A legacy for SA women

WATCHING the newly elected head of the African Union Commission Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma lead President Jacob Zuma onto the stage in Bloemfontein to honour Charlotte Maxeke, the founder of the ANC's Women's League, was a proud moment.

WATCHING the newly elected head of the African Union Commission Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma lead President Jacob Zuma onto the stage in Bloemfontein to honour Charlotte Maxeke, the founder of the ANC's Women's League, was a proud moment.

It was fitting to see one of Africa's respected female leaders leading women from the front in celebration of their own achievements.

This honour kicked off Women's Month programmes to highlight gender struggles still plaguing our society 18 years into our new democracy.

President Zuma delivered the annual Charlotte Maxeke Memorial Lecture and told a packed hall at the University of the Free State that "Maxeke's legacy would never be erased".

Maybe there will come a time when every child will be able to rattle off the names of our heroes with pride from learning about them from our own history books.

When renaming Maitland Street after Maxeke, Zuma reminded the audience that before 1952, known for its famous anti-pass march to the Union Buildings, there was 1913, when brave activists like Maxeke demonstrated fiercely against segregation laws.

Born on April 7 1874, Maxeke was a true pathfinder. She was the first African woman graduate who studied under famed American literary activist WEB du Bois and achieved a BSc degree from Wilberforce University in Cleveland, US, a feat unheard of in those days.

A political activist, Maxeke swam against the tide when the world would not even recognise women's rights. She went on to establish two schools, an employment agency and a trade union. When you realise how much Maxeke managed to achieve, one cannot help but be saddened by the death of the women's movement in SA.

Women's rights take centre stage with the fanfare associated with Women's Month functions. Pertinent issues that still need to be righted like pay parity, domestic violence and representative leadership in business and politics compete with tea parties and cocktails in August and disappear off the radar for the rest of the year.

The voices of the Commission on Gender Equality and the ANC Women's League have gone silent or become reactive.

A few leaders like Dlamini-Zuma inspire confidence that the baton by Maxeke has been passed on.

"It is our responsibility to define and implement the changes we want to see," Dlamini-Zuma said.

We can all do that if we tap into the Charlotte Maxekein us.

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