What they said about missionary school pioneer Dr Charlotte Maxeke

Nelson Mandela – Former South African president and world human rights icon.
Nelson Mandela – Former South African president and world human rights icon.

Former president Nelson Mandela, in his opening address at a commemoration marking the 46th year of the Women`s March on the Union Buildings, on 09 August 2001, I n Pretoria:

“I invite you to join me in my admiration of Charlotte Maxeke’s contributions and achievements in championing women’s rights, and the promotion of women in the sphere of social welfare most especially education field in South Africa.

There are many things we continue to learn from the life of Charlotte Maxeke.From her we have learned that one can be a leader and remain humble.From her we have learned that you can be a leader and still respect others in actions and deeds regardless of their status in life.

From her we have learned that one can be educated and remain sensitive to the needs of those who are less privileged.From her we have learned that that leadership is about sacrifice, selflessness and commitment.

As we celebrate this special day for women in honour of Charlotte, we must be reminded of all these values she has instilled in us.

It is human beings in the form of Charlotte Maxeke who taught us that unity must prevail amongst us, and indeed, amongst all of us as South Africans, black,white,yellow or brown. She has encouraged us to internalize the true fundamentals of leadership and Ubuntu – these are just some of the tenants of unity that she wanted us to learn.

In her interface with our people, especially women, she always urged us to uphold many values that we must internalize in our own lives, and behaviour that influences unity rather than focus on issues that divide us.
It is through her work that she cared for all – the elderly, the church, youth, the homeless, the rural poor, and ordinary folk.

Very few people can be said to have served their country and people with dedication, commitment, sacrifice, loyalty, respect, selflessness and patriotism like Charlotte. Indeed, very few can hope to attract such an outpour of applause, which demonstrates that she was unique in every respect.

Collectively, we must cherish these values our daily struggles towards creating a better future for our people.”

Professor DDT Jabavu.
Professor DDT Jabavu.

Professor D. D. T. Jabavu, leading New African academic scholar of the 1920`s, also made the following pertinent observation:

“Throughout all her life, she has been engaged in efforts of a patriotic character on behalf of the aboriginal races of Africa, these efforts entailing herculean tasks every time. Her social line has been the redemption of our womanhood as well as humanity in general.

The League of Bantu Women which she was responsible for starting, was a wonderful movement that stirred the imagination of our people and unmistakably infused a widened public spirit among our women-folk throughout South Africa with results still traceable right to the present time”.

W.E. B Du Bois,American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author and editor.
W.E. B Du Bois, African-American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, teacher and author.

Charlotte Maxeke`s contribution to the betterment  of African rights was noted far beyond her own area of activity.Here she is recalled with great fondness by one of the great African-American figures of the late twentieth century, W. E. B. Du Bois:

“I have known Charlotte Manye Maxeke since 1894, when I went to Wilberforce University as a teacher. She was one of the three or four students from South Africa, and was the only woman. She was especially the friend of Nina Gomer, the student who afterwards became my wife.”

“I regard Mrs Maxeke as a pioneer in one of the greatest of human causes, working in extraordinarily difficult circumstances to lead a people, in the face of prejudice, not only against her race but against her sex. . . . I think that what Mrs Maxeke has accomplished should encourage all men, especially those of African descent.”

Former ANC leader and University lecturer Professor Professor ZK Matthews.
Former ANC leader and University lecturer Professor Professor ZK Matthews

In one of his writings in the publication Imvo Zabantsundu,Prof ZK Matthews, one of the foremost academics and anti-apartheid leaders in the 1950s, described Mrs Maxeke as follows.

“Charlotte Maxeke was a stout lady with a striking face, with sharp penetrating eyes which could strike terror into those who crossed words with her and yet be gentle and kind to those who needed her sympathy”.

“She was an eloquent speaker and a fearless denouncer of the disabilities under which her people laboured. Soon she came to be recognised as an authority, especially in matters affecting women and juveniles. In this capacity, she often appeared before Government Commissions to give evidence on public questions affecting African women and children.”(“Mrs Charlotte M. Maxeke: Defender of Women`s Rights”, September 9, 1961).

