Mama Maxeke dared to challenge social injustices

Johannesburg – Change in societal circumstances is often a direct result of the efforts of courageous individuals who dare to challenge adversity and anomalies.

From one generation to the other, the structural boundaries in society have shifted because of efforts of such courageous individuals.

Men and women of courage arose to challenge the world and effect positive change in society.

In marking the International Day for Women tomorrow, we are once again called to dare challenge the world and contribute to building an equal society that is founded on human rights.

Society is called upon to emulate trailblazers such Mama Charlotte Maxeke, whose life and times are characterised by the will to confront prevailing anomalies and contribute to the empowerment of women and African majority.

This year’s theme for the International Day for Women appropriately embodies the character of people like Mama Maxeke and effectively call on all of us to rise and drive change in society.

In her lifetime, Mama Maxeke confronted multiple forms of oppression, rose above her circumstances, and appropriately earned the title of “Mother of black freedom”. From being the first woman to graduate with a university degree, to being a leading proponent of indigenous languages and leading the creation of an employment agency for Africans, Mama Maxeke showed that she was dynamic in character and always willing to stretch societal boundaries.

The character and nature of challenges that befell the generation of Mama Maxeke may have changed with the advent of democracy, but remnants of that era continue to bedevil modern-day society.

The struggles of women against patriarchal tendencies remain relevant, women’s constitutional rights are compromised by perpetual acts of gender-based violence and femicide, more women remain in the periphery of mainstream economy and occasional racism rears its ugly head.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the depravity of these challenges. Many of our people lost their jobs and poverty lines are more visible. While the government intervened through social and economic relief measures, our reality today calls for us to emulate the dynamic character of Mama Maxeke, adopt the call for all of us to challenge the world and find solutions for the prevailing circumstances.

Charlotte Maxeke statue.

The framework for economic reconstruction and recovery, which was presented by President Cyril Ramaphosa, requires that we draw from our collective virtuosity to build lasting solutions and improve our country’s competitiveness.

The recovery plan will benefit from the courage and participation of all stakeholders and individuals in society.

We have a chance now to reconstruct an economy that is inclusive. More women should find space in the mainstream economy and help in the recovery process.

The government has already committed to allocating 40% of its procurement spend to women to facilitate an inclusive economy.

Historical evidence shows that when women are empowered, change prevails in society. When Mama Maxeke graduated with a university degree, she inspired generations of educated and self-reliant women.

Many a times, women’s rights are compromised because they are reliant on their abusers. Society must challenge this anomaly and facilitate the integration of women in the mainstream economy.

It is in our interest to heed Mama Maxeke’s counsel: “This work is not for yourselves – kill that spirit of self, and do not live above your people but live with them. If you can rise, bring someone with you.”

• Siweya is the Deputy Minister in the Presidency.

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