botha reminded us, in her Annual Charlotte Maxeke Memorial Lecture, of who this icon was. She wrote: "Charlotte Makgomo Manye was born at Ramokgopa in the Polokwane district in Limpopo on April 7, 1874. "She was exceptionally talented in languages, mathematics and music.
She had a beautiful voice and sang in concerts in many places, including Kimberly." Defiant of limitations of repressive society, in 1890 Charlotte joined the Jubilee singers in a musical tour to England. With the McAdoo singers she got the golden opportunity to go to the USA, one opportunity that greatly shaped her early life. With the help of Bishop Derrick of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, the doors of learning were opened for young Charlotte to register at Wilberforce University, in Cleveland, Ohio. This was back in 1896. For me, three things stand out of her experience at Wilberforce. Firstly, she assisted other African students to gain access to Wilberforce, including her future husband, Reverend Marshall Maxeke - thus her popular name, Charlotte Maxeke. Secondly, while a student at Wilberforce, she played a role in the founding of the AME Church in South Africa, herself being an ardent Christian of unimpeachable character. Thirdly, she graduated with a BSc in 1905, becoming the first African woman from South Africa to earn a bachelors degree in science.
In this manner, the oldest African-American university in the United States, Wilberforce, had advanced her life and transformed her future, true to its motto. This is what Wits University strives to give each of you, when you value education, like Charlotte Maxeke and pioneering leaders of the ANC did. Knowledge is power! Cde Charlotte`s academic achievement obliged President Zuma to say in a 2012 memorial lecture in her honour: "She bravely defied societal expectations and the limitations placed on her by virtue of her colour and gender and became a trailblazer among her peers."
This is what the ANCWL expects of young women of our country whom we seek to inspire. When Charlotte Maxeke returned home, she founded the Wilberforce Institute with her husband, which was to become one of the leading Transvaal high schools for Africans. We have good reason to celebrate a woman of her stature whose amazing life, and ahead of her time, belies the myth that the place of women is in the kitchen. The world is yours! Dr AB Xuma, a former ANC president, summed-up neatly Charlotte`s life, in 1935, when he bestowed upon her a fitting accolade of "Mother of African Freedom.
"Former Justice of the Constitutional Court, Yvonne Mokgoro, traced defining qualities of Charlotte Maxeke in a 2006 memorial lecture in the following terms: "Charlotte Maxeke was a woman who, in every aspect of her life, was expressive of her extraordinary intellect, her diligence, competence, her audacity, assertiveness, patriotism, determination, courage and dedication to the highest ideals." Professor D.D.T Jabavu, then at Fort Hare University, said she was "one of the best known figures in public life in South Africa" (Sechaba, 1980). These qualities we want to see among young women and men of today. That`s why I have expressed my fascination with your presence here today. Use memory as a weapon.
This is to say to the young people: Nathi sinazo`inkokheli. We have leaders, and role-models you should emulate. This leader and accomplished personality, who could have taken a path of privilege like many a ‘been-to` had done, returned to the grassroots. And in 1913, she led the women`s protest against the Land Act and other racist laws of her time. And that was no ordinary march by disgruntled women. Saul Dubow, author and reader in history, wrote in Sutton Pocket History of the African National Congress that the women`s anti-pass campaign of 1913-14 and 1919 was "a partial exception" to delegations, deputations, petitions and reasoned argument that were "preferred tactics" adopted by the South African Native National Congress (2000: 5-6).
It was the women`s anti-pass campaign of 1913 that prompted Charlotte Maxeke to establish the Bantu Women`s League, in 1918, under the aegis of the SANNC (Dubow 2000: 6). This march took place only about a year after the establishment of the SANNC, whose formation, in Bloemfontein, on 8 January 1912, was among other reasons, a response to the creation of the Union of South Africa in 1910 that signalled the emergence of "a unitary white supremacist state" (Dubow, 2000:6). In 1918, Charlotte Maxeke led a women`s delegation to Cape Town where she put the case of women to the prime minister at the time, Louis Botha.
