Remarks by the Minister Lulu Xingwana on the occasion of the Dulcie September Memorial Lecture at the University of the Western Cape, Cape Town

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19 Aug 2010

Programme Director, Dr Premesh Lalu of the Centre for Humanities Research
Members of the September family present here today
Professor Brian O’ Connell, Rector of the University of the Western Cape
Professor Renfrew Christie, Dean of Research
Honourable Members of Parliament
Ambassador Masekela,
Dr. Busby OBE,
Prof. John Daniel,
Academics, staff and students from the University of the Western Cape,
Senior Government Officials,
Friends and comrades
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen:

Today we meet here to honour a great South African woman who made an immense contribution to the people of South Africa, a woman who although she was taken away from us and deliberately silenced, is still loved, a woman who many of us remember and still treasure through the memories we have of her.It is for all these reasons that we chose to honour Dulcie September during Women’s Month; the month when we celebrate and commemorate the courage, perseverance and resilience of South African women. It is this month that reminds us that we have travelled a long and difficult journey to ensure that our country’s democracy is not only non-racial but also non-sexist.

While women’s struggles for emancipation and against segregation, colonialism and apartheid can be traced back to the first decades of the last century, a turning point was the historic march on the 9th August 1956 of 20 000 South African women, black and white, led by Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophie de Bruyn to show solidarity against the pass laws.

This single event made an immense contribution to national liberation. Through the actions of these courageous women, they helped to lay the foundations for the building of a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic country.

The struggle was enriched by the participation of women such as Charlotte Maxeke, Ray Alexander, Amina Cachalia, Ida Mntwana, Annie Silinga and Francis Baard and the generations who came later and who took on the apartheid regime. Though the struggle for national liberation we have made great progress towards the realization of women’s emancipation. But there are still many sites of struggle that we have to engage in - the fight against poverty affects women greatly.  The battle against joblessness and underdevelopment and for sustained rural development is also one that affects our sisters and not only our brothers.

The theme of this year’s Women Month’s celebrations is “working together for Equal Opportunities and Progress for all Women”.

Let us also take into consideration that the African Union has declared that the decade 2010 – 2020 will be the Decade of African Women. A roadmap of milestones and activities is being planned throughout the African continent.
As South Africans our task is to continue to commemorate the historic struggles and sacrifices of South African women, who helped bring democracy and opportunities for all. 

It is these women whose heroism, hard work and dedication we should also share with our youth, especially young women and new generations, so that they know and understand the path that has been travelled by strong women who came before them.

Dulcie September’s contribution towards the liberation of the people of South Africa and the enormous personal sacrifices she made during her life is being honoured today with the Memorial lecture that is being held today.

But this is not all and today I would like to announce the setting up of the Dulcie September Fellowship Awards in Research in the Humanities here at the University of the Western Cape. There will be one Fellowship for Post-Doctoral Research for two years and ten Fellowships for Senior Under-Graduate Research.

Last year Dulcie September was also honoured by the President with a National Order. The Order of Luthuli in Silver was awarded to her for her excellent contribution to the struggle for a non-racial, non-sexist, just and democratic South Africa.

Dulcie September flew the flag for Human Rights in South Africa. For her it was not simply a theoretical struggle conducted on paper, but one which was lived and fought every single day. Sacrifices had to be made and personal lives put on hold to fight against oppression.

Indeed we had to engage in a long struggle for these rights, which many people in different parts of the world took for granted. Seeking these Human Rights was regarded as treasonous in South Africa where many freedom loving people were incarcerated, tortured and even hanged. Many generations paid a heavy price for our democracy in South Africa.  We therefore need to ensure that we guard it for future generations and that we build on the foundations that have been laid.

As we enter the second decade of the 21st century and on this occasion as we honour Dulcie September, let us renew our pledge as a nation to build a non-racial, non-sexist, united, democratic and prosperous South Africa as envisioned in our Constitution.

In conclusion, I am reminded of the words of Dora Tamana, a powerful woman, an active member of the Federation of South African women and of the ANC Women’s League from the 1950s. In 1981, she opened the conference of the newly formed United Women’s Organisation (UWO) launched by 400 delegates from the Western Cape. She was 80 years old at the time and in a wheelchair, but her words resounded then through the hall as they still do today across the decades. She said; and I quote:

“You who have no work, speak
You who have no homes, speak
You who have to run like chickens from the vulture, speakLet us share our problems so that we can solve them together.”

Today as we welcome the three distinguished speakers at this first Dulcie September Memorial Lecture, let us use the power of speech, the freedoms laid down in our Constitution, to help take our democracy to even greater heights, in honour of Dulcie and all other fallen freedom fighters, all those whose lives were cut short and voices silenced by those who had no respect for human lives.Today we still hear the words of Dora Tamana.

Today we still hear the ideas of Dulcie September. There were those who thought they could silence Dulcie, but they could not. Today her legacy is very much alive.

We take on the baton left by Dulcie September, Dora Tamana and so many others. We accept their rallying call. There is no problem that we cannot share and solve together.

Our duty is to speak and to promote and protect human rights and to dedicate ourselves to building this democracy, and strengthening gender equality and women’s empowerment.I thank you and wish you well during the deliberations.