12 December 2014
"Radical Transformation of Women`s Socio-Economic Rights"
Representatives of Political Parties
Comrades and Colleagues,
Comrades and fellow compatriots, the year 2014 is an epic year in the history of our young democracy. We celebrate 20 years of freedom, democracy, non-sexism, and non-racialism. We mark 60 years of the Women`s Charter. Importantly we are marking 96 years since the industrious and a visionary daughter of the soil named Charlotte Maxeke started the first formal women`s organization (Bantu Women`s League). Sadly, this is the first National Policy Conference of the African National Congress Women`s League since the passing a year ago of our founding father of our democracy uTata Nelson Mandela.
Comrade Nelson Mandela, member and leader of the African National Congress, dedicated his life to the struggle for the liberation of his people and the people of the world. Madiba`s humility, compassion and humanity earned him the love and respect of the people of South Africa, Africa and the World. His abiding vision was for a society where no person was exploited, oppressed or despised by another. His life was dedicated to the building of a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa and a just world order.
At the opening of the first democratic parliament in 1994, President Mandela declared, "Freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression... Our endeavours must be about the liberation of the woman, the emancipation of the man and the liberty of the child."
This year is also a year sadly, where we have had to say goodbye to our own Deputy President, Nosipho Ntwanambi, who passed on last year after a long and brave struggle with her health, the way she passed on was in line with the way she lived her live, a selfless struggle heroine till the very end.
Since our last conference we have also lost some of our NEC members, all strong gender activists in their own right.
Manto Shabalala Msimang
and most recently Sisi Mabe. Can we rise and take a moment to remember these heroines of our struggle.
Moment of silence...
As this Conference takes place to coincide with the celebrations of 60 years of the Women`s Charter, I found it befitting that we dedicate this conference to none other the daughter of the soil, a pioneer, and a revolutionary uComrade Charlotte Maxeke.
Comrade was an activist par-excellence, a lifelong student, first African women graduate in South Africa and one of the first Black South Africans to fight for freedom from exploitative and social conditions for African women. History records that Comrade Maxeke was born in Ramokgopa in the Polokwane (Pietersburg) District on 7 April 1874. She received a missionary education at Edwards Memorial School in the Eastern Cape in the early 1880s. After the discovery of diamonds, Maxeke moved to Kimberley with her family in 1885. While in Kimberley, she became a teacher.
As a dedicated churchgoer, Maxeke and her sister, Katie joined the African Jubilee Choir in 1891, and toured England for two years. During this tour, Maxeke performed for Queen Victoria, allegedly in Victorian costume. Sources state that the sisters were uncomfortable with being treated as novelties in London, and during this time Maxeke is said to have attended suffragette speeches by women such as Emmeline Pankhurst.
With hopes of pursuing an education, Maxeke went on a second tour to the United States of America (USA) with her church choir in 1894 when the tour collapsed, Maxeke stayed in the USA and studied at Wilberforce University in Cleveland, Ohio, which was controlled by the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AMEC). At the university, she was taught under Pan-Africanist, W.E.B Du Bois, and received an education that was focused on developing her as a future missionary in Africa. She graduated with a B.Sc. degree from Wilberforce University, where she also met her husband, Marshall Maxeke, who had come to the university in 1896. They were engaged when they both returned to South Africa in 1901, Maxeke as South Africa`s first Black woman graduate.
Maxeke was greatly influenced by AMEC and through her connections with the Ethiopian Church the AMEC was founded in South Africa. She became the organizer of the Women`s Mite Missionary Society in Johannesburg, and then moved to the Polokwane (then Pietersburg) area. Here she joined her family in Dwaars River, under Chief Ramakgopa, who gave her money to start a school. However, the school could not be continued, due to lack of government funding and the poverty of the local community.
After this, Maxeke and her husband established a school at Evaton on the Witwatersrand. The Maxekes went on to teach and evangelise in other places, including Thembuland in the Transkei under King Sabata Dalindyebo. It was here that Maxeke participated in the king`s court, a privilege unheard of for a woman. However, they finally settled in Johannesburg, where they became involved in political movements.
Both her and her husband attended the launch of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) in Bloemfontein in 1912, and although her main concerns were church-linked social issues, Charlotte also wrote in Xhosa on the social and political situation occupied by women. In Umteteli wa Bantu, she addressed the `woman question`. As an early opponent of passes for black women, Maxeke was politically active throughout her adult life. She helped organized the anti-pass movement in Bloemfontein in 1913 and founded the Bantu Women`s League of the SANNC in 1918.
As leader of this organization, she led a delegation to Prime Minister Louis Botha to discuss the issue of passes for women, and this was followed up by a protest the following year. She was also involved in protests on the Witwatersrand about low wages, and participated in the formation of the Industrial and Commercial Worker`s Union (ICU) in 1920.
