Ramaphosa talks tough on corruption as he praises stalwart Charlotte Maxeke

President Cyril Ramaphosa said Charlotte Maxeke's successes were even more remarkable given that she lived during a period when women were denied opportunities to be educated — let alone to lead

07 April 2021 - 15:14 By Nomazima Nkosi and Orrin Singh
President Cyril Ramaphosa vowed to act against officials implicated in wrongdoing when he addressed a 150th anniversary event for struggle icon Charlotte Maxeke in Fort Beaufort on Wednesday.
President Cyril Ramaphosa vowed to act against officials implicated in wrongdoing when he addressed a 150th anniversary event for struggle icon Charlotte Maxeke in Fort Beaufort on Wednesday.
Image: WERNER HILLS

ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa has vowed to crack down on corruption, saying those caught stealing will be dealt with.

He was addressing scores of ANC members and supporters in Gqudesi village in Fort Beaufort on Wednesday, where the party celebrated the 150th anniversary of the birth of stalwart Charlotte Maxeke.

His tough corruption stance comes as the ANC is deeply divided over the 2017 elective conference's step-aside resolution.

Those facing criminal charges such as ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule were given 30 days by the national executive committee (NEC) to step aside or face suspension.

In the Eastern Cape, Amathole regional task team co-ordinator Teris Ntutu and Dr WB Rubusana regional chair Phumlani Mkolo have already been suspended.

Addressing the gathering, Ramaphosa promised to act against corruption and implicated officials.

“People love the ANC but they’ll love the ANC more when it shows it is committed to fighting corruption and acts against those implicated. Ordinary South Africans don’t want corruption because they don’t benefit.

“You want a leadership that will give clear directives,” he said.

Ramaphosa also promised to champion the renaming of the old teaching college after the struggle icon.

Maxeke has often been described as the “mother of black freedom,” a pioneer and ahead of her time.

Wednesday marked 150 years since Maxeke's birth. She was an esteemed South African religious leader, and social and political activist who attained a level of success that many today would envy.

Maxeke was a pivotal figure in paving the way for women's rights and gender equality at  a time when the colour of her own skin would have made difficult her every effort to bring about change.

Historical literature recognises Maxeke as the first black woman to graduate with a university degree in SA, obtaining a B. Sc from Wilberforce University Ohio in 1903. She was also the first black African woman to graduate from an American university and the first black woman to become a juvenile parole officer in SA.

Ramaphosa delivered a heartfelt speech during the Charlotte Maxeke Memorial Lecture in Gqudesi village, Fort Beaufort.

“Today marks 150 years since the birth of Dr Charlotte Maxeke. It is a rare moment to celebrate the life of someone who was born almost 40 years before the formation of the ANC. If the formation of the ANC in 1912 was a defining moment for our country the life and leadership of Charlotte Maxeke was an inspiration to many people in our country,” he said.

Ramaphosa would describe her as a woman, a wife and a mother who climbed a ladder of international success — but who ensured that the ladder remained grounded so that others could join her.

“Women’s rights and gender equality has been mainstreamed. It is no longer a source of wonderment to see a woman minister, a woman CEO, or a woman postgraduate, as it was in Ms Maxeke’s time. As we celebrate her, we also salute her altruistic spirit. When she climbed the ladder of success, she did not pull it up.

“When she was a student at Wilberforce she arranged opportunities for other African students to study there. It [the ladder] was left so its steps could be ascended by the next generation. Not only did her example inspire activists like Sibusisiwe Makhanya, Bertha Gxowa and many others, she also lured many other young women to climb the ladder of academia,” he said.

According to SA History Online, Maxeke was born Charlotte Makgomo Mannya in Ramokgopa in the Polokwane (then Pietersburg) district on April 7 1874.

She received a missionary education at Edwards Memorial School in the Eastern Cape in the early 1880s.

In 1885, after the discovery of diamonds, Maxeke moved to Kimberley with her family. While in Kimberley, she became a teacher.

As a dedicated churchgoer, Maxeke and her sister, Katie, joined the African Jubilee Choir in 1891, and toured England for two years.

