PRINCE MANGOSUTHU BUTHELEZI MP
PRESIDENT OF THE INKATHA FREEDOM PARTY
Empangeni: 11 August 2018
National Chairperson of the IFP Women’s Brigade, the Hon. Mrs Thembeni kaMadlopha-Mthethwa MPL; Deputy Chairperson, the Hon. Ms Nonhlanhla Makhuba MPL; Members of the National Executive Committee; Leaders of the IFP; and all those from this community and from afar who have come to celebrate national Women’s Month.
This is a moment of real celebration on the calendar of our country. Women’s Month is a reminder of the courage of some 20 000 women of all races who, on the 9th of August 1956, converged on the Union Buildings. There they petitioned Prime Minister JG Strijdom against the apartheid policies of an oppressive Government. It was there that the statement was made that when you strike a woman, you strike a rock.
This year, we particularly remember the contribution of Mrs Albertina Sisulu to that pivotal moment in our country’s history, for we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Mrs Sisulu. I remember with great respect the good relationship I enjoyed with the Sisulus. I met Mr Walter Sisulu for the first time as a student at Fort Hare University, when he served as Secretary General of the ANC. For years we worked closely together in the struggle for liberation. I admired the energy and the courage of his wife.
Women have always been at the forefront of our struggle for freedom and justice in South Africa. The same energy and courage that inspired the women of 1956, lives in the women of 2018. Today, the social activists who are making a difference in South Africa are largely women. It is through the work, and often the unpaid work, of women, that communities are able to develop and survive.
Women are raising our children, taking care of the sick, nourishing our families and sustaining the values that hold together a caring society. And much of this work goes unnoticed. It is done in the background, with no fanfare. When we praise the women who are leading their communities, starting and running businesses, or reaching the top of their career, we seldom stop to acknowledge that they are doing all this while carrying all the extra work that is generally expected of women, fairly or not, to take care of households and look after our families.
So while Women’s Month is about celebrating the extraordinary women who are shaping the politics, industry, creative arts and academia of South Africa, it must also be a time to think about the women in our own lives who do so much for the people around them. These are the unsung heroines of South Africa, and many of them are present here today. I therefore want to speak to you today on a more personal level. I want to tell you about the women in my own life, who have taught me so much.
I have been blessed to be married for 66 years to a wonderful woman who is, without a doubt, my rock. My wife has taught me the immeasurable patience, love and long-suffering of a mother and a grandmother. She has given me eight children, all of whom she raised to be kind, strong and responsible. I have seen her worry about all of them, spending so much of her time thinking about their needs and finding ways to help, support and encourage them. That is what women do for the people they love.
Like so many women, my wife suffered the loss of one of our daughters at a young age. I watched her struggle with the grief of losing a child, and I realised that mothers across our country are carrying this kind of pain with them every day. I learned to be more considerate of women, because we really don’t know what another person is dealing with in the privacy of their heart. We must be more careful how we treat each other. When you meet a woman in passing, in a shop or on the road, take the time to consciously show respect.
Over the years, my wife and I have lost four of our adult children. Beyond the grief and trauma of loss, the death of adults, in the prime of their life, places an unexpected burden on the family. As grandparents, we took on the financial responsibility of raising our grandchildren. I know that there are many grandmothers among us today who are struggling to provide for their grandchildren in the absence of their sons and daughters. You sacrifice so much to feed and clothe them, to put them through school and to try to make a better life for them.
Sadly I know that sometimes, despite everything you do for them, they still can make bad choices. There are many women who are heartbroken over family members who are mixed up in drug or alcohol abuse, or even in crime. But I want you to know that all your sacrifices and all your efforts on their behalf are not for nothing. It is often the mother, the daughter or the sister who never gives up trying and praying who sees miracles.
Because we so often take them for granted, I ask you to think today about the women in your life who are making sacrifices for you. Before this day is out, make sure you thank them. Today, I honour all the women and mothers who are raising children under impossible circumstances. Thank you for what you are doing. I have seen your efforts, and they are immeasurably valuable.
Over the years, I have learned many lessons from my daughters as well. Fourteen years ago, one of my daughters was diagnosed as HIV positive and she progressed to battle with full-blown Aids. This was at a time when people didn’t talk about Aids. It was a taboo subject, with many superstitions and misconceptions. We had recently lost a son to Aids and my daughter knew the battle that awaited her.
It was difficult watching her struggle with the anxiety that accompanies illness. Even now, when anti-retrovirals and more accessible information enable those living with HIV to extend their lives and maintain better health, it is still terrifying to receive a diagnosis that will affect everything about the way you live, from your intimate relationships to the way you handle a simple cold. There are so many women who are battling to come to terms with a diagnosis of Cancer or Diabetes or High Blood Pressure. There is always fear that accompanies these things. It’s hard enough getting through each day without the added worry of sickness.
This is why the IFP has fought so hard to secure not only the right to healthcare, but the reality of a healthcare system that works. Just this week, Corruption Watch issued a report that reveals how corruption is growing in South Africa, particularly in the health sector and in schools. As much as we talk about fighting corruption, it has become endemic, and it is taking a high toll.
When money is embezzled in schools, our children suffer, because school buildings cannot be maintained, libraries and even toilets cannot be built, and there is no hope of development. Where there is corruption, there is suffering.
This is perhaps most clearly evident in the clinics and hospitals we must visit from time to time. How can women be expected to sit in queues for hours, not getting the treatment you need, when you need it?
