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Drawing Inspiration from Sterling Women Leaders

Premier of KwaZulu-Natal Sihle Zikalala. Supplied

Premier of KwaZulu-Natal Sihle Zikalala. Supplied

Published Aug 5, 2022


Sihle Zikalala

At testing times in the economy and society, we look for inspiration and courage from generations that have gone before. The celebration of Women’s Month allows us to concentrate our minds on the tools employed by women leaders to respond to the challenges that confronted their epochs and the lessons we might draw.

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While there are legions of stellar women leaders in every facet of state and civil society, let us recall the sterling role that Mam’ Charlotte Maxeke played in the struggle against colonialism, racism, unfettered capitalism and patriarchy. Her life and sacrifice must forever be etched in the annals of the struggle for South African freedom. There is a dynamic connection between the historic phases of struggle and the contemporary challenges of socio-economic transformation.

Mam’Charlotte was the first African woman to hold a university degree. Former ANC President-General Dr AB Xuma paid tribute to her saying: “Her education translated into service for humanity has been a blessing and a God-send for our people and for better race relations in South Africa.”

The acclaimed African American intellectual Dr WEB du Bois honoured her with the words: “I regard Mrs Maxeke as a pioneer in one of the greatest human causes, working under extraordinary difficult circumstances to lead a people in the face of prejudice, not only against her race but against her sex.”

Recent crises have corralled our thinking that challenges like the COVID pandemic, conflict that rages on different parts of the globe, climate change, rising fuel prices and food security issues are unsurmountable or unprecedented.

To selectively quote Mam’ Charlotte from a speech she gave at Fort Hare on 27 June 1930, “… we must pull all our energies into this task if we would succeed”.

Succeed we must.

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Prominent on our agenda as KwaZulu-Natal at this time is climate change which has wreaked havoc on our communities across the Province. April’s floods led to the tragic loss of life and massive destruction to infrastructure.

Like the leadership that Mam’Charlotte offered her generation, the posture that government assumed was that of a social compact involving civil society, business and citizens.

Our robust interaction has been at a variety of levels including the KZN Growth Coalition, sector specific gatherings like the hospitality and tourism industry, Investment Conferences, Operation Vula and the KZN Youth Fund among others.

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When we started out the term of the sixth democratic administration, stimulating economic growth was tabled as a key objective. Government developed strategic plans for the short and medium terms to propel economic growth and redistribution.

The longer term vision is contained in the Provincial Growth and Development Plan and the National Development Plan.

At the centre of our plan is the mission to, among others, build a capable developmental state and a stable, conducive environment for business to thrive; support businesses affected by Covid-19, the July 2021 unrest and the 2022 flood disaster; and resuscitate the tourism industry as one of KwaZulu-Natal’s economic mainstays.

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The floods have stretched our limited financial resources. Still, our only choice is to strap our boots and move forward. The estimated financial impact of the floods on economic and social infrastructure exceeds R20 billion.

An amazing outcome of these past several months is how business, the non-governmental sector and the diplomatic corps have rallied with government to ensure that humanitarian relief gets urgently to where it is needed most.

That productive partnership supports our recovery, rebuilding and economic re-orientation programme and is aligned with the KZN Growth Coalition objectives which includes the need to drive and accelerate socio-economic transformation.

Radical socio-economic transformation is the policy position of our government that draws on the liberation and economic justice imperatives. It is aligned to the clause on the economy in the Freedom Charter and the struggles of generations of women to free themselves from national oppression and and socio-economic bondage.

RET is not the preserve of any one group or any one individual. RET is our collective, unambiguous position in the ANC. In this mid-term of this sixth democratic administration we can proudly demonstrate our achievements in advancing radical socio-economic transformation.

Our focus on vulnerable groups like the women and youth is yielding significant outcomes. We are inspired by the success of women and young people who benefited from opportunities and funding under Operation Vula RASET, and the KwaZulu-Natal Youth Fund.

Some of the women Youth Fund beneficiaries participated in the Intra-Africa Trade Fair (IATF) in December 2021 drawing considerable attention to their unique African product ranges and business prowess.

Mam’Charlotte would have been proud of Mbalenhle Makhanya of Twenty Something Pty Ltd in eZakheni township, a young women designer who has penetrated the school uniform, sports apparel and medical clothing market, the latter with scrubs for operating theatre personnel.

At December’s IATF, business people from the Democratic Republic of the Congo invited the company to showcase their high fashion range in that country. A delegate from the United Nations also encouraged their efforts by buying a garment and promising to popularise their brand within his global networks.

Given this compelling impact, Government has now increased the Youth Empowerment Fund commitment from an initial R50 million in 2019 to R100 million in 2022 with an express bias to women and disabled entrepreneurs in the youth sector.

Together growing KwaZulu-Natal is a historic mission that gains further impetus during this Women’s Month and is a necessary tribute to the sterling work of the icons of our freedom struggle. It is our own demonstration of seriousness as the Provincial Government in the battle to eliminate sexism and gender inequality.

Research has demonstrated that gender inequality fuels the shameful scourge of violence against women. This violence on the bodies and psyche of our mothers, sisters, and daughters is a blight on our hard-won freedom and democracy. In this regard, we will continue to focus on the economic empowerment of women, their education and skilling. We must remain steadfast in changing the socialisation of men from when they are young so that they grow up respecting the rights and dignity of women. We make a special appeal to families and communities not to protect men who abuse women.

The entire criminal justice system should severely punish this despicable crime in order to deter future would-be-offenders. The agenda of gender mainstreaming and the attainment of Generation Equality require that all stakeholders work together to support the empowerment and freedom of women. It needs our traditional leaders, our leaders in the faith-based sector, labour, the business community as well as civil society. Government alone cannot root out the patriarchal attitudes and stereotypes that are used to justify the marginalisation of women.

The private sector has a duty to improve its track record in its empowerment and ownership programmes targeting black women. The reversal in black economic transformation and economic ownership by black women is a serious indictment on the sacrifices of pioneers and stalwarts like Charlotte Maxeke, Lilian Ngoyi, Dorothy First, Nokuhamba Nyawo, Phyllis Naidoo, Portia Phila Ndwandwe, Helen Joseph, Victoria Mxenge, Winnie Mandela and many more.

We will continue to encourage the young girls and women of KwaZulu-Natal to take advantage of the support that their caring government is providing to help them in their self-development and economic empowerment.

Sihle Zikalala MPL is the Premier of KwaZulu-Natal