Speech by  Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, H.E. Maite Nkoana Mashabane on the occasion of the 2017 International Women’s Day event in honour of Ms Charlotte Maxeke, Richards Bay

Programme Director
Honourable Premier of Kwa Zulu-Natal
Members of the Kwa Zula-Natal Provincial Legislature
Honourable Mayor and Councillors
The Mannye and Maxeke Family Members
Your Excellencies, Ambassadors and High Commissioners
Political Parties, in particular ANCWL leaders, a movement founded by Mme Maxeke
Civil Society Organisations
Community Leaders and Members
Men and women of the media

Ladies and Gentlemen

I am humbled and honoured to join you to day in celebration of the 2017 International Women’s Day. I must therefore recognise all the women here today who serve as the nerve system for our families, communities and the entire nation.  As you are aware the 8th of March marks International Women’s’ Day which is commemorated globally. We are however entitled to celebrate this day either on the 8th and/or at any day during the month of March.

I must state from the onset that I am indeed heartened that you have graced us with your presence to commemorate this special day. This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030”. The United Nations has utilised this year’s commemoration to call upon to “Be Bold For Change” in order to realise gender equality and women empowerment by 2030.

The year 2017 is very important in the history of our nation as it marks 100 years since the birth of Oliver Reginald Tambo, affectionately known as OR Tambo. In this regard, President Zuma has declared 2017 the year of OR Tambo in honour of the longest serving President of the African National Congress.

Ladies and gentlemen

OR Tambo was not just a freedom fighter, he was a proponent and an astute protector as well as a promoter of women’s rights. President Zuma attested to this fact during his State of the Nation Address this year when he said:-

“President OR Tambo was a champion of women’s rights”.

OR Tambo ably led the ANC’s Constitutional Commission in 1959 and insisted on the recognition of women’s rights in this important document. He later, as President of the ANC formed and working within the collective, established the committee on women emancipation. I can attest that through-out his adult life OR was at the fore front of women struggle in South Africa.

We have however decided to dedicate this special occasion to a women leader, a stalwart and forerunner in the struggle for gender equality and women empowerment in South Africa, Mme Charlotte Maxeke. South African women and men alike are greatly indebted to Mme Maxeke and her generation for promoting and advancing women’s rights as well as their unwavering commitment in the fight against apartheid during the most difficult times in the history of our nation.

Ladies and gentlemen

I must however admit that I have taken a personal interest in raising the awareness of our women stalwarts, after realising that so many of them, unlike Mme Maxeke, continue to be unsung heroines. For the purposes of this address I state that the UN’s call for boldness resonates well with the personality of Mem Maxeke. She is an epitome of bold leadership that brought about change in the lives of people around and far afield. 

We can only appreciate her bravery and intellectual prowess by assessing the patriarchal nature of the South African society and the world she lived in. Mme Charlotte acquired a university degree in Bachelor of Science from the Wiberfoce University in Cleveland, USA in 1905, a time when not only black women but also women of white race were subordinate to men.

Your Excellencies

I must hasten to say that this was not just a South African phenomenon and neither was it limited to African societies. It is well documented that women’s suffrage movements gaining traction in the West as early as mid-1800 in response to discriminatory laws and patriarchal practices.

Mme Maxeke’s situation was rather unpleasant and for her to record such an achievement could only be described as extra-ordinary. President Zuma provided a summation of the conditions at the time during his Charlotte Maxeke Memorial Lecture in August 2012 in Mangaung and said:-

“In those years, women had to contend with the triple burden of patriarchy, an oppressive regime and exploitative economic system”.

At this juncture I must indicate that, under these difficult conditions, the leadership of our movement did their best to promote women’s rights. Thus the founding father of the ANC President Dube continually mediated in women’s affairs with the then Department of Native Affairs.

Ladies and gentlemen

It took the courage of Mme Maxeke and her generation to organise South African women to fight their own struggle for emancipation and restoration of dignity. She selflessly agitated and led the fight against the apartheid government’s repressive and draconian pass laws as early as 1913. Her commitment to the cause saw her lead women in the Free State in the fight against pass laws, as well as leading women to the former Prime Minister Louis Botha to engage him on the undemocratic and discriminatory pass laws.