During this tour, Maxeke performed for Queen Victoria, apparently in Victorian costume.

Sources say the sisters were uncomfortable with being treated as novelties in London and during this time Maxeke is said to have attended suffragette speeches by women such as Emmeline Pankhurst.

With hopes of pursuing an education, Maxeke went on a second tour, to the US, with her church choir in 1894 [some sources say 1896].

When the tour collapsed, Maxeke stayed in the US and studied at Wilberforce University in Cleveland, Ohio, which was controlled by the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AMEC). At the university, she was taught under Pan-Africanist W E B du Bois, and received an education that was focused on developing her as a future missionary in Africa.

She graduated with a B. Sc degree from Wilberforce University, where she met her husband, Marshall Maxeke, who had come to the university in 1896. They were engaged when they both returned to SA in 1901.

Maxeke was greatly influenced by AMEC and, through her connections with the Ethiopian Church, the AMEC was founded in SA.

She became the organiser of the Women’s Mite Missionary Society in Johannesburg, and then moved to the Polokwane (then Pietersburg) area. Here she joined her family in Dwaars River, under Chief Ramokgopa, who gave her money to start a school. However, the school could not be completed due to lack of government funding and the poverty of the local community.

After this, Maxeke and her husband established a school at Evaton on the Witwatersrand.

The Maxekes went on to teach and evangelise in other places, including Thembuland in the Transkei under King Sabata Dalindyebo. It was there that Maxeke participated in the king’s court — a privilege unheard of for a woman.

However, they finally settled in Johannesburg, where they became involved in political movements.

Ramaphosa emphasised that Maxeke lived during a period when women were denied opportunities to be educated, let alone to lead.

“It was a time when women were oppressed and exploited. Despite all these impediments and obstacles Charlotte Maxeke rose above the challenges that the time she lived in threw at her. Her determination to succeed saw her gaining an education and becoming an educator, a missionary, a social worker, an activist and an anti-colonial campaigner.

“Her activism turned her into a trade unionist who actively campaigned against low wages for black workers and was part of the formation of the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU). She was a champion for gender equality and one of the organisers of the anti-pass movement. In 1918 she formed the Bantu Women’s League, the forerunner to the ANC Women’s League.”

That same year Maxeke led a delegation to then Prime Minister Louis Botha to demand the abolishment of passes and was part of anti-pass protests a year later.

“These activities were precursors to the 1956 Women’s March. She was also a public intellectual. Her output in the form of articles, pamphlets and representations to panels and commissions lent empirical weight to her activism,” said Ramaphosa.

He added that many aspects of Maxeke's legacy were often not given due recognition.

“Like her contemporaries Pixley ka Isaka Seme, John Langalibalele Dube, Alfred B Xuma and others, Charlotte Maxeke was a progressive internationalist and a Pan Africanist, long before liberation movements around the world adopted the two concepts, internationalism and Pan Africanism, as their doctrines.

“Charlotte Maxeke was a leader who was imaginative and had an ability to reflect on issues of the time in her own country, on the African continent and globally. She knew that leadership should be based on knowledge, competence and experience, and dedication and hard work. As we keep her legacy flame burning bright, let it illuminate and allow to emerge the Charlotte Maxekes of our time. It is now up to the new generation of women activists to take forward the struggle for the full emancipation of women, in the cause of a better SA.”

Ramaphosa was flanked by ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini, who pledged her support to him as the “elected president of the ANC”.

Dlamini supported Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in her failed bid for the ANC top position in 2017 and was seen to be one of the senior ANC leaders who are part of the so-called radical economic transformation (RET) faction.

Ramaphosa was accompanied by some ANC leaders who were instrumental in his win over Dlamini-Zuma in 2017, including Eastern Cape chair and premier Oscar Mabuyane, ministers Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams and Ronald Lamola, and deputy minister Zizi Kodwa.

During the stakeholder session, a Gqudesi villager proposed that the older teaching college be renamed the Charlotte Maxeke TVET college.

Ramaphosa said he was 100% behind the idea and would champion it.

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