DURBAN: 280814 Graca Machel accepts the Mahatma Gandhi Awards for Peace and Reconciliation from Ela Gandhi at the Kandra Hall in Durban. PICTURE: GCINA NDWALANE

Durban - Women in Africa were haunted by rape, child marriage, kidnappings – all crimes that left them severely oppressed and which were the scourge of the continent, Graça Machel said in a speech in Durban last night.

The human rights activist and former first lady of South Africa and Mozambique was speaking at the Kendra Hall in Greyville where she was awarded the Mahatma Gandhi Award for Peace and Reconciliation by the Gandhi Development Trust.

On Thursday night she was speaking as the chairwoman of the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (Accord). She and Accord received awards for their role in working for peace on the continent.

“When I receive these awards I think of the women in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. How those women have been humiliated and raped hundreds of times. It is well documented and we read about it every day,” she said.

“They do not have their dignity respected. They do not have their rights acknowledged. They are not recognised as human beings.”

Machel said that as a result of war, the continent was facing huge numbers of children who would grow up mentally and physically stunted.

“Young girls in Tanzania are forced into marriage at eight, nine, 13. Children should be given a chance to be children.

“At least 43 percent of (African) children grow up with only half the ability to realise themselves. We know of girls in Nigeria who were kidnapped and then used as human shields,” she said.

She said South Africa was doing well in terms of reconciliation, although there was still a long way to go to fully create a sense of belonging and lasting peace.

“We have proved that we can build bridges among South Africans. We have the foundation of a society which is accepting of one another and we can build a future together.

“However, we are still a nation which faces huge challenges. There is a long journey to go in terms of social cohesion.

“We still grapple with issues of impropriety, we grapple with issues of gender, we grapple with issues of young and old,” she said.

The Mercury