Tshwane - South Africa has a lot to learn from Liberia, the first African country to elect a female head of State who stabilised the country after after being ravaged by years of brutal conflict, President Jacob Zuma said on Friday.
"We are very happy that as South Africa, believing in the empowerment of women, have seen a woman in Africa that has come in a country that was troubled and she stabilised it. She then began to develop that country. As if that was not enough, Ebola attacked that country severely and she led from the front, fought it and defeated it at a point when many were saying it was going to finish off the population," Zuma said at a joint press briefing with visiting Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Pretoria.
"That country is important to have a good relationship with, and we will certainly learn a lot. We certainly believe that whoever will take over from her, will take advantage of the work she has done, and also depend on the wisdom that she has displayed. So, as South Africa we will definitely strengthen the relations even more. It will be because of her own effort that will lead to the enhancing of that relationship."
Sirleaf has led Liberia since 2006. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Price in 2011, together with her compatriot Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman a pro-democracy campaigner from Yemen.
Zuma said irrespective of gender, Sirleaf has become an inspiration to Africans.
"You are not only an inspiration to the women throughout our continent, but to every one of us irrespective of gender, race or any other form of description. The confidence which the people of Liberia and the rest of the continent have in you, and the fact that you have successfully completed your two terms as the president and head of State with excellence, is a sure sign and proof that Africa is on the right path," said Zuma.
"It is befitting that we should today salute you, Madame President, for being a torch bearer in our unflinching and unwavering commitment to rid our continent of prejudices, poverty, inequality, and unemployment."
Addressing the same media briefing , Sirleaf said in Africa, women have already broken the glass ceiling and are ready for more leadership roles.
"As I go around, I'm always asked -- what word do you have for women? What encouragement would you give to women? And I stop and say, wait a minute, look at what's happening. Look at the level of women that today are holding positions all over the continent and all over the world. Look at the names of parliamentarians in many of our countries -- Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda -- all being great examples of that," she said.
"Look at our market women in the informal sector. The one thing in Liberia that, though poor, are the vibrant part of our economy. The ones that today can say 'I have a voice, I can take part in decisions that affect my life, I can be heard'. So today we have broken the glass ceiling through mind advancement, but there are so many who are just at the cusps of breaking through. And they are so many."
She expressed "great confidence" in regards to what is happening in Africa in terms of gender equity.
"The record is clear. The imperial evidence is there, that with equal participation, the economy, welfare, the state of improvement in countries are improved when that is achieved. That is why all countries today seek to reach that level," said Sirleaf.
The outgoing Liberian leader has invited Zuma for a State visit to Monrovia before her second term as president ends. Liberia goes to the polls in October.