Hosted by the CMMI Institute that bears her name, and attended by family members and women leaders, the event yesterday celebrated Maxeke's legacy and leadership, and showcased the CMMI’s plan to build a prestigious girls’ school in her name.
Stealing the show was a dramatic oral history presentation by a group of 16 girls aged 8 to 12 from the Chief Albert Luthuli Primary School in Daveyton, Ekurhuleni, under direction of Longile Maboe.
Guest speaker, Febe Potgieter-Gqubule, the recently appointed deputy chair of the SABC board, spoke of Maxeke’s contribution to the Struggle, especially for women’s emancipation, and the important place she deserves in history.
She outlined Maxeke’s leadership lessons for today, saying she was a “servant leader” and a “game-changer”.
Maxeke, she said, did not allow circumstance to define her, but had studied hard to become the first black South African woman to attain a BSc in 1901. The lesson for boys and girls today was that one could break free of one’s circumstances and succeed.
In addition, Maxeke pushed boundaries. Aside from her achievement in education, she fought patriarchy and worked to emancipate women. She was the only woman to attend the first ANC conference in 1912 and became the first president of the Bantu Women’s League, the forerunner to the ANC Women’s League.
She was a leader in women’s protests against the Land Act and the pass laws, and organised women to be a powerful voice in South African politics.
Potgieter-Gqubule said Maxeke had demonstrated the principles of servant leadership, understanding the responsibility leaders have to serve the people they represent.
Leadership is not only about occupying an office, but about making a difference in people's lives, organisations and one's country, she said.
Freedom Park chief executive Jane Mufamadi spoke of the significance of hosting the event at the venue, which honoured the liberation Struggle and recognised Maxeke’s role, particularly in the Gallery of Leaders.
The timing of the event, during the 16 Days of Activism, was symbolic as the protection of women and children was something Maxeke was passionate about.
“Equalling her passion for the plight of women, Maxeke became a catalyst for protest action, particularly about low wages. She was able to weave complex women’s rights issues, politics and religion seamlessly, and worked tirelessly for the upliftment of people in this country,” Mufamadi said.
Speaking at the event, Nomfundo Nxumalo outlined plans for a school of excellence to be built in Charlotte Maxeke’s honour.
“We want to establish a learning environment that produces girls of Maxeke’s calibre, but also serves as a visual and functional monument to her memory.
“We want to give young girls a platform to believe in their talents and realise their dreams, not to have limitations, but to equip themselves with confidence and skills to excel,” she said.
The school would create a lifelong sisterhood for the girls to lean on and elevate one another, taking account of Maxeke’s famous quote:
“This work is not for yourselves, kill that spirit of self and do not live above your people but live with them and if you can rise, bring someone with you” - a theme echoed in the girls’ tribute to woman leaders, including Maxeke.