Comrades and friends,
We have this lecture precisely because, informed by conditions on the ground, the ANC did lead the way in recognising the role of women in the struggle. This progressive development was a triumph for Maxeke whose dream was to see women accorded full rights to ANC membership and political space freely to organise themselves. And so, in 2012 when we celebrated the ANC centenary the grave of Charlotte Maxeke and of other struggle icons, Lilian Ngoyi and Helen Joseph, were declared national heritage sites.
Programme Director, We are grateful to have here represented the Maxeke family for indeed they know her far more than any of us. But we know for certain that Charlotte Maxeke is a renowned personality beyond the borders of her home country for being a religious leader, a social worker, a political activist and a trailblazer of note. It is for these reasons that the great African-American intellectual, WEB du Bois, said of her in the Preface to A.B Xuma`s Biographical Sketch: "I regard Mrs Maxeke as a pioneer in one of the greatest of human causes, working in extraordinarily difficult circumstances to lead a people, in the face of prejudice, not only against her race but against her sex" (In. Zuma, Lecture, 4 August 2012).
We will remember her always for being such an accomplished intellectual and an academic in her own right who treaded where angels never dared, in a fascist state where racist cops revelled in shooting and counting African corpses as a pastime. Cde Charlotte, like many of us who now carry the baton, led a progressive women`s movement for many years. She would have marvelled to see us here striving to stoke the fire of patriotism and love for country among students. Improving living conditions of the young was one of her passions.
She is deeply loved and cherished by many in the African National Congress who see her as one formidable, brave and daring giant of the struggle for liberation. Beyond her passage to the beyond, on 16 October 1939, at the age of 65, the foundation she had laid with other women leaders no doubt was the cornerstone for popular campaigns of women that culminated in the historic march to the Union Buildings, on 9 August 1956, against the pass laws. The ANC WL, formed four years after her death, and whose forerunner, the Bantu Women`s League she founded, was a force to be reckoned with during the decade of defiance - the 1950s in South Africa. Through the militant women`s movement she had excellently led, she contributed to the modernisation of the strategy and tactics of the women`s struggle for liberation.
And she did a good work of it. Luli Callinicos noted in the biography, Oliver Tambo: Beyond the Engeli Mountains (2004: 224), that after the adoption of the Freedom Charter, in 1955: "Perhaps the most dramatic display of popular participation was the work of the Women`s League, which was able to mobilise thousands of women in a series of spirited campaigns involving women marching in protest to the offices of their local Native Commissioner." For Cde OR Tambo, the women`s struggle illustrated the need for men to "fight constantly in every possible way those outmoded customs which make women inferior and by personal example must demonstrate their belief in the equality of human beings, of both sexes" (In Callinicos, 2004: 224). Over and above women`s issues, Callinicos noted that women`s protests, "included their concerns about a lack of social services, housing, schools and the threat of the extension of passes to women" (2004: 224). This is what we mean when we say women have always been in the forefront of the struggle. And, women, both young and old, must necessarily continue to give direction on current challenges around service delivery.
It is the women who should ensure that the suffering of the people is never high-jacked by our detractors and hypocrites so to score cheap points. The women`s imaginative tactics are evident in the manner in which they mobilised men to act against the pass laws. They were able to provoke men into action for instance by telling them: "Give us your pants, the women will wear them." Ladies and gentlemen, women deserve respect, thus the ANC let pass the 50/50 in Polokwane, in 2007. We are grateful to Charlotte and her generation of heroic women for their pioneering work and inspirational leadership. It is in this context that in honour of her memory, especially her unrelenting drive to acquire education, the ANC WL named a nursery school in Morogorogo, Tanzania, as the Charlotte Maxeke Child Care Centre (Zuma, Lecture, 4 August 2012). Celebrating heroines of the struggle in the centenary of the women`s struggle for liberation therefore affords us a rare chance to pay a special tribute to women leaders who did much to transform the South African political landscape.
