12 Aug

My life is driven by my three passions: Women, Africa and the arts. This week brought a number of beautiful and necessary realisations and experiences.
In South Africa, Women Day is celebrated on 9 August, as we reach this time suddenly media bombard us with messages of women empowerment, there is an overflow of pink high teas, pretty colours and events and awards honouring women. As much as we need to celebrate and honour ourselves and success, we must not move away from the fact that as women we still live our lives in fear and face the reality of abuse, rape, sexism and death every minute of the day. So when the mandatory invites and event posts come in, I have become rather critical and strategic in which ones I want to attend. The joy of reaching and passing forty years, brings some level of contentment and right to decide what you want to feed your brain and soul with and more importantly what you want in your space.
Upon receiving an invite to attend a dialogue session hosted by Advocate Thuli Madonsela, I automatically RSVP and quickly rally ups a few people that understand the importance and magnitude of such an invite.

The invite came from one of my warrior sisters, Samu Khumalo. Samu and myself met in 2012 when I was invited to Kenya by The V-day movement for the an African symposium on stopping violence against women on the continent. She is one of the V-girls who are working at raising awareness of abuse amongst girls. She started her Samu Sunday session at her home in Rockville. These sessions include her inviting girls from the community to come together and talk about their personal challenges. I have attend a few and hosted one in 2013.


The event took place at Constitutional Hill, In a room above from the old cells.
Constitution Hill is a living museum that tells the story of South Africa’s journey to democracy. The site is a former prison and military fort that bears testament to South Africa’s turbulent past and, today, is home to the country’s Constitutional Court, which endorses the rights of all citizens.
There is perhaps no other site of incarceration in South Africa that imprisoned the sheer number of world-renowned men and women as those held within the walls of the Old Fort, the Women’s Jail and Number Four. Nelson Mandela. Mahatma Gandhi. Joe Slovo. Albertina Sisulu. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Fatima Meer. They all served time here. But the precinct also confined tens of thousands of ordinary people during its 100-year history: men and women of all races, creeds, ages and political agendas; the indigenous and the immigrant; the everyman and the elite. In this way, the history of every South African lives here.

I asked my cousins Ipheleng and Lesego to accompany me, later my nephew, Kevin joined us. We were greeted with young powerful ladies handling the registration process. We had the opportunity to take a tour around the cells. Although this was not my first visit, being in that space opens up a different sense of emotions. Walking though the cells, observing the exhibitions and feeling the energy, one can feel the spirits and energy of the place.


We were then seated and the event was opened up by Karyn Vaughn from ENCA. Advocate Thuli Madonsela gave an opening remark and chilling testimony on the state of some of our female veterans who had been incarcerated in the exact prison and who fought for our democracy. Mme Thuli spoke about one particular lady, Mme Palesa, who had been a past prisoner and who now lives way below the poverty line and struggles to put food on her table. She reiterated that they lived a life far from being glamorous. Her aim is to move forward in a positive manner but ensure that a legacy is left behind, hence her starting the Thuli Madonsela Foundation.
The Thuli Madonsela Foundations is an agnostic, A-Political organisation. It I a think and action tank led by young people. That is why our registration was handled and received by young millennials. The aim of the foundation is to promote democracy and defend it, the goal is to create inclusive development and peace. She told us that Mme Palesa’s heart is now raw, how she gave up everything yet she lives like a pauper.
The fundamental principles of the foundation flow along the DART principle:
D- Democracy
A- Activism, assistance and advocacy
R- Research
T- Training

The panel included the following ladies: PJ Powers, SA singer and activist; Melinda Shaw, communications expert and trustee of the foundation; Mme Cecile Palmer, ex-prisoner and activist and Advocate Maduna, trustee of the foundation.

The dialogue was opened by Mme Cecile Palmer who was incarcerated in 1976, whilst she was pregnant, she was also accompanied by her mother. The fact that three generations had been incarcerated at once, sent chills running through my spine. She told us of how the then minister of justice, jimmy Kruger, believed that her and her mother were seen as instigators and influencing the youth, hence their incarceration. She hopes to see a South Africa where everyone is free, a South Africa where we live in a true democracy. She then felt the need to apologise as she felt that their efforts were done in vain as people still live in townships and in poverty. She stated that poverty in South Africa is now the new passbook.

Advocate Maduna, spoke on her her plan and vision is to impact communities in an effective and sustainable way.

PJ Powers, know for her outspoken activist during the apartheid years, said that Ubuntu originated way before the Christians 10 commandments. She reiterated the principle behind Ubuntu: That a person is a person through other people. She made a very profound statement that people who ignore people with less should be a punishable crime.

