Key Note Address by Minister Dlamini Zuma on "Women in Africa-Building Solidarity and Strategies for Democracy" 8 August 2003, Durban South Africa

Comrades, Colleagues and Friends, I am happy to be home in the province of my birth and amongst the women of this province to celebrate together the victories of the African women. A Decade of Freedom, so much done, so much still to be done! We meet here to mark our National Women’s Day- to celebrate our achievements as women, to commemorate great women of the past and to consider the progress that needs to be made for the women of the future; our daughters, granddaughters and great granddaughters.

African women have a lot that they can draw on for inspiration. We have a long history of great women throughout the Continent; women with public profiles, as women patrons of the arts, women as saints and scholars, and women as warriors who have shaped our history, our art, our culture and values. While we have to the make the struggles and achievements of women everywhere our source of inspiration, we have to begin to reflect more on histories of African women.

We have to look for inspiration at the women of our African past that tell our grandchildren and children stories of African heroines that administered nations, commanded men soldiers into victorious battles, and built powerful economies.

This history talks of an Africa that valued the matriarchal family, where women were the economic backbone of the continent in which the values of peace, justice and social well-being was promoted. This rich African history is found in every region of our Continent, in every cultural group, and in every period of Africa’s evolution.

In the lands of ancient Egypt, African lands, gender equality flourished and women occupied position of authority and influence. Queen Ahmose-Neferati fought in active battle to protect her lands from foreign invasion and held a high position as a priestess in the national religious center. Queen Tiye demonstrated remarkable diplomatic skill and as a consequence her advice was sought by others; In North Africa, in 690 AD, there was Dahia Al- Kahina of Mauritania, an African woman freedom fighter who resisted the

invasion of the Arabs. She commanded her forces in battle, was a ferocious and courageous fighter who eventually took her own life rather that to admit defeat to the Arabs.

In Southern Africa, there was Queen Ann Nzingha of Angola who led the struggle against the armed forces of the Portuguese invasion, rallying the people of the region to fight against Portuguese penetration. She died fighting for freedom at the age of 81.

In Ghana, the Ashanti people were led into battle against the British , by Yaa Asantewa, Queen mother of Ejisu, after she courageously stirred up the men with these words:

" If you men of Ashanti will not go forward, then we will. We women will. We the women will. I will call upon my fellow women. We will fight the white men until the last of us falls on the battlefields."

In Cairo, there lies buried Sayyidinah Zaynab who is revered as a saint by countless Egyptians of every faith. The great African city of learning, Timbuktu of Mali, is actually named after a woman called Buktu, and in this city of scholarship is the medieval mosque

Sankore,, also founded by a women.

The length and breadth of our beloved Africa is filled with similar history of women who were intensively involved in Africa’ various national liberation anti-colonial struggles and in nation building efforts that followed. They worked beside their men but importantly also in their own organizations.

I remind you of the heroic role of ordinary women in the liberation struggle in Algeria in the 1950 and early 1960s. In East Africa women were vital in the struggles against colonialism, especially in rural and urban Kenya. Similarly in West African countries (such as French Guinea, women pointed and embarrassed their men folk who did not join the anti colonial movement, and of course, closer to home, we are familiar with stories of the brave women of Zimbabwe and Mozambique who joined in their struggle for liberation.

There is thus a rich past that African women can narrate of the efforts and victories of their fore-bearers. Part of our struggle as African women is to root our struggles in African precedence, in the continental context, and to make our successes and achievements work for all. Post-colonialism is unthinkable without women’s struggles against injustice and inequality. Yet the victories of independence have not easily translated into benefits for women. In many cases, the women who were in the forefront of independence struggles were given no or only minor roles in the newly independent states. And therefore, we should be proud of our situation here in SA where women have not been relegated after national liberation was achieved. In this regard, we are encouraged by the recent decision of the AU to the advance the participation of women in the affairs of the AU as a priority, by its the adoption of a Charter on gender rights and the deliberate election of women to 50 % of its Commissioner portfolios.

Women’s struggles for equality and advancement continue throughout Africa. Women in rural Africa remain particularly unaffected by many of the changes and improvements often taken for granted by their urban sisters. Basic facilities such as clean water, elementary school, clinics and child care can have revolutionary effects on the

lives of millions of women and their families and communities.

We remember we still live in a patriarchal world, continent and country. The majority of women are still in the rural areas trying to irk a living from subsistence agriculture. They are seen by men as property. Women are still exploited even at the work place. The late Samora Machel Pres of Mozambique, at a women’s conference in 1973 said: " To possess women is to possess workers, unpaid workers, workers whose entire labour power can be appropriated without resistance by the husband, who is lord an master. In an agrarian economy, marrying of many women is a sure way of accumulating a great deal of wealth. The husband is assured of free labour which never complains nor rebels against exploitation"

Humans are still subjected to inhuman treatment with their rights ignored both in tradition but also in law in many countries they are still abused. At the same time women are active in the economy especially the informal sector. In Ghana, Nigeria, Benin etc the

market women do wield economic and political power. Overall, the participation of women in decision making in all sectors of our society is still unsatisfactory even in South Africa though we have made a lot of progress.

