The world craves female role models in areas of innovation
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By Mmakgoshi Lekhethe
August 2021 is a special month for me in several ways.
This year, the month marks not only a public holiday in Côte d'Ivoire and South Africa, but the anniversary of a school that every woman would be proud of.
The reason is that my alma mater seems poised to top up the illustrious list of leaders in the public and private sector with a crop of young women innovators if Bohlale Mphahlele is the precursor of things to come.
This young Grade 12 learner at SJ van der Merwe Technical High School, established in Lebowakgomo in 1981, forms part of the 40th anniversary of the school which only had two girls out of its inaugural enrolment of 51 learners.
Looking back at my time at the school in the mid-1980s, I am only in awe of how far the school has come in affirming the place of women in society. When SJ van der Merwe celebrates 40 years of existence on September 25 this year, girls will be more than just a statistical phenomenon. Now a full-service boarding school, SJ van der Merwe is open to learners with a variety of learning barriers and with Ms NS Matlapu as its principal.
The school has produced respected leaders in the public and private sector, like Maureen Manyama (CA-SA and non-executive Board Member, African Bank Ltd., amongst others) as well as Monale Ratsoma (Director-General, New Development Bank, and BRICS Africa Regional Centre).
This Women’s Month, however, it is young women like Bohlale who represent the bright future and serve as a reminder that public schools are a critical component of our heritage and must be protected and cherished.
Our world craves female role models in areas of innovation, and Bohlale’s breakthrough last year when she was in Grade 11 shattered any lingering stereotypes about women as pioneers or young people from public schools in predominantly rural provinces like Limpopo, the birthplace of Charlotte Maxeke 150 years ago.
Mme Charlotte was the first black African woman to obtain a degree from Wilberforce University in Xenia, Ohio, in the US.
This year has been declared the Year of Charlotte Maxeke, whose contribution to the much earlier anti-pass campaign in Bloemfontein in 1912 laid the foundation for the 1956 march.
Led by Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn, the 1956 march saw over 20,000 women of all races once again confront the government of Prime Minister JG Strijdom to voice their collective objection to the imminent amendments to the Urban Areas Act of 1950 (“pass laws”).
We can only speculate as to what these protests would have been about in 2021 but Gender Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) would have been one of the issues.
Born and raised in Thamagane village, Ga-Mphahlele, Bohlale made headlines last year with her invention. Dubbed the “Alerting Earpiece”, her invention can be worn like a regular earring, but can capture pictures of the perpetrators of GBVF and send a distress alert to paired devices.
Not many women capture the pioneering spirit of 1956 and of Charlotte Maxeke like Bohlale.
The chance to support the education of young innovators like Bohlale was our incentive when in July, as proud alumnae of this school, we rallied to raise over R400 000 to restore and upgrade its infrastructure.
There are no pass laws for women to fight against. However, women face another menacing crisis in the form of GBVF-related offences and human trafficking.
There are many schools like SJ van der Merwe and several innovators in waiting such as Bohlale.
Our duty to them is to help the schools become repositories of indigenous knowledge and bright sparks such as Bohlale to think like perpetual problem solvers, while we channel much needed financial resources to propel their innovations to commercial viability.
Young people like Bohlale should be guided, supported and celebrated on occasions like Women’s Day.
*Mmakgoshi Lekhethe is the Executive Director at the African Development Bank Group in Côte d’Ivoire.
**Views expressed here are not of The Star or IOL.