Keynote address by Ms Susan Shabangu, MP, Minister of Mineral Resources of South Africa, at the Women empowerment gala dinner: Albert Luthuli conference centre, Durban
11 Aug 2011Programme Director,
His Worship, the Mayor of EThekwini, Clr James Nxumalo
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here in this port city of Durban, eThekwini, to join this throng of women on an occasion dedicated to women’s empowerment. It also pleases me immensely that MEC Mabuyakhulu and Mayor Nxumalo are with us tonight. I am happy to note that they have been here since this morning when the conference started. After all, the struggle for gender equality requires leadership. And it certainly does matter to us all if the champions (of gender equality) include in their deliberations these two outstanding sons of the soil.
We always gather only in the month of August to honour the sacrifices that were made by the generation of Ma Albertina Sisulu, Bertha Gxowa, Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, and other stalwarts of the liberation movement. Just go and read the history of the march on the Union Buildings in the protest against passes for women; consider the role women played as the backbone of constant revolt over the years against racism – revolts that led us to much blood, and ultimately to the relatively halcyon shores of democracy in 1994. It is a story of dedication, courage and refusal to be treated in an undignified and racist way. It must never be taken for granted, or forgotten.
However noble and just this may be, it still beats me that we celebrate these momentous events only during this month of August. Women’s empowerment is not something that must be put away in the drawer, only to be taken out and put on the table in this one month.
The greatest tribute we can pay to the fallen heroines of our country is to make this emphasis on women’s emancipation part of our daily lives, whether in government, the private sector, non-governmental organisations, in the community-based organisations, and as importantly even within our households. Few countries on earth have such relevant and heroic events of the recent past to draw on which prompt us to celebrate the just cause of women! And it is good to see our menfolk celebrating with us!
When it comes to revolutionary fervour, we should draw inspiration from the example of France, which is exceptionally patriotic and particular about the fact that their nation must never again countenance the subjection of one class of people by another. Their whole culture is a permanent feast designed in part to remember the sacrifices of the people of that country who, despite poverty and centuries of subjugation, rose up against tyranny inthe French Revolution of 1879. The United States sees the same on-going celebration of their forebears’ brave actions in having thrown off British colonial rule in 1775. What stops us South Africans from celebrating the same sort of thing in principle, which happened so recently in our history - leading to the beginning of empowerment of women in our own country?
Regarding our own situation, we should recall the inspirational words that Eugene V Debts, uttered in 1908, right at the beginning of the last century, and, in fact, barely four years before the formation of our movement, the African National Congress. He posed the question asked thousands of years ago: ''Am I my brother's keeper?'' He went on to say that we cannot tolerate a situation where we are “comfortable knowing that there are thousands of (our) fellow men (and women) who suffer for the barest necessities of life”.
This suffering is still with us, and by no means only in South Africa – and it bears down most oppressively on women. In this regard, the images we see on television almost every day now are those of women, with children on their backs, travelling for days in Somalia in search of the bare necessities of life. They are victims of unnecessary wars, let us be frank, that men have largely visited upon them, and which are worsened by drought and famine.
In Somalia, this bears down mainly on the women and children of that country. In this regard I want to pay tribute, to an organisation whose origins are on the South Coast, at Port Shepstone to be precise. It goes under the banner of the Gift of the Givers, who have added Somalia to the list of people they have helped globally.
The actions of the Gift of the Givers and those of both the African National Congress (ANC) and the government, which, too, is extending a helping hand to Somalia, are a demonstration that debts was right in criticising the old very ethic that a person’s business on earth was to look after oneself. Debts called that ‘the ethic of the jungle; the ethic of the wild beast’. The ANC is in fact historically, and for nearly a century, a direct response by the African people to the prophetic words of debts. May others follow this example in our own nation.
As mentioned, the ANC was founded barely four years after debts uttered his famous and moving words. The response to the question of “who is my brother’s keeper” was later internalised by the very movement, whose founding fathers, one has to note, were males.
So the question of gender equality and the struggle for the liberation of women, who suffered the double whammy of being oppressed as both blacks and females, and also exploited as mundane, underpaid workers, wasintertwined with the struggle for national liberation led by the ANC.