Maxeke was also involved in multiracial movements. She addressed the Women`s Reform Club in Pretoria, which was an organization for the voting rights of women, and joined the Joint Council of Europeans and Bantus. Maxeke was also elected as president of the Women`s Missionary Society.
In 1928, she attended a conference in the USA, and became increasingly concerned about the welfare of Africans. She set up an employment agency for Africans in Johannesburg and was the first black woman to become a parole officer for juvenile delinquents.
Maxeke was often honoured as `Mother of Black Freedom in South Africa`, and had an ANC nursery school named after her in Tanzania. She died in Johannesburg in 1939.
Together with other stalwarts of women struggles including the leaders of the 1956 Women`s March we owe a debt of gratitude to these daughters of the soil. We say to all the departed we will not fail your people. The struggle for women`s total emancipation is in the safe hands. Alunta Continua!!!
Comrades and Friends, our National Policy Conference is a precursor to the elective National Conference to be held in 2015. This weekend, we are charged with a historic moment to deliberate on policy and leapfrog women`s emancipation to greater heights. Under the theme "Radical Transformation of Women`s Socio-Economic Rights" the National Policy Conference has been tasked to deliberate on the following key areas:
Inclusion of Women in the Mainstream Economy Poverty Eradication Gender Based Violence Education and Health Organisational Renewal Women and Leadership In this address, Programme Director, allow me to say we are standing at the threshold of making history. It is this generation of women leaders gathered here who must set the women`s agenda for the 21st century.
Twenty years in a life of an individual is a long time. However, 20 years in the life of a nation is shockingly a short time. Despite this some progress has been registered in a quest to women emancipation.
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 20 years. The report author Jane Rarieya says eloquently that the past 20 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 strides into perspective let us look at the 2012 - 2013 Commission for Equity Annual Report. It says women participation in top management grew by 6.1 between 2002 and 2012. And, women participation in senior level management grew by 8.5 percent within the same period.
Another notable 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.
Comrade and fellow compatriots - there is no room for complacency despite the positive strides of the past 20 years. The picture is gloomy when we look at women socio-economic status.
Stats SA`s Gender Statistics report, released in July 2013, puts it all quite baldly. South African women are still less likely to be able to read, and less likely to have a tertiary education. Most of the population who lives under the food poverty line - less than R305 per individual per month - is female. Though the average life expectancy of women is better than for men, female deaths peak earlier, between 30 and 34. When women die, often nobody troubles to register the death. "That happens because there is nothing to inherit from a woman and a lot to inherit from a man," Statistician General Pali Lehohla explained at the report`s launch.
Equally disturbing is that according to the Business Women`s Association in its Women in Leadership Census 2012 report: "Only 4% of the CEOs of JSE-listed companies are women and only 6% of the people who chair such companies are women. Of about 400 companies listed on the stock exchange, only 12 were headed by women in 2011."
Other research indicates that while women make up 43.9-% of the workforce, they constitute only 21.4% of all executive managers and only 17.1 % of all directors in South Africa. Less than 10% of South Africa CEOs and chairpersons (9.7%) are women. This situation is totally unacceptable.
This issue is not peculiar to South Africa alone; the 2012 G20 Worldwide Index of Women as Public Sector Leaders demonstrated that while women made up a sizeable percentage of the workforce in most countries, this was not reflected in their representation in leadership.
Despite these statistics, we indeed shall overcome. My renewed confidence comrades is not misplaced. We as women gathered here representing thousands of other women out there - we are on the right side of history because we are members of the ANC. Hence, I repeat no matter the hurdles on the way, we shall overcome.
As an example in his 2014 National Women`s Day speech delivered at the Umlazi stadium in KwaZulu-Natal, President Jacob Zuma in both appreciating the contributions that women made and also committing the country to supporting the emancipation and empowerment of women, said:
"In South Africa, women have for decades, played a critical role in the struggle for liberation. They have also contributed immensely in the process of building a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa." President Zuma went on to commit the country to support women by stating that:
"In honour of all these remarkable women, we will not rest until we achieve the total transformation of our country into a truly non-racial, non-sexist, united and prosperous society."
We must never be mistaken that the struggle for women`s emancipation is our struggle alone. As I indicated earlier, our late founding father of the new South Africa Nelson Mandela spoke about the liberation of the woman, the emancipation of the man and the liberty of the child. We must at all times be rest assured that the African National Congress as a leader of society is behind our struggle. What history has bestowed upon us is to lead such struggle to total emancipation of women from the yoke of patriarchy, gender-based violence, discrimination in the workplace, and all other challenges facing women as we enter the 21st century. Comrades and Friends, I am certain that we are equal to this historic task. We shall indeed overcome.
I thank you.