Last Thursday (8 March), the world celebrated International Women’s Day to commemorate the Women’s Movement. Originally called International Working Women’s Day, it celebrated the achievements of women while also campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, hold public office and end discrimination.
Amidst high rates of sexual violence, unemployment, illiteracy and HIV–prevalence which characterise the position of women in South Africa, there are armies of women who have changed this reality for themselves and other women.
Some are qualified professionals who have studied abroad; others are from rural villages who struggled to finish high school. They are wives, partners, mothers and daughters who deal with the demands of their private lives while improving public service in South Africa. They succeed where government often fails. That’s why the Impumelelo Social Innovations Centre, has dedicated a publication consisting of 60 women’s stories, entitled Women Making it Happen in their honour.
Despite their diversity, their will to excel in spite of dire circumstances is what connects them. Take 20 something Jeanette Rikhotso, who runs an 800-cow dairy farm. She opened the door for other young women in the Eastern Cape to pursue a career in farming. Rikhotso’s work with the agricultural project, Amadlelo Agri, teaches government how to do land reform the right way.
Former domestic workers, Agnes Gcwabaza and Anastasia Thula established their own private Bophelo School in Soweto during the tumultuous 1980s. They still run their school today, showing government that black people do not have to settle for a poor education.
Seventy-three year old Mary Jwaai, declared, “I am retired but not tired” when she offered her 30 years of nursing experience to the local health department in Johannesburg. Her organisation, the Soweto Retired Professionals Society, runs a valuable hospice in Orlando West and trains about 60 young people annually in community health provision. These aspiring health-care workers are mostly women.
Lesley Osler, Anja Pienaar, and Clare Barnes-Webb, three farmers’ wives, mobilised Lettie Martins, Thembakazi and Nombulelo Matyeke in 1989 to start a school 40 kilometers outside Colesberg for 11 farmworkers’ children. More than two decades later, the Hantam Community Education Trust teaches 179 children and serves 6000 people as a definitive rural health and education hub. Hantam’s founding women still work from this beautiful school campus in the middle of nowhere. It has been called an “Oxford in the Karoo”.
How many women decide to start their career anew at the age of 60? Thelma Nkone did. After she enrolled for computer training, the Grandmothers against Poverty and AIDS (GAPA) employed her to do their administration. Nkone is one of 250 grannies around Khayelitsha and Guguletu which GAPA has helped shake to off their past lives as ‘grandmothers affected by AIDS’. Even the personal stories of GAPA Founder, Kathleen Brodrick, and Director, Vivienne Budaza, can teach us about women, networks and reinvention.
Besides providing government with blueprints to emulate, these women are just the tip of the social innovation iceberg in South Africa. They are achieving what no one had before, including harnessing the talents of other women. Until now, they have remained anonymous. Women Making it Happen is about to change that.
Implemented an idea that South Africa can learn from? Apply to the Impumelelo Awards before 27 April! Visit impumelelo.org.za