Former ANC president Dr AB Xuma
Former ANC president Dr AB Xuma

The former President of the ANC, Dr AB Xuma coined the phrase that Dr Maxeke came to be associated with Charlotte Maxeke,”the mother of African freedom in South Africa”.

South African President Jacob Zuma.
South African President Jacob Zuma.

In his opening address at an occasion marking the celebration of women’s day on 09 August 2013, President Jacob Zuma said:

“Comrade Maxeke was born as Charlotte Makgomo Manye on 7 April 1872 at Ramokgopa Village in Polokwane (then Pietersburg).She grew up in an era where there was scant respect for black people in particular, and black women in general. Black women had to bear the greatest brunt and the injustices of the colonial regime`s repressive laws.

As a young girl growing up in colonial South Africa, Charlotte Maxeke did not allow herself to become discouraged by the limitations imposed on black people in general and women specifically by society and the regime.Even as a young girl, Comrade Maxeke believed that women must play a leading role in building up our movement in its struggle to defeat the enemies of the people and achieve liberation.

Other than her social work, it is Charlotte the political leader and activist that captures imagination and attention.She detested pass laws and the manner in which they sought to restrict the movement of women. She decided to organise and mobilise women against pass laws.

It was this resilience and tenacity of leaders such as Charllote Maxeke that built the principled and fearless foundation for the contribution of women in the effort to remove the repressive apartheid regime in South Africa.Comrade Maxeke is also known for having inspired other leaders within the ANC. One such leader is former ANC President the Rev Zac Mahabane.

Charlotte Maxeke is said to have been the most decisive early political influence upon the Rev Zac Mahabane.Reverend Mahabane met Charlotte Maxeke in Cape Town in 1916. Reports state that comrade Maxeke was already an influential national figure by then, in demand for speaking at a range of meetings.

It was after listening to some of Charlotte Maxeke`s speeches in Cape Town that Reverend Mahabane, some seven years her junior, decided in 1917 that his calling as a man of the cloth required also an active involvement in politics.In that year, he joined the Cape African Congress, which was the regional branch of the South African Native National Congress.

In 1919 Mahabane was chosen as President of the Cape Congress. His work in the Cape Congress was noted by African leaders elsewhere in the country, and in 1924 he was elected as the third President-General of the national body which had changed its name in 1923 to the African National Congress.

The role of Charlotte Maxeke in developing this leader of the ANC must not be forgotten.She was an eloquent speaker, a unifier and a true revolutionary. She understood that the primary function of the liberation struggle was to carry out the political tasks of the revolution and also to develop others.

In one of her popular addresses called “Social Conditions of African Women and Girls”, delivered in 1930 at the conference of European and Bantu Christian Student Association held at Fort Hare University, Comrade Maxeke said:

“If you definitely and earnestly set out to lift women and children up in the social life of the Bantu, you will find the men will benefit, and thus the whole community, both white and black…”

 

As we celebrate the centenary of the liberation struggle, we acknowledge and praise the contribution of this pioneer of education and founder of the ANC Women`s League.We celebrate this woman who allowed no boundaries to be set for her, as she lived her life to the fullest, in pursuit of freedom for all and personal achievement.

In honour of her memory, especially her unrelenting drive to acquire education, the ANC Women`s League named a nursery school in Morogorogo, Tanzania as the Charlotte Maxeke Child Care Centre.

The Gauteng Government also boasts a Charlotte Maxeke hospital, which is enjoined to provide as excellent a service as its namesake did in her service to humanity.

Today Maitland Street on which she led the 1913 women`s march, has been named Charlotte Maxeke Street, a befitting tribute to this great South African leader.As a collective, we must emulate the exemplary leadership of Mama Maxeke by building a national united front that strives to attain the objectives of the National Democratic Revolution.

 

Indeed, if you can rise, bring someone with you. Her words echo what women stand for. They develop others, they develop communities. This is a trait we will be celebrating as we mark women`s month.

Comrades,against the backdrop of celebrating Comrade Charlotte Maxeke, it is my honour and privilege to launch Women`s Month on behalf of the ANC Women`s League and indeed on behalf of the ANC as a whole.Malibongwe!Amandla!”

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