Remarks by Minister Naledi Pandor, Dinner hosted by the Charlotte Maxeke Institute, Saturday, 9 April 2022

Your Excellencies,
The Family of Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen

It is a great privilege for me to address you at this special dinner hosted by the Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke Institute in honor of the work that is being done by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, in preserving the legacy of Charlotte Maxeke. Ma Maxeke was a trailblazer in her time across various sectors of society. When government declared 2021 as the Year of Charlotte Maxeke, DIRCO developed a range of legacy projects which would be organic, transformative, and impactful. We chose to celebrate Charlotte Maxeke beyond 2021 and turned the celebrations into a living legacy in a manner that captures her life stories, lessons, and memories. We want future generations to not only know but learn from her unparalleled leadership and values. We celebrate Charlotte Maxeke for having been:

An artist and performer. As a member of the African Jubilee Choir, she not only performed at home, but on international platforms in Europe, Canada and the US at the turn of the 19th Century. The Choir’s tour to Europe also afforded Maxeke the opportunity to perform solo for Queen Victoria.

As an Internationalist she travelled to at least two continents when travelling was not as easy as it is today. This gave her exposure to other cultures and a broader view of the world beyond the shores of South Africa. Ma Maxeke was an early ambassador of our country, forging people-to-people ties. Throughout the choir tour, she exchanged ideas with her contemporaries, shared information, and used art to bring South Africa to the world. She also worked with suffragists both in Europe and the US during the tour. After she returned home, she participated in a number of international conferences, where she highlighted the plight of African women. She advocated for cooperation and understanding between the people of South Africa and those friends she made through the tour and during her studies abroad. For example, she used her relationship with WEB Du Bois - one of her lecturers at Wilberforce University - to continue to inform the world about the conditions of Africans in South Africa. This is documented in some of her letters with this outstanding Pan Africanist.

As an intellectual she became a symbol of academic excellence and was one of the first women in Southern Africa to acquire a Bachelor of Science Degree in 1901 from Wilberforce University in the United States.

Ma Maxeke was a torchbearer in Women’s leadership, and was the only woman in the room at the founding meeting of the ANC at the Methodist Church, in Waaihoek, Bloemfontein on the 8th January 1912. It was through the motivation of Alfred Bitini Xuma that she was given observer status at this meeting. It is amazing that she sat there quietly when her participation was being discussed. The irony is that at the time she was intellectually more qualified than most of the men in that room, but her gender had been used as a barrier to her participation.

Ma Maxeke was also a powerful Advocate for women’s rights. She led the first women’s march of 1913 in Bloemfontein against the early introduction of passes. Maxeke was a pioneer in one of the greatest of human causes, working under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, in the face of prejudice - not only against her race, but against her gender. Her courage and leadership allowed her to transcend religious and cultural barriers.

Ma Maxeke was a Visionary in that she co-founded the Bantu Women’s League in 1918 and became its first President. She continued to fight against the pass laws and mobilized public opinion against the medical inspection of black women before entering domestic service. In today’s world, we would define her as an activist of Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights.

A social worker: Her work as social worker and Native Welfare Officer can be argued to be the best portrayal of her strength and distinguished ability. Maxeke had, as in most instances, seen the need and taken the initiative to serve her people without funds and for no pay. Her opinions and recommendations were sought by the State and, in many cases, she succeeded to get suspended sentences for her cases where lawyers often fail in cases of their clients.

Maxeke can be described as having been an Economic Empowerment Agent. She understood the intersectional identities of women who faced multiple discrimination, and she was imbued with the spirit of service. Her work included economic empowerment whereby she set up an employment agency for Africans in Johannesburg. She also worked with young people who had resisted unjust laws. She helped reduce the sentences of juvenile delinquents and advocated for their rehabilitation and economic needs.

While being the first black woman in the multiple spaces she operated in, she understood that for meaningful representation of women, she needed to rally other women to amplify their voices in the struggle for gender equality.