Melinda Shaw, spoke about how we have a democracy that is on paper but not in practice, that the solutions were in the room that we were siting in. Democracy is people governing themselves.

Karyn Vaughn, spoke about her white privilege and that although she is Type-A diabetic, she has access to the countries best health care. She shared a story about her sister who is a medical practitioner that works at Baragwaneth hospital, south of Johannesburg. She told us of a story of young female patient whom her sister (a medical practitioner) was attending to who suffered the same condition as Karyn, she shared with us of how her sister fought for a long period of time, trying to keep the young female patient alive but failed to. The reason for the story is that if the patient had access to adequate health care, she would have survived. She also challenged white South Africans to stand against racism and to stand up for the oppressed and marginalised.


The overall sentiment was that political power has not given us freedom, the question of how did democracy save us as they are lost.

Poet Puno Selesho recited a powerful poem about the strength of women at the end of 1st part of dialogue.

The second panel included Thando Hopa: lawyer and model, Unathi Msengana, TV personality and singer and two phenomenal millennials.

Unathi Msengana, gave a heart wrenching testimony on how her generation, Generation X have failed our veterans and our millennial. That we , the generation X, were supposed to be the bridge and we have not done our work.
Thando Hopa said: We’re in pain because we don’t have structural empathy in society”
Democracy stole out mothers, and we lost ourselves in the process. What did we get from democracy

The event then closed with Advocate Thuli Madonsela saying that the way forward would be to start a trust done under Mme Palesa’s name. Money was raised and a paying job was made available to her as a historian narrating her story and that of prisoners that were incarcerated during her time.

We were then treated to a sumptuous meal where we were strategically placed with women from all generations and work out a future strategy and a way forward.

I left the event feeling fulfilled and content not just by the days revelations but also that I was able to share it with my your g 21 year old cousin and nephew. Its not just about creating abetter life for myself. But we need to pave the way for he younger generation, female and male.

The following evening I was in conversation with Pumla Dineo Gqola as she launched her new book Reflecting Rogue: Inside the mind of a feminist.

A few months back Ashraf Garda interviewed me on his radio show, one of the questions he asked was who would I like to be in conversation with,My answer was feminist and author Professor Pumla Gqola. So when I received a request from Pumla requesting me to assist, I automatically agreed without a doubt. I met with her, received a copy of the book and began reading the masterpiece, a process I thorough enjoyed.

Reflecting Rosgue is a brilliant collection of experimental autobiographical essays on power.

The book launch took place at Lovebooks in Melville. As we anticipated there was an overflow of guests, activists, critical book lovers and supporters. The conversation was engaging and Pumla’s powerful and energetic character shone through the room.

We spoke about the truths behind being a feminist in South Africa from her relationships, that included her relationship with her body from a young age to womanhood, the relationship with her parents, children and partners. I asked how she handled love relationships as being a feminist is difficult as many men cannot handle us. She shared a funny story with us about how Lebo Mashile, one of my other favourites, referred to men who try and bring down feminists as ‘Feminators”. From the word, terminator, these men support feminism on paper, they pretend to be there and understanding but actually their game plan to to bring down your power and strength. I laughed so hard when I heard that, as I have recently come out of a relationship with a man, who claimed to support my drive, feminism and mission, only to find out that he was married and wanted to take me on as the new concubine as his first wife was mismatched and had not left his wife officially, I was therefore going to be his new link in his polygamous world. I automatically left feeling lost and angry but after hearing the testimony of the Feminator, I now know I’m not alone or mad.


During the conversation I wanted to ask so many question but only managed to tackle a few, we covered feminism versus lobelia; her love for other African feminists such as Alice Walker, Wambui Otieno; her career and life through three universities. Her parents were academics at Forte Hare university, she she grew up understanding and believing black power. Black power has been one of my many challenges growing up, as I was brought up in a white home during apartheid, the terminology of black power was always undermined. I only came to the undressing and impotence of it at a very late age, in fact in my late thirties. What I loved about this chapter of her book is that there were other black people who had grown up in normal homes, felt the same way.

We spoke about her time at UCT, University of the Free state and now Wits university. Pumla spoke honestly about the ongoing sexism, patriarchy and disgusting attitude of women that lives in our universities. She even spoke about how certain male professors have stapled condoms to students papers, how they have sent pictures of their penis to young students. I opened the conversation to the audience.

A hearty congratulations to Pumla as she goes back to Forte Hare to take up the position of the Dean.

What an amazing and powerful way to end my week and commemorate Women’s day. I am truly blessed to have been in the presence of women who are working at being the change in the world, women who are not scared to speak the truth and take up positions on the frontline in the name of activism and humanity.


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