31 August 2021

Professor Mayekiso said women must deepen reflections as they learn from each other. “Our theme for this year, Dare to Inspire, directs our minds to realize that as women, nothing results from not trying. Our theme last year was Engender Resilience, and the women of UMP have been amazing in showing their resilience during the most trying of times.”

She further urged the continued celebration of the women who marched to Pretoria in 1956, that we let their courage and resilience inspire us to inspire others.  

“They did not fold their hands and watch it happen. We need to reflect and ask ourselves: Who are we inspiring? At UMP we place a very high value on inspiration because it encourages those around us to do more and be more. It allows us to excel and distinguish ourselves from the rest. When we expand ourselves and go the extra mile, we inspire others to do the same. 

“We need to break the chains or we will never be free. We need to reclaim our space and reimagine our future,” she said. 

In her keynote address Prof Mzikazi Nduna said small gatherings and meetings provide women with an opportunity to learn from each other and to share their hopes and desires. 

“It was on this day all that time ago that women affirmed to each other that they - as women - were capable of changing the world. They came together and sang joyously, they shared their strengths and took up their collective struggle.  

Despite our troubled race and gender relations and the many other layers of power that we confront in our societies, we are here today because working-class women played a major role in changing the conditions of the time. I would like us not to forget that it is not easy sometimes when we have to celebrated what happened in the past and not remember the gist of the day. 

“The gist of the day is so that you and I don't have to play a part today and not walk around like the past because we were deemed not fit to exist. Today you can walk around town and you don't need to prove why you are here and we must celebrate that achievement. 

UMPVice-Chancellor, Professor Thoko Mayekiso.

Courageous to lead 
Here today the vice-chancellor mentioned that for about five years, she was the only female. And the only woman in the MANCO.  

“Imagine what that means, if you are the only female body, and the body itself in a space of men says a lot. It is up to you, the person wearing the cap, when you walk into this space daily, always being confronted by people who are different from you.  

There is such comfort in seeing a body in a meeting, a body that looks like yours. There are certain things as a female-bodied person you will understand, not only because we are females but because we are defined by society as women. And there are certain things about being a woman that men do not understand and will never understand. I don't want to waste your time expecting that men will understand what it means to be a woman in this society.”

Prof Nduna further mentions that the there are many things that we can fight. "That's the last thing that I believe we need to fight so men understand what it means to be a woman in our society."

Prof Nduna adds: “Today I am inspired by Professor Thoko Mayekiso who for five years had the courage to sit in meetings with men. Even those women of 1956 had the courage to organise,  the courage to face injustice and the courage to confront the pillars of gender and racial injustice. I would like us to continue that fight today, tomorrow and until gender justice has been served in this country.”

UMP Speakers Professor Mayekiso and  Professor Nduna joined by Professor Lukhele-Olorunju.

The balancing act
She continues: “We know that women today are free to work outside their homes yet they are still largely employed in private homes. I read about labour patterns and when you read you will see something quite disturbing. So many women start school and finish their achievements, and more women go to university and graduate than men.” 

But when you look in the labour sector you will see that there are more men than women. Where did all the women go, they are educated? What we see in the labour sector is that for women you have to be over-educated to get an entry level job, and you have to be over-educated to maintain yourself in the world of labour. What we see is that lesser qualified men enjoyed much better paid positions than highly educated women. 

We are an institution of higher learning and it is an insult to us to keep on graduating women who are not going to be able to compete in higher levels with men. If we are graduating them with the hopes that they will get an equal opportunity with men we have another thing coming because that is not the case. 

There are women who have the privilege of getting a job in South Africa today. And some women are not so privileged. And yet those who do get the jobs are constituted to low-paying positions, being exploited even by other women, and those women look up to us. 

I need you to remember that you who work at the University of Mpumalanga were able to break the chains that women, particularly black women, were only good at being domestic workers. 

The fact that you are here today means that you are very daring, you are a risk-takers, you are a trailblazers, you are courageous and many women look up to you. 

Do not underestimate your CV. Do not hold yourself back - push yourself up for that promotion. You must get promoted. You need the money, you need the status and before you become nice to other people you should work on yourself. When we dare to inspire we know that we have the support of other women.”

@ Story by Cleopatra Makhaga. Pictures @ChrisplPhoto.