President of the Republic of South Africa and the President of the African National Congress, Your Excellency Jacob Zuma
Premier of the Free State, Comrade Ace Magashule
President of the ANC Women's League, Comrade Angie Motshekga
Vice Chancellor and Rector of the Free State University, Professor Jonathan Jansen
Representatives of the Maxeke family
Women's League Comrades
Members of the media.
It is an honour to be given an opportunity to make a few remarks today at this auspicious event hosted jointly by the University of Free State in Mangaung and the ANC Women's League. We are all aware that we are gathered here do two things launch our annual Women's Month commemorations but also to celebrate and honour a giant among women, a heroine of our people Charlotte Maxeke.
Comrade Maxeke, whose life we congregate to celebrate belongs to that generation of our people who, to paraphrase one writer "lit our road to freedom like a burning meteor, shining brighter than the system that had sought to minimise their humanity, along with that of the people whose yearnings they symbolised."
That we return to the city of Mangaung in the year that our movement in the service of our people celebrates its 100th anniversary, and to honour the "Mother of Black Freedom in South Africa" is therefore no less than she deserves. She belongs to a generation that made it possible for us to have the honour and privilege to celebrate Woman’s Month and to have a public holiday dedicated to women.
It is those women who created the conditions that have made it possible today to have the first woman to chair the African Union Commission.
President, comrades and friends
Casting our eyes back to 49 years ago, to 1963, when the Organisation of African Unity was launched. From its name it is clear that it was anchored on the unity and solidarity of African states and on their coordination and cooperation in order to achieve a better life for the peoples of Africa and the eradication of all forms of colonisation.
This is encapsulated in the words by the first Chairperson of the Organisation of African Unity, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie who said:
"Today, we look to the future calmly, confidently, and courageously. We look to the vision of an Africa not merely free but united. In facing this new challenge, we can take comfort and encouragement from the lessons of the past. We know that there are differences among us. Africans enjoy different cultures, distinctive values, special attributes.
"But we also know that unity can be and has been attained among men of the most disparate origins, that differences of race, of religion, of culture, of tradition, are no insuperable obstacle to the coming together of peoples. History teaches us that unity is strength, and cautions us to submerge and overcome our differences in the quest for common goals, to strive, with all our combined strength, for the path to true African brotherhood and unity."
The unity of the African state and its people is as important now as it was then, if not more important. Indeed the member states of the Organisation of African Unity worked together, united in the liberation of our continent and after they had liberation our continent, and South Africa, which was amongst the last to be liberated, decided in 1999 to transform the Organisation of African Unity to the African Union. It aimed to focus on fighting poverty and underdevelopment.
The African Union had to create a united, prosperous and non-sexist Africa, at peace with itself and the world. The African Union Commission, which co-ordinates the activities of the Union, is therefore governed by the mission to become: "An efficient and value-adding institution driving the African integration and development process in close collaboration with African Union Member States, the Regional Economic Communities and African citizens".
This is not just a Union that should bring together governments and parliamentarians. It has to bring together African citizens to be part of the driving force. It has to be driven by its own citizens that means you and me. This is very important because our own citizens must begin to play a vital role in the continental developments. We should all become the change we want to see as Gandhi said, in our African continent.
It is therefore important for all sectors of society to be mobilised – women, youth, business, labour, academics, amongst others – to accelerate the change towards peace and prosperity in Africa.
As we launch our annual Women's Month celebrations, we must as women in South Africa in particular, and women of Africa in general, embrace the African Union Decade of Women, declared as such by African Heads of State and Government in 2010. We should define for ourselves what this decade means, define that we want to do, the role we want to play and achieve during this decade.
So what do you want to do during this Women's Decade? It must be our responsibility to define and implement the changes the want to see. We must also launch our Women’s Month remembering that the Pan African Women’s Organisation (PAWO) which was formed in Tanzania in 1962 commemorates its 50th anniversary this year. The PAWO is one of the building blocks aimed at uniting and uplifting women in particular and citizens in general.
PAWO has historically played an important role in the mobilisation of women for the struggle for the liberation of our continent. As it celebrates its 50th anniversary we should perhaps ask ourselves whether it is still able to respond to the dynamic changes within the Continent and in the world.
Is it able to address the present needs of women of political, social and economic emancipation? If the answer is no, we must take the necessary steps to ensure it can respond effectively, even if it means to transform the organisation? South African women must join in engaging actively with the objectives of the African Union, so that we can together, determine the agenda and the outcomes of the Women's Decade.
What are we going to concentrate our activities on? Should we be involving women in the economy? I read a report that I did not like which suggested that women in Southern Africa are the least economically active compared to our counterparts in West and East Africa. We must make sure that when we are in government, we remove barriers to our economic emancipation.
I am not talking even about big business but just small and medium. One of the major problems is access to finance and land. We must also ensure women have access to other resources like electricity and running water.
In South Africa, the World Bank's 2012 Development Report indicates that: "Investments in electricity networks in rural South Africa raised women’s employment by almost 10 percentage points in five years. Electricity freed up time from home production for women and expanded the types of market activities available to them."
We are therefore not just providing water and electricity. We are also ensuring women can do more for their economic emancipation. When we empower women we know that we are empowering the family. The children will get educated and when you improve the education of girl children they will improve the health of their families. Nutrition of the family will improve.
Infant mortality will also decrease when women are more educated. It is however of great concern that the World Bank's 2012 Development Report indicates that only in Sub-Saharan Africa are infant mortality rates on the rise. We must therefore increase women’s access to healthcare.
Women also have the power of numbers. If the population in our continent is one billion, it means just over half a billion are women. We have the power to influence a lot of issues in our continent. If we talk about prosperity of the continent, it cannot happen if our half of the population is not prosperous.
Our power also lies in the fact that we are mothers. We should be proud of that and see it as a strength. It gives us the opportunity to influence future generations. The first and most important education children get is at home, before they go to school or church. We must not abdicate that responsibility. As women we must know what women are doing all over the continent and have cross pollination.
Women must be part of the emerging economies. Some people are beginning to say women must become a force to be reckoned with in the economy. The future we bequeath to our girl children beyond this decade must demonstrate tangible progress in the conditions of women.
It is fitting to recall the words of one of the finest sons of our soil, Oliver Reginald Tambo, late former President of the ANC who was a fierce supporter of the emancipation of women:
"No more shall it be that the women’s place is in the kitchen but in the forefront of the struggle for emancipation."
We have made progress on the matter of our representation in Parliament and in Cabinet and that progress must still continue and grow. We must however now turn to the economy in a systematic and very focused manner. Education, skills including in science and technology is very important for the emancipation of women. Access to finance and land is also critical.
We must enter the struggle for economic emancipation with the same vigour as we did with struggle for liberation. We have what it takes. We must go for it and our continent will be much better and stronger for our courage and determination. The girl child of the future must remember us as the women who lit the road to the freedom like burning meteors.
I thank you.