International Woman’s Day Celebration: Mme Charlotte Maxeke lecture legacy

A pioneer, a freedom fighter, a diplomat, a women’s rights campaigner, the founding President of the Bantu Women’s League and in many ways an exemplary African woman.

“Her role to lead the women’s march against pass laws in 1913 in Bloemfontein renders Mme Charlotte Maxeke one of the best known women’s rights champions in the world” -echoed Nkoana-Mashabane, the Minister of Department of International Relations and Cooperation in commemoration of the international woman’s day. She was speaking at Charlotte Maxeke Secondary School and the Wilberforce Community FET College, Evaton West on Sunday the 08th March 2015 to commemorate the Charlotte Maxeke memorial lecture.

Born Charlotte Makgomo Mannya in Botlokwa Ga-Mokgopa in Polokwane, formerly known as Pietersburg District on April 07th 1874, she received a missionary education at Edwards Memorial School in the Eastern Cape in the early 1880s. Later in 1905, she graduated with a B.Sc. Degree from Wilberforce University in Ohio, USA. She made history when she became South Africa's first Black woman graduate.

International Women's Day CelebrationMinister Nkoana-Mashabane was very dynamic in conveying the lecture in honor of Mme Charlotte Maxeke.She took the audience on an important journey through her timely address that guaranteed that everyone present has a deeper understanding of our pastabout the daughter of the soil, who spearheaded the cause for women’s emancipation and left a strong legacy to carry forward the task towards realization of what she stood for.“Her desire was to ensure that women are able to control their own destiny. She was determined that women, specifically in Africa, had to unite for a fight against discrimination, and weave their future in a way that they can exercise their full democratic rights” –Nkoana-Mashabane said.

Though International Women’s Day has been observed since the early 1900’s, 1913 marks a year which Russian women observed their first International Women's Day on the last Sunday in February on the eve of World War I campaigning for peace, the International Women’s Day was transferred to 8thMarch following discussions and it has remained the global date for International Women's Day ever since. 1913 also marks a year which Mme Charlotte Maxeke helped organize the anti-pass movement in Bloemfontein. Minister Nkoana-Mashabane used this 102nd International Women’s Day under the theme: “Make It happen” to honor the struggle heroine and distinct individual, Mme Charlotte Maxeke.

The minister started her day by handing over computers to the Charlotte Maxeke Secondary School and the Wilberforce Community FET College. These two institutions selected, were founded by Mme Charlotte Maxeke and her husband, Rev. Marshall Maxeke upon completion of her studies in USA. Known as Wilberforce Institute back in the day, the school became one of the leading high schools for Africans in Transvaal.

One of the greatest African American intellectual, W. E. B. Du Bois, a teacher then at the Wilberforce University was quoted in respecting Maxeke as saying:
“I regard Mrs. Maxeke as a pioneer in one of the greatest of human causes, working in extraordinarily difficult circumstances to lead the people, in the face of prejudice, not only against her race but against her gender. I think that what Mrs. Maxeke has accomplished should encourage all men, especially those of African descent.”

Minister Nkoana-Mashabane echoed Du Bois’ recognition of Maxeke and added by saying that,“ours is to take on the baton, carry on her legacy, build a responsible citizenry and ensure that we double our efforts in strengthening our commitment to finding solutions to the question of women and children”.
In her conclusion, Nkoana-Mashabane said that she believes through the selfless work of Mme Charlotte Maxeke, “we must realize that each and every one of us can make a meaningful contribution to society. Many of us have witnessed the exceptional work she has done - the establishment of Wilberforce College is just but one of her gifts to humanity”.

A total of 500 plus people attended the celebratory lecture. While many people were from the Sedibeng region, others came from as far as the eight other provinces in the country.The notable presences were those of the Sedibeng District Municipality Executive Mayor Cllr. Mahole Mofokeng, the Emfuleni Local Municipality Executive Mayor, Cllr. Greta Hlongwane and Rector of the College, Dr. Res Mbambo.

The 2015 Charlotte Maxeke lecture isused not only to honor Mme Charlotte Maxeke but also to popularize government objectives in relation to women’s empowerment since 1994. The people who attended the event, many of themwere ordinary community members and members of the African National Congress Women’s League who expressed their gratitude to being part of the lecture.

Photos taken during the celebration available here.

By Mojalefa Chuchi Radebe

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