Struggle for equal rights for women is not yet won: Ramaphosa in tribute to Frene Ginwala

24 January 2023 - 14:42
By Sisanda Mbolekwa
President Cyril Ramaphosa paid tribute to Frene Ginwala, first speaker of parliament in a democratic South Africa, at her memorial service on Tuesday. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images/City Press / Lucky Nxumalo President Cyril Ramaphosa paid tribute to Frene Ginwala, first speaker of parliament in a democratic South Africa, at her memorial service on Tuesday. File photo.

President Cyril Ramaphosa remembered the late first democratic speaker of the National Assembly Frene Ginwala as a pioneer, a pathfinder and a leader in the true sense of the word.

Ginwala, a recipient of the order of Luthuli, passed away at home two weeks ago at the age of 90 after suffering a stroke.

On Tuesday Ramaphosa delivered a eulogy at a memorial service for Ginwala, highlighting her “profound contribution to the cause of freedom, peace and progress”.

“Frene Ginwala played many parts. She was a journalist, an author, an academic, a barrister and a parliamentarian. She was an activist, a feminist, a pan-Africanist and an internationalist.

“Yet no roll-call of her many achievements can adequately describe the person she was nor the impact she made in the course of her life,” Ramaphosa said.

Ginwala was commemorated at the Johannesburg City Hall as someone who lived a life as rich in experience as it was in meaning.

It is telling that among her earlier political assignments she was called upon to find ways for ANC leaders to clandestinely leave the country. At a time of great uncertainty and danger, she established routes and identified means of passage where before there had been none. Through ingenuity, through courage, through determination and diligence, she forged new paths.
President Cyril Ramaphosa 

Ramaphosa recalled the role Ginwala played in setting up the ANC’s first office in exile and establishing the base, saying that over the next decades the organisation would forge what was probably the “most powerful international solidarity movement of our time”.

“It is telling that among her earlier political assignments she was called upon to find ways for ANC leaders to clandestinely leave the country. At a time of great uncertainty and danger, she established routes and identified means of passage where before there had been none. Through ingenuity, through courage, through determination and diligence, she forged new paths.”

The president said she was a vital part of that movement for three decades in Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique, the UK or wherever else her assignments took her.

“On whatever platform, given whatever opportunity, Ginwala was an eloquent and persuasive champion of the cause of the South African people. With her keen intellect, her measured delivery and her clear articulation of the principles and purpose of our struggle, she felled many a critic and earned many a friend. Through her writings, whether as a journalist, an academic or activist, she provided both incisive critique and clear vision.”

Ramaphosa said in a political environment in which the dominance of men didn’t invite comment, Ginwala was one of the few voices that was consistent and insistent that women should occupy their rightful place in the struggle.

“She told us what was wrong with the world and, most importantly, how it could be better. Ginwala will be remembered as a pioneer of women’s rights. At a time when scant attention was given to the many ways in which women were oppressed and exploited, Frene fought for the struggles of women to be recognised,” Ramaphosa said.

Ginwala, who was counted among the ranks of those women who burnt their passes and among the women who marched on the Union Buildings in 1956, was remembered as “part of a proud lineage of courageous women who have fought for the freedom of all in this country, men and women, black and white.”

In his tribute Ramaphosa said the country would remember Ginwala as a pioneer in “building our democracy from the ruins of apartheid, who, as part of the ANC’s negotiating team, brought all her legal training, her sharp mind and her political conviction to the task of forging a new constitutional order in South Africa”.

The president said as the country bids farewell to Ginwala, we ought to recognise the struggle for equal rights and opportunities for women is far from won.

“As a society, as a state and as a movement, we have yet to give full effect to the principles of non-sexism and gender equality.

“Despite significant progress, women are still under-represented in positions of authority, responsibility and influence across nearly all areas of public life. And despite the progressive policies we have pursued since the advent of democracy, women are still over-represented among the poor, the unemployed and the vulnerable. As Frene would remind us, until we have achieved equality between men and women in all spheres of life, we will not be free.”

Ginwala made a lasting mark as the country’s first democratic speaker of parliament.

“Over the course of a decade in that position she forged a new institution that reflected the great diversity, struggles, aspirations, culture and practices of the South African people.

“She performed her role as speaker with diligence, fairness and integrity. She was always mindful that it was her responsibility to serve the people and to do everything within her means to advance their cause,” Ramaphosa said.

The president sent his sincere condolences to her family, especially her beloved nephews Zav, Cyrus and Sohrab, saying the nation shared in their sorrow and the family must be comforted by the knowledge that Ginwala’s spirit, courage, wisdom and generosity will forever be remembered.

“Frene lived, fought and strived as we all should — selflessly, honestly, courageously, driven by a deep and abiding love of humanity. To defend the aspirations of our constitution is to honour the memory of Frene Ginwala.”

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