Zanele Mbeki Fellowship

Mrs Mbeki

JULY 2019

When we conceived a Programme on Feminist Leadership, it was because we thought that it was necessary that we lend a hand to cultivate a new generation of thought leaders, to humanize our continent and our world. The current global ecosystem is not working for both men and women and all other excluded people, as well as the environment we live in. How can Feminism help in the search for solutions?

Feminism is not a destination. It is a journey. There are many raging scholarly debates as to whether feminism is African or not; whether it is a struggle between men and women; or an exclusively female enterprise to the exclusion of men. Is it inclusive of women and men for the development of all humanity?
Let all flowers bloom as we seek the path of humanizing our continent and our world.

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I think that feminism is the closest ideology to ‘ubuntu’. It is intersectional and embraces all humanity. What I am sure about today, is that feminism is not the opposite of patriarchy. The opposite of patriarchy is matriarchy, with both ideologies seeking dominance over society. Feminism does not seek dominance over anyone. Feminism seeks respect and equality for all. Feminism rejects the dominance of women over men as well as the dominance of men over women. It therefore rejects both patriarchy and matriarchy. Feminism promotes equality and respect of all creation.

It was inevitable that the intersectionality of an Apartheid oppression on black women on account of race, class and gender was predestined to embrace the plight of the entirety of all those suffering exclusions caused by societal prejudices; to wit: people with disabilities, refugees, migrants, faith derided and sexual orientation. As black women, we defined our situation as a ‘triple oppression’ based on our experiences, knowledge and perceptions at that time. Not too long thereafter, emerged other voices suffering oppression and exclusion because of their disabilities, faith, national origin, sexual orientation etc. Women embraced these sections of society because we have known the pain of oppressive exclusion. Freedom is not freedom when it oppresses the other.

Feminism must seek to dethrone patriarchy, not for the purpose of male oppression, but towards new humane messages towards complete respect for men, women and children. Feminism must empower women to rise from the bottom of the pyramid, so that women and men meet in the middle of the pyramid, as equals. Equality can never mean sameness. It must represent respect for our diversity of roles and responsibilities as we choose.

Feminism is ‘Democracy freed’ not only from patriarchy but from racism, class exploitation and bigotry, in any form. It is the highest form of revolution for transformation towards a new and fair ecosystem.

Recently, it was announced that the ‘Ministry in the Presidency for Women’ would now include, ‘Youth and Persons with Disabilities’. A sister was reported to have been riled, because this made it the ‘Department of Women and all ‘other things that irritate’ society’. I personally was very pleased with this new combination within the Department of Women, because feminism is intersectional and inclusive of other oppressions. Being lumped together with all ‘other things that irritate society’ is logical because Women’s emancipation must bring with it the emancipation of all other excluded people; the youth, the people with disabilities, refugees, the LGBTQI+ community, those who have been religiously excluded, and those in extreme poverty. This new homogenised position is supported by the Equality Clause of our Constitution. In this way the combined focus, efforts and budgets will be able to create a stronger force to combat exclusion. The youth is agile and innovative, this together with the passions and experiences that mothers bring with them, will create the necessary cohesion to enhance support systems for those with disabilities. Let us do it together.

In September 2017 I attended an insightful dinner hosted by Hilde and Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of their Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. Guests included Jim Yong Kim Head of The World Bank, Al Gore current chair of the Alliance for Climate Protection and former USA Vice President. Together they debated the future of our world and concluded that the current ecosystem has failed all of us and cannot renew itself. They predicted that a conducive ecosystem will emerge from the youth who are impatient with what is going on and have options provided by the Fourth Industrial Revolution to enable them to act with speed. I said to myself ‘you are forgetting women’ in that configuration as women have been waiting for centuries for this to change. They are natural collaborative partners with the youth to bring about such change.

This Fellowship did not prescribe to a particular form of feminism. My hope is that our graduating cohort will pursue the search for solutions and rewire the ecosystem for the results of a better world that we want. The existing systems are wired for the results that we do not want and do not serve our needs. The graduating Sisters need to outline laws, rules and regulations as well as practices and attitudes that need to be in place in order for us to achieve the outcomes we want. This process should echo through to all institutions, both state and non-state.

Patriarchy has reigned for over a millennium. It may take that long to change the world. Today’s graduating class must take the first step.
All must know, that things are changing!