We all know of someone who has suffered severely because the health care system is failing. How is it possible, for instance, that a woman who is struggling with depression can only get an appointment with a counsellor 8 weeks from now? She has already hit a crisis point. How must she now cope with all the demands on her for the next 8 weeks, when every day is a struggle?
We weep when we hear of babies and infants dying unnecessarily for lack of appropriate and timeous treatment. In so many of our clinics, medication is out of stock, and in so many of our hospitals, nurses are overworked to the point of becoming negligent, through no fault of their own.
These things have to be fixed. We need social justice, and we cannot achieve it until we deal with corruption. Our country endured a season of political leadership that saw corruption take root. Under the former President, our economy imploded, jobs were lost, and one scandal after the next plagued our public service. It is said that the fish rots from the head, and this is what happened in South Africa. We may have a new President, but the rot is still eating away. It needs to be stopped.
We are nearing a pivotal moment of change in our country. In less than a year we will have a national and provincial election. All of us will have the chance to stop the rot by voting against corruption. We need to empower a different leadership, a leadership of integrity. It is time for the voice of reason to be re-established, to drown out the false promises and empty words that have brought such suffering.
I want to encourage you to register to vote. Don’t wait until next year. There are still huge numbers of people who could make their voices heard in 2019, who are not yet registered. Why should we be silent when it is so important to speak? I also want to encourage you to knit yourself into the IFP structures. Join a branch. Become a member of the Women’s Brigade or the Youth Brigade. Become a volunteer to mobilise support for 2019. We need to start a massive campaign of mobilisation, ensuring that change will come.
This is the time to stand together. If we fail to speak now, or we fail to get involved, things will certainly get worse.
I have learned many times how important it is to speak up against injustice. Years ago, someone close to me found herself in an abusive relationship. When she finally told us, it pained me to know that she had hidden it for some time. But I now understand the difficult and complex emotions that accompany abuse.
I was somehow surprised that this had happened because she is not a timid person. She is strong and outspoken and accomplished. But abuse is a terrible thing. It breaks women down and leaves them afraid to speak out against their abuser. There are so many forms of abuse that women are silently suffering. It’s not only physical, but emotional and financial.
I know that there are even grandmothers among us who are financially abused by their families, and are forced to hand over their old age grant. It is heart-breaking to know that young girls and women of all ages are living with the daily stress of abuse and vulnerability.
I encourage you to stand together. When you know that your sister or your neighbour is being abused, help them. Let them know that they are not alone, and that they don’t deserve this. Then help them to get help. You may need to go to the police, or to an NGO. In some cases, it is urgent that a woman gets out of that house as quickly as possible, particularly when there is alcohol or substance abuse involved.
Tragically, the incidence of murder and attempted murder by an intimate partner is very high in our country. Indeed, women are being brutalised and killed at a rate we have never before witnessed. This is a terrible indictment on our country. What is it in the psyche of our nation that makes women and girls so vulnerable to attack? This must be stopped. We need a sea change in the hearts and minds of our elected leaders that will place this crisis at the forefront of government intervention.
I was shocked by a report a couple of years ago that revealed how many men still think it is acceptable to beat their wife or their partner in certain circumstances. This is barbaric. In fact, more than thirty years ago, when I served as Chief Minister of the KwaZulu Government, I ensured that the Code of Zulu Law was changed to empower women.
We removed the right of any man to beat his wife. We ensured that women could own property and could inherit property, because until then widows were being evicted as soon as their husbands died. It was unspeakable the way women were treated. I have made it my life’s work to ensure that women are progressively empowered, not merely towards gender equality, but towards greater opportunities, because women still face undue discrimination.
Another of my daughters has endured discrimination in the workplace, simply because she is my daughter. Did we not conquer discrimination through our long fight for freedom? How is it that women still earn less than men when they do the same work? Why are women over-looked for promotion? And why are so many women unemployed when the burden of providing for their families falls squarely on their shoulders?
There is still tremendous inequality and injustice. We have made some giant strides in changing legislation to protect and empower women in South Africa. But we haven’t done enough. This work must continue, and it must be driven by the real activists and heroes: you.
You are not ordinary South Africans. The fact that you are here today means that you have already made a decision to be politically active. You are ready to make a difference and to do what it takes to bring change. I salute you, because you are the hope of our nation. You are the backbone of the IFP, and through you we will rescue South Africa.
Let me tell you about one more lesson I have learned from a woman in my life. One of my granddaughters is an amazing young woman. She inherited my mother’s talent for music and has become an accomplished musician. She uses her influence to support good causes and she is making a difference in the world. She lost her mother at a young age, but instead of deciding that life was against her, she worked through her pain and found a way to express herself creatively. I am so proud of her.
I believe we all have a choice. We can choose what we do with all the hurt, frustrations and anger that circumstances create in our lives. We can choose to pour it out as poison on the people around us. Or we can choose to change it into positive energy.
That anger you feel over being treated as a sexual object, can be used as inspiration to fight for gender equality. The frustration you feel over rising food prices and rising transport costs, can be channelled into activism for economic justice. The pain of unemployment, hardship and a lack of opportunity, can all be used to petition for change.
We must become political activists. There is no other way to secure economic and social justice. There is no other way to fix the problems that still endure. I call on you now, as women of strength, to pull together under the banner of the IFP, so that a leadership of integrity can be restored. The time is coming, and it’s coming soon. We need to be ready to speak for change.
May the women of the IFP lead the charge. You are our greatest hope.
I thank you.