Such campaigns continued gaining traction and inspired other women to join the cause and led to the formation of the Bantu Womens League led by Ma Charlotte, and which later evolved into our present day ANCWL. Former President Nelson Mandela counted Mme Maxeke among the greatest leaders of our movement and appreciated the enormity and difficult nature of the environment within which they led our struggle. 

He recounted during his Closing address at the 50th ANC National Conference, in Mafikeng in December 1997 and said:-

“When we ourselves received the baton from Dube, Sol Plaatjie, Ghandi, Abdul Abduraman, Charlotte Maxeke, Gumede, Mahabane and others, we might not have fully appreciated the significance of the occasion, preoccupied as we were by the detail of the moment. Yet, in their mysterious ways, history and fate were about to dictate to us that we should walk the valley of death again and again before we reached the mountain-tops of the people's desires”.

Ladies and gentlemen

Mme Maxeke, like many women leaders, indeed walked the valley of death repeatedly before reaching the mountain-tops of our people’s desires. This is what inspired the 1956 generation of women who marched to the Union Buildings in protest against pass laws.

In this regard, we must draw inspiration and strength from our pathfinders who believed that they, as women, will never be spectators in their national discourse. It is in this spirit that women participated in the negotiation process that ushered our democratic dispensation and ensured that women’s rights are reflected in the Constitution.

Although we have recorded impressive gains in the purview of women advancement, there are still complex challenges that woman continue to grapple with in our country. These includes unequal representation in the work place, gender based violence, cultural practices which compromise the education of girls and the health of young women and girls.

I must emphasise though that these challenges are not uniquely South African. Women globally are negatively affected by detrimental cultural practices and persistent patriarchal practices that reduce them to an inferior class in the society.

Ladies and gentlemen

It is against this background that our own government recognises the crucial gaps that still remain and is hard at work to address these perennial ills. Through the National Development Plan (NDP) we are keen on realising gender equality and women empowerment by 2030. As such we have set clear targets for the advancement of women’s rights and report on progress annually.

We must build on the achievements recorded since 1994. We cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that more progress has been made in the public than in the private sector. It is conspicuous that the representation of women in senior positions is significantly higher in the public sector than it is in the private sector. As such, more equal opportunities need to be created to ensure salary parity in the work place.

Your Excellencies

We have a shared responsibility to create an enabling environment for the girl child to grow up with opportunities that will enable her to realise her dreams. Therefore, we need to keep the girl child in school so that she is better prepared to face the world. In so doing we will be contributing towards addressing the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment, inequality as identified in the NDP.

The important role education plays in changing a girl’s life and society at large can never be understated.  Women like Ma Charlotte are testament to this fact, it’s for this reason that she also held education in such high esteem.

Another limitation is the access to finance for women in order to pursue business ventures. I must state that this will change soon with the interventions government is making. In its 2017 January 8 statement, the ANC NEC called on government to do more and stated:-

“We urge government to utilise institutions such as the recently launched Women’s Cooperative Bank and all other development finance institutions to further economic emancipation of women”.

Furthermore, if we are to dismantle the structures of patriarchal oppression, we need to work as a collective and not relegate these duties to government only. We need the involvement of our communities, churches, civil societies, schools and the men in order to free our women and attain the complete freedom that Nelson Mandela envisioned. It is incumbent upon us to contribute towards the realisation of OR Tambo’s dream of an equal and inclusive society. 

Ladies and gentlemen

In order to preserve the legacy of Mme Maxeke we must be guided by her values of Ubuntu. She always emphasised that we must embark on a good course not only for our own benefit but for the benefit of others. That is why we avail our best women leaders to lead international organisations for the benefit of humanity.

We are proud to have had an opportunity for outstanding South African women to lead these important organisations. Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has just returned home after a remarkable tenure as the African Union Commission Chair. She leaves behind a strong legacy in women’s advancement at a continental level, amongst others.

Furthermore, Dr Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, continues to aptly lead the United Nations Women as the Executive Director. She is championing gender equality and the empowerment of women at global level.

Ladies and gentlemen

In closing, let me remind you that the struggle is far from over, there is so much that still requires us to roll up our sleeves and fight to make this world more equitable and a better place for women.
Let us not forget that our power as women rests in our resilience which is beyond measure, this has been tested throughout history.

I thank you!!!


OR Tambo Building
460 Soutpansberg Road




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