To my daughters and granddaughters with love…..”Daughters of Africa Flesh of the Sun and Flesh of the Sky”

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Thoko Mpumlwane

As we approach the historic memorialization of the sacrifices the generation of 1976, I cannot help but think of what I should say to the girls and young women of today as we take a leaf from the girls of 1976. The 1976 youth generation is mostly now in their 50’s and 60’s.

 I write this knowing that the you face lots of challenges, some of whom the 1976 group did not confront. For example, in 1976, there was no Nyaope; the HI Virus was not heard of and TV started to broadcast in 1976 !The drug children were warned about was dagga! Then there was no pressure of having airtime because there were no cell phones. In fact, very few black homes had telephones. Clearly it was not fashionable to boast of “an airtime blesser” phenomenon either. Trust me, no doubt girls then did have challenges. Just ask them. So life is never free of challenges and pressures. I write to ask that you spare a thought to appreciate what they went through in order for you to be where you are today.

The class of 1976 stood up to reclaim its dignity as black students in a context that wanted to de-humanize them and to make blackness a curse. So, never allow anyone to dehumanise you for who you are. Be proud of yourself, your identity and your African-ness.  African-ness in South Africa is defined as non-sexist, non-racial identity where the constitution is supreme, where your dignity will not be harmed and where as citizens you enjoy rights, freedoms, privileges whilst accepting the responsibilities that go with being a citizen. Be proud to be a girl child with albinism. No one has a right to define you outside of the constitution. That you are a woman and girl child does not define you as a lesser being. You are created in the image of the Supreme Creator no human should reduce you to anything less than that. You hold half the sky!

In 1976, they dared to speak up and speak truth to power that brought guns and armoured vehicles in an effort to silence them when they were simply putting their offering of what a just society should be like. For that some dropped out of school, died, were imprisoned, banned and left their homes.  So girls, find your voices, speak up, don’t look away when justice is inflicted on any of your human beings and especially the voiceless…do not be silenced even by those who want to use their power over your African bodies! Don’t look away when in your community your brothers (or sisters) scorn and harm lesbian sisters for being “unAfrican”. Help them to understand the humanity and identity of the other. The constitution gives you the voice to define further what you as young people want for yourself as youth and for the greater good of humanity. The class of 1976 may not have defined these matters beyond the pressures of the time.

They opted to love themselves and one another and their country that they were ready to sacrifice comfort to make the world a better place. They marched peacefully in love and togetherness and those in power did not listen to them! They used their power to love seeking justice from those who were possessed with love of power over them.  I ask that you love your country, your people and humanity that you keep the bigger values of love, empathy, compassion, understanding in all you do. Learn to listen to each other, and even to the voices that irritate you because it is by listening to diverse voices that we will build a truly humane South Africa and world.

The powerful assumed girls had no place in education and should take a back seat. I remember that science and mathematics were not encouraged for black students because as one of the architects of Bantu Education Dr Verwoed then Minister of Native Affairs said, “There is no place for (Bantu) in the European community above certain forms of labour.” He asked, ”What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when he cannot use it in practise?.. Education must train people in accordance with their opportunities in life, according to the spheres they live”. The class of 1976 claimed their space in fighting for justice and freedom where all receive same opportunities. Take a lesson from that and take educational opportunities available to you seriously. Education opens your mind, your horizons and opportunities. Choose educational opportunities that will also make you an innovator, a creator and a provider of job opportunities to others. Dream big! Remember the world you live in is complicated and very different from the world of 1976. Then we did not even have a fax machine. We had typewriters. So prepare yourself for this new world where at a press of a button you may speak to a girl child in China, in India and in Kenya. Just in one day the internet loads more than 500 million tweets, 4.3 billion Facebook likes, 205 billion e-mails and 6 billion google searches, (clever me! I googled this information from Team GWAVA.)  Of course, education is not the only way towards solving unemployment.  It is a well-functioning economy that will dent the challenges you, my daughters are facing. Education is core to your understanding of self and the world. Empower yourself with knowledge at all times! Do not assume that there will be a man or partner out there who will feed and provide for your needs.

They called for doors of learning and teaching to be opened for them towards participation in available economic opportunities.  So for them education was not an end in itself. The class of 1976 did not want those opportunities selfishly for themselves, for “I, me and myself”. Their values of “communalism” were paramount in their language. So, my daughters get into this economic space holding dearly to the values of integrity, honesty, hard work and sharing. Do not allow greed to overtake your sharing nature!  Do not allow them to trade your body for tenders or to reduce you to a voiceless puppet. Work hard, know your game and refuse to be silenced from real and genuine economic participation. There are enough role models of women in the economy who will give you hope when things are tough for you. There are also many men who will respect you and journey with you as you navigate these economic spaces. Ask them.

They collaborated with each other in the transformation agenda…do not allow parochial differences to take you away from the bigger vision of a just society for all. Unity is strength. Whilst you make every effort to empower yourself and exploit available opportunities, remember that the freedom you have was achieved through collaborations and coming together of ideas by people who knew that an individual can only find real peace, happiness and be content if those around share the same joys. Remember transformation agenda requires solidarity towards building a “united, democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nation,” from the Constitution. We have not arrived at our constitutional utopia! Be careful about the talks that South Africa can thrive on its own and that we owe no accountability to this family of nations.

As the 1976 pioneer girls were marching and struggling, they were still grappling with patriarchy that wanted to reduce them to lesser being as girls. They refused, hence some consciously even chose to be soldiers in the liberation movements. Just remember you have a constitution whose Bill of Rights is very clear about your God given status in life. Section 9 (3) of the constitution states that you may not be discriminated against on the basis of amongst other “race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic and social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion. Conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.” Let no one tell you are not good enough simply because your biology is different. Just when the African Sky and Sun is up through the freedom we got in 1994, we now observe that your bodies are again becoming a site of struggle, people deciding what you can and cannot access on the basis on your sex as well as on some of the grounds mentioned above. We, now want to marry you off to big men before you are ready, we want to explore your bodies for fun without your consent or out of our own anger with ourselves, before giving you financial assistance with education, men (so-called good Samaritans) now want to sleep with you.  Some even want you to prove that you are a virgin before you can get a bursary.(if we are going to court should I say this?)

The class of 1976 also reminded us of the connectedness of Africa and when they felt unloved and in danger from the country of their birth they went to their siblings in the diaspora to find solace and to re-strategize. They taught us that South Africa is in Africa. Therefore, don’t keep quiet when the Chibok Girls of Nigeria are taken away from schools and from loving arms and security of their families into forests of Nigeria. Speak up when our own people no longer receive and protect those who leave their countries because of difficulties. Be counted amongst those who define what a true South Africa does to her neighbour.

 Let none take away from the fact that you are Flesh of the Sky and the Sun as the African Union Anthem says. Keep your eyes on the ball to be Presidents, Ceo’s, farmers, teachers, engineers, religious and traditional leaders, generators of knowledge, pilots et cetera et cetera. Of course you can also choose to be a home maker, but that should be your choice! The Sun should rise in Africa through your efforts.

Remember what you do today is building for the next generation. So my daughters and granddaughters, the classes before like the women of 1956 took you this far, it is for you to carry the country to the next level. Hold tight to the constitution. Read the Preamble and ask yourselves as the generation of girls of 2016, what legacy shall we leave for our next girls?

Issued by: Commission for Gender Equality (CGE)