This was the message from Artscape chief executive Marlene le Roux, who was the guest of honour at the Cape Times breakfast held at the Artscape Theatre Centre yesterday.
Le Roux did not attend the breakfast, after the loss of her son Adam, who died at the the age of 15 last Friday. He had cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder caused by a non-progressive brain injury or malformation that occurs while the child’s brain is under development.
Cerebral palsy primarily affects body movement and muscle co-ordination.
Le Roux will donate Adam’s equipment, hospital bed, walking frames, special buggy and physiotherapy equipment to the Thembalethu School for the Physically Disabled in Gugulethu.
The breakfast brought together women from all walks of life in a celebration through art. With dignitaries from provincial government, women who have overcome the odds and achieved success and more, guests were entertained by moving performances from artists including renowned pianist Camillo Lombard, songbird Fancy Galada, and Unmute Dance Company consisting of artists with mixed abilities and disabilities.
In her speech, read by Independent Media Group executive for marketing and communications Lutfia Vayej, Le Roux said: “Disability is not even on the agenda of our country. Today I am not mourning the life of my child. I am celebrating his life. His life was given to me in order to understand humanity - but also to understand the bigger purpose of life.
“And the bigger purpose of life is also to understand that life comes to Earth in all forms. And it is the soul of that person that matters and the spirit of that person that matters.”
She said the journey of being a woman, disabled, being black and from a rural area is totally different to becoming a mother with a child with a disability.
“Through Adam - I became focused, I could still have my career, I have achieved so much in my life - because I had a job.
“So many women lose their jobs because the workplace does not understand what this mother must go through. Because a child like this, like Adam, needed 24-hour care.
“Even in applying for help from government or life insurances or medical aids, doors close. Through me having access to all of this, I realised that sitting at Red Cross Hospital or Tygerberg Hospital, that the woman on the Cape Flats in the township does not have that support. Life becomes a nightmare and a struggle.
“My message is that our concentration in our country about humanity should also be about the humanity to be humane towards that mother.
“And to that mother that just heard that her child is disabled - to ensure that her child is a fully fledged citizen of South Africa and having access to all that this country can give.
“It will only be through the continued resistance against the mountain that hinders women’s final emancipation, that women will achieve our freedom.
“Just as those women 61 years ago, and even those before them since resisting colonial masters, cultural and even religious masters, marched for their freedom, we as women of today need to continue marching towards freeing ourselves from the shackles of sexism, patriarchy and misogyny,” Le Roux said.
She also had harsh words for ANC Women’s League President Bathabile Dlamini who had said publicly that women are “too emotional” to debate, adding that it seemed the league aimed to protect the image of President Jacob Zuma, instead of advancing women’s rights.
“Sadly, it seems that institutions who are supposed to protect those rights are dismally failing us. We need stronger leadership. Failing that we as a society need to take charge.
Currently, it seems as if not just gender-based violence and sexism and all its concomitant challenges are overwhelming, but is compounded by a host of socio-economic challenges too. For all these challenges we need sustainable programmes,” Le Roux said.
Women equally need to show mutual respect to each other, she added.
Cape Times live editor Liesl van der Schyff said the breakfast was a fitting tribute to women who have achieved extraordinary things in their lives.
“One such women is Marlene Le Roux, who embodies the spirit and has overcome many challenges in her life. The breakfast is also a tribute to Adam, Marlene’s son who passed away.
“Marlene has transformed the Artscape into a beacon of hope, and a space for all since taking charge. Similar to what has happened at the Cape Times The Cape Times is more inclusive on all of its print and digital platforms without fear or favour.”
Van der Schyff said the Cape Times is proud to be telling stories about women who have overcome the odds, women who have survived abuse, women who have been discriminated against, women who have broken the barriers of science. SAB has allocated R100 000 for distribution to four charities, two of whom will be be nominated by Cape Times.
SA Breweries Foundation director Bridgit Evans shared stories of the women who have overcome the odds in various communities around the country.
“We work with a lot of women. It amazes me what women do in our country,” she said, sharing the stories of women SAB has supported over the years, including rural farmers from Matatiele in the foothills of the western Drakensberg in the Eastern Cape.”