We have to use our past and present achievements to further the spheres of empowerment for women, whether single or married, as mothers, wives, workers, and citizens. Our achievements as women politicians, business women, and academics must also be measured against the extent to which ordinary poor rural and urban women are empowered and how their lives are improved.

Much has been said about conflicts in Africa, and abuse of women and children in areas where wars are taking place. Wars have the most devastating effect on women and children. As a result of these wars, women and children are displaced, become refugees, encounter humanitarian problems because of the lack of food, lack of health care facilities and the lack of income. All of these impact on most on women. The vast majority of women are not involved in creating wars, but remain major victims of war and conflict. Women would rather see these conflicts resolved in amicable ways and in the context of international laws within our multilateral organizations such as the United Nations.

The critical factor is for us to bring an end to the civil wars and conflicts that have ravaged many countries on our Continent. This we shall do by standing firm and by placing women’s issues at the forefront of agendas for the African Continent’s development and for conflict resolution. In the process of development and conflict prevention, women have to find ways of expressing their desire in establishing democracy, in promoting a culture of human rights and their active participation in regenerating Africa.

In this regard, let me pay tribute to Mrs Zanele Mbeki, who acting in the true spirit of African solidarity, organised the South African and Congolese Women in Dialogue Forum, in March of this year. The Forum was an overwhelming success and was designed as a platform in which the Congolese women, armed with the experience of their South Africans sisters, could make a meaningful contribution to the peace and reconstruction process in their country.

Emanating from the discussions with the Congolese women was the realisation by South African women of the need to reflect on their own journey, achievements and challenges since the establishment of the democratic government in South Africa. Part of this process was the convening of the Women’s Dialogue was held in July. This demonstrated to us that acting in the spirit of solidarity in assisting other countries, in fact helps us deepen our own democracy. We must do more to strengthen the bonds of solidarity with the all the women of Africa. We must partner with our sisters in the Continent in or common destiny to advance the cause of democracy and women empowerment.

The success of the African Renaissance will only be possible if women, who constitute the majority on the continent, take an active part in it. Women have to energetically work to oppose Afro-pessimism, which maintains erroneously that Africa has only contributed chaos, anarchy and civil strife to the world. This cannot be true, for we know it to be fact that Africa is cradle to humanity, that Africa has given humanity her earliest forms of civilization, arts, culture and architecture.

This heritage demands that the women of the continent play a vanguard role in bringing about the rebirth of their motherland. This century belongs to Africa, and as women we must contribute, academically, politically, economically socially and maternally in ensuring that our continent rises to the challenges of this century.

In conclusion, we commemorate this year’s liberation struggle for the women of South Africa, bearing in mind that the majority of women in Africa are still living under unfortunate circumstances such as those still faced with abuse, poverty, unemployment, diseases such as HIV/Aids, malaria, cholera and all other pandemics threatening our communities, and continued gender disparities.

Let us therefore celebrate with dedicated hearts to bring peace, reconciliation and development to our country and Africa as a whole. I personally believe that without our commitment to peace, reconciliation and development, our nations will not enjoy the fruits of democracy, as a way of changing the lives of the majority of South African women and the continent for the better.

Let us not fail to take up the challenge of nation building, until women are fully set free from all kinds of oppression and discrimination. It is critical for us to recognise that the ‘objective’ is a society in which everyone has a role to play.

Nation building is a requirement for all, irrespective of race, gender, class, disability, age, religion or tradition. Gender issues must be streamlined in NEPAD. Development benefits women through the provision of water, sanitation, access to health, land and energy. Women must be seriously integrated into the economy. The education of the child girl is absolutely essential if we are to turn the tide. Families with educated women have enormous benefit. The participation of women in NEPAD programme will accelerate and energize it. Women must take an interest in the Pan African Parliament which will provide an excellent networking and solidarity forum in addition to other things.

Finally, in observing this historic day, let us pay a special tribute to the fearless women leaders of Africa that stormed the citadel of the racist power on August 9, 1956 and who laid a firm foundation for a democratic, non-sexist and non-racial South Africa that is striving for peace and sustainable development, nationally and internationally.

Let us pay tribute to the women who struggled in exile, here at home, who went to jail so that we could be free. We must on this day pay tribute to the ANC and the Alliance as a whole which has led the struggle for women’s emancipation through its progressive policies and leadership.

As we reaffirm our commitment to them at this conference we shall always be reminded that the enjoyment of human rights will remain meaningless, if it excludes women’s rights. It will still remain meaningless if it excludes the majority of women in rural areas. It will remain meaningless until all the women of Africa enjoy their right to full and complete emancipation. We state unambiguously, that women’s rights are fundamentally and inextricably part and parcel of human rights.

Let me conclude with the words from Salif Keita, , a Malian singer, who wrote:

" Happiness isn’t for tomorrow, it is not hypothetical, it starts here and now.

Down with violence, egotism and despair, stop pessimism. Let’s pick ourselves up. Nature has given us extraordinary things. It is not over yet, nothing is decided. Let us take advantage of the wonders of this Continent at last. "

Let’s build the country of our children and stop taking pity on ourselves.

Africa is also the joy of living, Optimism, beauty, elegance, grace, poetry, softness, the sun and nature. Let’s be happy to be its sons and daughters,

And fight to build our happiness."

Let us join hands in building solidarity for our democracy!


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