Cape Town. 121003. Graca Machel has a one on one with Janet Heard from The Cape Times after the Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture. Reporter Janet Heard. Picture Courtney Africa

Janet Heard

INTERNATIONAL humanitarian Graca Machel has shone a glimmer of hope into the post-Marikana gloom by saying that SA has a host of good leaders who are capable of building democracy in the country.

SA leaders had stood out over the decades, she said. “This is the only country, for instance, that has four Nobel Peace Prize laureates. This is a reference to good moral leadership, this country has people who can lead,” she said during an interview this week.

Machel, who challenged South Africans at all levels to stop the blame game and to enter a form of dialogue to heal the wounds of the past, told the Cape Times: “We must choose leaders who can face the challenges of today, who will do their best.”

This meant leaders who were there to serve the people, who “always have the interests of the people whom they are leading at heart”.

When asked about specific leadership candidates in the build-up to the ANC’s elective congress in Mangaung, she smiled and said: “All I can say is choose the best.”

Resolute about not pointing fingers at the current political leadership – especially as the wife of the “hailed” first president of the country, Nelson Mandela – Machel said it was easy to criticise leaders, “but not easy to provide solutions”.

The country was full of contradictions, “with so many positives, but so many horrific statistics too”, she said, describing the Marikana massacre as a “cocktail of problems”, a “complex intertwined problem” which could not be trivialised in a few sentences.

A member of the Elders, a former Frelimo fighter and first education and culture minister in a liberated Mozambique, the international peacemaker said that in conflict situations, “things only get better through dialogue, when people talk to one another and build bridges”.

In her talk, delivered at the Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture, which focused on the lack of rights for women and children 18 years into the new SA, she described the brutalisation of society over three generations. “We need a vision of how to build a healthy society, how to heal, to help free ourselves from anger, fear and accumulated frustrations which make us unable to touch others in a loving manner.”

SA had strategies in place to tackle many of its political and economic challenges, “yet when we talk about social issues, particularly relating to women and children, we do so in a casual manner. There is no vision, no strategy”.

Machel said the country, on the face of it, was doing well when it came to women’s empowerment. Women made up 42 percent of parliamentarians, quotas were in place to bring more gender equity in the workplace, and legislation was in place to protect women against violence.

Yet the international advocate for women’s and children’s rights, felt desperate that “at a societal level, there is little happening.”

Also, she said “women’s political organisations are increasingly more partisan, showing particular interests that are not in the interests of women”.

The voice of women was fragmented, with women in townships not being heard in the national discourse.

When you looked at poverty and unemployment, “you are looking at women, who are hit the hardest”, she said./

Figures showed that 40 percent of African households in SA were headed by women “not because the husbands are dead, but because they are alive but somewhere else”.

The family structure had changed dramatically due to the impact of HIV/Aids, migration to urban areas and the ongoing migrant labour system.

“This issue of how miners are living was brought to our eyes when Marikana took place,” said Machel.

“South Africa had not even begun to understand the deep social crisis which has been structured, engineered and implemented for decades under the apartheid system. In the 18 years of freedom, I don’t think that this nation has taken steps to reverse it.”

“We have huge difficulties in communicating. We show anger and aggressiveness in our communication and interactions. We accuse one another, almost as if somebody else is responsible. We are in pain, we are hurting, we are harming one another because we can’t control our pain.”

These social issues were a growing concern, she told the Cape Times, challenging South Africans to form a social movement along the lines of the TRC, which devised ways of confronting the past and to to “face our demons” and build a future together. “The social movement needs to bring us all together, and it is not just from the top,” she said.

Machel, who is chancellor of UCT, singled out education as the most important tool towards women’s and children’s empowerment. “Education enables people to take control of their life, to break the cycle of poverty, and to dream.”

Concluding her talk at UWC, Machel compared the new SA to a house. “We dreamed it, we imagined it. We starting building. It is has brilliant architects. The roof is solid but the walls are cracking, the pillars are disconnected because the social fabric is collapsing. We need to fix the foundations and the walls. Who is going to fix it?”