In honor of this exceptional woman, we had to find a way to tell her story and inspire generations of women to embody her values in a meaningful way. We want to ensure that she multiplies.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In paying tribute to the work of Charlotte Maxeke, DIRCO developed and launched an organic legacy initiative that will be an embodiment of her values and leadership qualities. This initiative is anchored in South Africa’s foreign policy, which is Pan Africanist in form and internationalist in content, titled, The Charlotte Maxeke African Women's Economic Justice and Rights (AWERJ) Initiative.

This initiative is our contribution to the Global Acceleration Agenda for the empowerment of women and girls. It is an important component of our women, peace, and security agenda. Through this initiative we have come full circle in our efforts towards the full emancipation of women and girls.

This initiative is also a practical expression of our diplomacy of Ubuntu, as it aims to strengthen South Africa's international solidarity work. It is an affirmation and a validation of women’s economic justice rights as fundamental human rights. South Africa recognizes that while more efforts have gone to advocating for the civil and political rights of women, the economic rights of women and girls have been largely neglected. It is for this reason that South Africa chose to focus its efforts under the Generation Equality Forum on Economic Justice and Rights.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Where are we now? How do we plan on implementing this initiative beyond the Year of Charlotte Mannya Maxeke? DIRCO took a decision to align this initiative with other national priorities and programs to ensure that it is supported at the highest level of the South African Government.

In July last year, President Ramaphosa joined other Heads of States and organisations at the Paris Generation Equality Forum to endorse the outcome of the multi-stakeholder process, the Global Acceleration Plan for the empowerment of women and girls across the globe. Furthermore, he outlined South Africa’s commitments for the next five years, including the Charlotte Maxeke AWEJR Initiative as one of the programmatic commitments. This initiative was endorsed as a collective commitment by the Generation Equality Forum in Paris. I am particularly happy that through this work, Charlotte Maxeke is now recognized as a global icon and symbol of women’s economic empowerment. This creates an opportunity to collaborate with global stakeholders to enhance and amplify the legacy of Charlotte Maxeke during this period in an impactful manner.

We have managed to use the occasion of the celebration of the Year of Charlotte Maxeke to mobilise the global community to support women’s leadership across all the action coalitions, particularly economic justice and rights through education, training and mentorship for women and youth. I wish to congratulate the Institute for its initiative to build a school which is in line with our programme of building a cohort of African future leaders that we call the Africa Future Leadership Development Program. This Program is aimed at inculcating the values of Pan-Africanism, integrity and selflessness through mentorship and training opportunities for youth on foreign policy and diplomacy work. A platform will be created for women diplomats to share perspectives and explore opportunities to promote the empowerment of women and girls in Africa.

We have started implementing collaborative projects with targeted support for women and girls to ensure that they have increased opportunities in decision making across political and economic spheres. The first programme was my annual breakfast with women Heads of Mission accredited to South Africa. Many of the embassies heeded my call for meaningful collaboration, with some offering specific support for the implementation of the flagship projects under the initiative.

My department is working with relevant stakeholders to organise and prepare for the African Women’s Leadership Award in May this year. The Awards will recognize and honor exceptional African Women leaders whose achievements, mentorship, influence, and contributions have advanced Africa’s development in various sectors of society. Furthermore, we are working with multi-stakeholders to finalize work on the following projects that are planned to take place over the next three to five years. The initiative includes:

  • The African Women's Leadership Training Program on Economic Justice and Rights. This will be exclusively tailored to enable astute African women leaders the opportunity to provide insight on Economic Justice and Rights. It will also provide a networking platform for African Women leaders to share best practices and lessons from their experience in the field.
  • The Women's Trade Fair which will showcase African women’s products and services to markets in the continent and globally. Furthermore, it will also raise awareness about the opportunities provided through policy initiatives such as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
  • Last but certainly not least, the Fellowship for African Women in Diplomacy. To honor Ma Maxeke, the Department will seek partnership for an annual fellowship program specifically targeting African women in diplomacy. This program will provide both degree and non-degree awarding opportunities to the next generation of African women in diplomacy. This is an effort to groom female public servants inspired by the values of Charlotte Maxeke, such as ethical leadership, empathy and excellence.

The Department, through the Office of the COO, has been engaged in a consultative process with many of our friends and partners, including the CMMI, to ensure that no one is left behind. In conclusion, let us be guided by the words of the Patron of this Initiative and I quote, “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”.

I thank you

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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