(Johannesburg) – Speaking exclusively to Mandela Rhodes Scholars yesterday August 3 at a social gathering organised by the Mandela Rhodes Foundation at the former residence and headquarters of the Nelson Mandela Foundation (NMF) in Houghton, Central Street, Johannesburg, Chief Executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Sello Hatang, bemoaned the lack of women’s solidarity for women’s plight in Africa. He implored recipients of the prestigious Mandela Rhodes Scholarship who attended the meeting to stand up for women in their various communities and places of work.

Introducing the outspoken feminist and champion of women’s rights and emancipation in Africa, Judy Sikuza, Deputy Executive Director of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, was humbled and gobsmacked by the activism of a male who stood unashamedly for women’s rights on the continent. Her admiration for the Chief Executive of the NMF as a man who scaled the highest peak in Africa – Mt. Kilimanjaro – in solidarity for women, and to heighten the reality of patriarchy and its debilitating effects on the African woman, was visibly telling in the 150-300 seater auditorium occupied by Mandela Rhodes Scholars clumped in the first few rows.

As part of her introductory and welcome speech, after gracing a function at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in Johannesburg, Judy Sikuka, a 2007 Mandela Rhodes Scholar herself, reminded scholars of the importance of the gathering. According to her, the mandate of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation is three-fold: identify and select scholars, immerse selected scholars in an exceptional leadership training underpinned by the four guiding principles of the foundation, and provide a parquet for Mandela Rhodes Scholars to network and advance as well as showcase their leadership footprint on the continent. The latter being the reason for the gathering.

In a short, but touching picturesque presentation, the Chief Executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation used the occasion of August as women’s month observed in South Africa to recall his journey to the zenith of Mt. Kilimanjaro in a bid to raising support for the distribution of sanitary parts for vulnerable and deprived girls in Africa. He lamented the fact that while some men are working hard in the area of women empowerment, other women, by their actions, and utterances, seem to be promoting patriarchy for reasons he could not understand. He admitted that patriarchy was real and that women should coalesce and stand up for themselves more if they really wanted to be heard. As a male advocate for women’s rights, he recalled how in a certain country in Africa (name withheld), they (men) went to a school to speak about menstrual issues and to have a teacher narrate that she was once in that situation. Mr Hatang reaffirmed his commitment to advancing girls’ rights to ensure that the “I-was-once-in-that-situation” stories never prevail in our generation.

And, for those women who seemingly justify rape (and patriarchy) because they feel some of their colleagues expose their flesh, the Chief Executive wondered if such “justification” should go unchallenged given that babies and minors are also victims of rape. On that point, the usual Mandela Rhodes Scholar finger-snapping and “ehuh” resonated in the hall with 2010 Scholar Athambile Masola in loud expression.

Programme associate, Coralie Valentyn, also a Mandela Rhodes Scholar wrapped up the semi-formal session.

After a brief and important message delivered on behalf of the Executive Director Shaun Johnson of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation by Ms Sikuza urging scholars to make voluntary financial contributions in support of the foundation as a basis upon which the foundation can make testimony to its major funders and supporters that beneficiaries are on course to sustaining the foundation’s activities; coordinator of the Gauteng based scholars, Athambila Masola was granted the floor to make her statements about her reflections on women’s month. She read a poem which reminded scholars of the many but forgotten women who stood shoulder to shoulder with men in the fight for black liberation.

The catch up ended with attendees sharing their reflections with “senior” and “junior” scholars and establishing and extending networks and promising to catch up again.

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