In this regard, we salute Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa, Madi Hall-Xuma, Dorothy Nyembe, Adelaide Tambo, Albertina Sisulu, Florence Matomela, Amina Cachalia, Ida Mtwana and other giants of the struggle. Indeed much has changed since 1994 and continues progressively to change. The ANC constitution articulates non-sexist policies that have deeply influenced the Constitution of the Republic. Our landmarks include the entrenched Bill of Rights that extends to all the people, the right to Equality before the law, the right to Human Dignity, the inalienable right to Life and the right to Freedom and Security.
Our Constitution gives a clear expression to the rights in the 1943 African Claims, to the rights in the 1954 Women`s Charter, to the demands in the 1955 Freedom Charter and to the rights in the 1994 Women`s Charter for Effective Equality. What we want to see, with your help, is the translation of our legislative and democratic framework into action. Let`s live the values in the Constitution. For every right, there`s a corresponding responsibility. In spite of the work done to transform qualitatively the lives of women, there is still much to be done to sustain the strategic positioning of gender and women`s issues high on the agenda of economic transformation and development.
Poverty, inequality and unemployment are formidable challenges for the nation, with women being the face of poverty. If we are to honour Charlotte Maxeke, provision of education, for girls in particular, in scarce skills and in those areas historically the preserve of men must climb higher on our human resources development agenda. This we must drive fully conscious of the high premium Charlotte Maxeke placed on education, our apex priority, and an essential service that must necessarily be supported by all. I believe improving education quality and giving each child a fair chance to learn would be the best way to honour the life of this loving teacher, social worker, church leader, journalist and freedom fighter.
We want young women to be assured we are listening to their needs and we are encouraging them to get involved in the ANCWL. We want them to feel welcomed in the organisation. When we look back at the rich history of the ANCWL, we see that our movement boasted young, active energetic women with the capacity critically to analyse the social and economic conditions that they found themselves in and decided they had no option but to be a part of the struggle for change.
Sophia Williams-De Bruyn, who is still an active member of the WL NEC, was just 20 years old when she wore her green blouse and led 20 000 women to the Union Buildings alongside other leaders of the historic Women`s March. Indeed we`re inspired to have in our society male-led non-profits championing the cause of women, speaking out against gender-based violence, rape, child abuse and all forms of marginalisation and disempowerment of women and girl-children. We welcome also the support of traditional leaders. These changes, as Maxeke said, must start at home, and in the family, the basic unit of society.
But this emancipatory mindset should not come as an act of charity, or kindness. Women`s participation in the ensuing struggle of humanity against nature, over scarce resources, is a condition for building better and caring communities where women and men both will enjoy social and economic freedom. Again we`re not exaggerating when we say women liberated men and society. We have the muscle. Over and above the power in numbers, we command ceaseless strength and agility. Census 2011 confirmed we are a country of 27 million women, and only 25 million men. Our resilience and intellect you see in Charlotte Maxeke and many women activists.
To round-off then, as Maxeke said in the 1930 Social Conditions of African Women and Girls, we will know that we have succeeded "to lift women and children up in the social life" of the African when even men benefit, "and thus the whole community, both White and Black". The ANC of Charlotte Maxeke must be defended. The ANC is the sole custodian of the proud history of struggle.
Let`s follow the example of Charlotte Maxeke who said we "must put all our energies into this task [of uplifting women and children] if we would succeed" (Maxeke, 1930). Let`s intensify, in her honour, beyond this memorial lecture, the work we do for women and the working poor. The women`s struggle is integral to the national democratic revolution. With a strong WL, we will set and shape the gender agenda in our country and beyond. It`s when we`re united and better organised that with our communities, we will avail economic opportunities and development for women and girl-children. Be rest assured. Our eye is on the ball. In the tradition of Maxeke and our forerunners, the WL has adopted a Programme of Action speaking to the daily needs of our people.
From the rock solid foundation Maxeke has laid, we are poised to turn women`s rights into human rights, here and abroad. The time is over for the archaic humiliation of women like that we saw in the media wherein a mother in Jane Furse was assaulted and violated by men in the most inhuman of ways. Lastly, after Charlotte Maxeke, I challenge you not to live above your people, but to live with them. If you can rise, bring someone with you.