Kgopelo Phasha brings us closer to the momentous countdown to the greatest pioneers of African struggles and why 2021 should be dedicated to credit their impact 

She came from a village in the north of Transvaal (modern day Limpopo) as a Mopedi maiden to tell the world these words – “As you rise, bring someone with you. Do away with that fearful animal of jealousy – kills that spirit of self and love one another as brothers and sisters”.

In her era she did not rise alone from Transvaal, a decade earlier a young Prince Matsebe, the son of King Setwati I of Bapedi nation, has demonstrated heroics and sophistication that earned him the illustrious nickname ‘Sekhukhuni’, generally used as Sekhukhune.

It is in that disposition that Sekhukhune District, Bapedi Kingdom and the people of Limpopo are joining hands with the people of South Africa and the progressive world as we count down to the 150 years anniversary of Mama Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke. Another epoch-making anniversary is that of 160 years of the rise of the Warrior King Sekhukhune I who ascended the throne of Bapedi nation after the passing of his father King Sekwati I, the son of King Thulare I. These two icons made pioneering breakthroughs in their respective pursuits, defying limitations of their geographies and strata in the body politic of their time.

On his path King Sekhukhune I fought against the mounting tide of British Empire on the African soil. He was severely penalised and targeted for his defence of the land, his friendships with the Zulu nation under Silo Cetshwayo ka Mpande, the eMaswati refugees communities under Mtfwanenkhosi Msutfu and Mtfwanenkhosi Mabhedla, and for proclaiming vast inheritances attributed to and amassed by his forebears King Thulare I and King Sekwati I, and other great Bapedi rulers in his regal Marota lineage.

Just like King Sekhukhune I who was jailed after the Anglo-Pedi War of 1879 at Tšate, Mama Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke endured discrimination throughout her life but the limitations and actions that were meant to put her in the margins never discouraged or broken her spirit to place women issues on the political agenda.

What makes Mama Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke a true stalwart, trailblazer and a national icon is that she lives in her words, legacy and teachings to this. She became a symbol of resistance, a torch bearer and a pioneer in the fields of education, leadership and nation building. In her cause for justice for African societies and advancing women, she became a woman of many firsts. For example, the first black South African woman to achieve a Bachelor of Science Degree in 1901 in America, outsmarting even her own oppressors and men of her own ilk; the first woman to participate in the King’s Courts under King Sabata Dalindyebo of AbaThembu – which ordinarily the society didn’t expect her to be there; establishing a school in Evaton with her husband in 1908 (Wilberforce Institute); being the only woman to attend and contributed to the African National Congress (ANC) founding conference of 08 January 1912. She is also the co-initiator, organiser and the first President of Bantu Women’s League founded in 1918 (which later became ANC Women’s League).

For her resolute sense of justice it was her initiative to get women of Bloemfontein to burn passes as a demonstration of defiance against authorities. In many respect she lived ahead of her time. As we count down to 150th Anniversary of her birthday in 2021 we remain inspired, enchanted and filled with pride to follow her teachings. We will mobilise her legacy to become part of women and girl-child conversations, and most importantly for all of society to respect women and uphold the struggle of gender equality as a struggle of all humanity.

The struggle against gender based violence compel us to invoke the legacy of Mama Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke even more than before or at any other time in history because our society is drained by high prevalence of gender based violence and femicide. We have to intensify the struggle which she lived to fight – fighting patriarchy in society. As the District of Sekhukhune and in deed Limpopo Province, we are called upon to rise and ensure her work comes to light, so that this generation can use her story as a torch in solving today’s challenges. The Kgopelo Phasha Leadership Foundation will hold activities to highlight Mama Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke’s work and encourage dialogue amongst all people in society, beginning with boy children so that they embrace the legacy and teachings of Mama Charlotte to inform their disposition about the past, present and future place of women in society – most importantly empowerment to become the paramount advocators of women’s safety.

The Author is founder and chairperson of Kgopelo Phasha leadership foundation, he led many political and civil society structures and is writing in his capacity.

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