So the struggle by women is not only the struggle to resolve the national question, i.e. the black and white issue – that vexed racial divide which the visionary thinker WEB du Bois rightly identified more than a century ago as the crucial issue of our times). The women’s campaign for justice is also a struggle to end the economic exploitation of women – which, if we are frank again, has been simply appalling over the decades of phenomenal growth in the South African economy. And this exploitation still lurks in our society to this day. That is precisely why we need on going campaigns to counter this.
I have referred to what is in fact the triple whammy of being black, female and exploited in the workplace. So it should come as no surprise that Cde Joe Slovo should have raised the same issues at the reburial of comrade Moses Mabhida in Maputo before 1986. In paraphrasing Comrade JS, it is not the question of which one feature of the triple oppression of women is more than the others. It is rather the relationship between these three extremes and how we, as the post-apartheid government, are addressing them, that counts.
Ever since our formation, we in the ANC have shouldered an obligation to reverse this terrible ‘old ethic’ where we are “gorging (ourselves) with food (whilst) we (see) the children of (our) fellow beings starving to death (Debts)”.
Having sketched the political background on this issue of the inequality of women, allow me to deal with the more specific question that I was asked to deal with tonight: How do we chart the new frontiers for women’s empowerment in the mining sector? The very first thing we should all remember is that mining has been in this country for well over a century now. It is in the embryonic growth of the mining industry that the industrialisation of our country was located. The mining industry is the very reason for the emergence of the modern country we inherited in 1994.
Women therefore rightly expect the mining industry to be at the forefront of the empowerment of their gender. It was, after all, in at the beginning of modern South Africa.So here are some details: The original mining charter had a target of 10% women participation in the mining industry between the periods 2004 to 2009. I regret very much that this modest target was not achieved by the mining industry. Questions need to be asked about whether or not the mining industry took this matter seriously. Diversification in the ownership structure of the mining industry is not a luxury; it is a revolutionary imperative.
I am pleased that the Mining Industry Growth, Development and Employment Task Team (MIGDETT) stakeholders of labour, government and organised business including South African Mining Development Association (SAMDA) have agreed to increase this target and they have simply called on the mining industry to ensure that women’s participation in this sector has to be in line with the demographics of our country and that this should include such important areas as skills development of women.
As government, we can only do so much with policy interventions; however, the real “test of the pie is in the eating.” So, having one conference after another, and from one province to another, will not, of its own, result in practical action on this front. This can only happen if women organise themselves into entities geared towards taking advantage of these opportunities. Organisation leads to self-empowerment.
We must obviously avoid failed mining deals. I want to dispel the myth that anyone, including women, who gets into the mining industry is guaranteed of success. We need to draw inspiration from a speech delivered in 1895 by Booker T Washington, a scholar, political leader and representative of the last generation of black leaders born in slavery. He told a moving story in a speech in which he portrayed a ship lost at sea. It was in distress since there was a dire need of drinking water. They passed by a friendly ship. The captain of the ship in distress was told to let the bucket down where they were. But they simply did not believe fresh water was possible so far from shore. After the fourth message, they let down the bucket where they were, and they received fresh drinking water even though they were far from the mouth of the Amazon and out of sight of land.
Just as Washington indicated in that address, the women who are gathered here must not look far for real empowerment. The refreshing water is at hand in democratic South Africa. You should follow the (belated) example of that captain. You should listen once again to the call from government - and be like the people of Booker T Washington’s story, and “cast down the bucket where you are in agriculture, mechanics, in commerce, in domestic service and in professions”.
We have won our political freedom against the odds. And, yes, we can win our gender freedom. And gender freedom we must!
This means that not all of the women here present will be like Ms Daphney Mashile Nkosi and own a major manganese ore mine. But, instead, you can benefit from the secondary opportunities in the same way as the people about whom Booker T Washington spoke in the last century. You can take advantage of the opportunities that are arising in the mining industry, helped by institutions such as banks and others. Importantly, as our mining sector enters a new expansion phase, such opportunities for women will increase.
In the same vein, I am disappointed by the prevalence of fronting by women in the mining industry. Women who do this are doing a great disservice to the sacrifices of the generation of women who marched on the Union Buildings in 1956.
In closing, may I say that I am pleased that gatherings such as this are making a modest start in addressing and redressing apartheid-created imbalances insofar as the plight of women’s empowerment is concerned. These gatherings are but the beginning in a long road towards genuine empowerment of women.
I have no doubt that you will rise to the challenge!
Phambili NgamaKhosikazi Phambili!
Issued by: Department of Mineral Resources
11 Aug 2011
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