Amplifying Women's Voices – Celebrating Africa

In search of new leaders: We are the messiahs we seek.

Leaders are dealers in hope. This is something I have been learning in the past few years of working with transformation challenges at different organisations. However, no matter what social space we are in, there is a similar cry about “lack of leadership” in society, companies and particularly in politics.

The hunger for leadership is echoed everyday by the rich and poor alike in the streets, media and around family meals. Academics are becoming paralysed with their analysis of this topic, while books on leadership dominate bookstore shelves.

Thus it comes as no surprise that the new leadership in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Angola et al in the past few months is like a dawn of a messianic moment for many.

These changes have brought a new sense of optimism. The level of hope imbued on the new leaders is almost overwhelming. They are seen as the new saviours. The ones who are going to deliver miracles that eluded their predecessors. Here in South Africa, “Ramaphoria” is the new term used to describe the dizzying highs people are feeling with the presidency of Cyril Ramaphosa after the murky years of Jacob Zuma. Expectations are soaring high.

However history has taught us that we dare not put our hopes in politicians or personalities anymore. Whereas they have a duty to inspire and create an enabling environment for the realization of the growth and development of their people, at times to a point of peoples very lives depending on their “graces”, we have to tread carefully.

Real power, agency and the ability to organise and hold public representatives accountable rests in our hands. We should not forget that. Putting too much hope in positional leaders is to gamble with our destinies. It also has elements of conferring supernatural powers on mere mortals who can only do so much. Power belongs to the people. Me and you.

Collectively, we are more resourceful, resilient and powerful than we think. Nelson Mandela put it aptly when he said: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

I am aware that I am writing from a position of privilege as I type these words. I am relatively cushioned against the dire effects of bad leadership, though I have my own shocking tales to tell. Yet I dare say them because I have seen countless of people making it beyond all odds. The odds of political upheavals, racism, sexism, violence, poverty and trauma.

I am sometimes convinced that those who have the most odds stacked against them seem to rise out of the proverbial ashes more often than those who are accustomed to being cushioned. This is not a glorification of struggle, but a praise of the strength of the human spirit. It is a testament that we have what it takes to create a preferred reality to a certain extend.

So even as we take a gulp of fresh air welcoming our new leaders in Liberia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Angola and in some institutions, I hope we have become a little wiser. We are the leaders and saviour we seek. Our fate rests mostly in our own hands.

We dare not outsource our souls and lives to the messiah’s of our own fantasies.

May God bless Afrika!

With love

Pearl Pebetse


So long Uncle Bob…A new hope for Zimbabwe!

The 21st November 2017 marks a historic day in Zimbabwe. The world’s oldest president, 93 year old Robert Mugabe has resigned with immediate effect after 37 years in power. It is one of those moments that our grandchildren will one day ask us “Where were you when Robert Mugabe resigned”.

I am in Bloemfontein, at the University of the Free State. I am watching the news unfolding on TV.  Mugabe is on all media channels. One of my colleagues jokes that Mugabe is everywhere, she is afraid she will find him in the fridge too.

The streets of Harare are swarming with people. There is jubilation and songs of freedom. There is unbelief that this has happened in their lifetime. People are screaming New Independence, even in the face of uncertainty about what the future holds.

Earlier in the day, a Zimbabwean colleague remarked that it doesn’t matter if a  baboon or a dog steps in. At this moment, anything would be better than a lifetime under Mugabe. It was a tough and brutal journey. They are ready for change. And today Zimbabweans have gained the freedom they longed for; patiently and peacefully.

I am excited for the people of my sister country, many of whom have been forced to flee the untenable conditions into nearby countries. Many of them are well educated, but they had to learn to scramble and settle for anything  that ensure their survival. They watched their country, once known as “Africa’s bread-basket”, turning into a basket case; the only country without their own currency and unemployment at 90%.

Today marks the end of an era, a turning of a new page.

I must declare that a part of me has mixed emotions. I had developed an affinity for “uncle BoB’s” smarts and eloquence. I saw him as one of the unapologetic pan-africanist  who spoke uncomfortable truths to some world powers. I seldom missed an opportunity to listen to him delivering speeches at the UN General Assembly.  He was at one point a revered revolutionary and visionary leader who ensured Zimbabweans had the highest literacy rate on the African continent.

Obviously somewhere along the line things went terribly wrong and it was downhill thereafter. That’s when he should have bowed out, when his legacy was still intact. Now he will be remembered as a dictator. An addiction to power never ends well.

I am glad he has bowed out or pushed out. It was long overdue. It came at high price for the people of Zimbabwe who have lost life and limb and thousands being scattered all over the world.

I am especially mindful and hopeful for the many mothers and children who have been reduced to beggars on the street corners of Johannesburg and the gifted civil servants who have had to swallow their potential and be exploited as cheap laborers. The day you have been waiting for has dawned.

May this day mark a birth of new miracles as you start the hard work of reimagining a new future and restoring “Africa’s Bread Basket” to new levels of glory. May you find your voices and life’s song again.

Long Live Zimbabwe! May God bless You!

pearl pebetse












Of South Africa’s Political Tremors…

courtesy @

On April 3rd, 2017, an earthquake measuring 6.4 shook Gaborone in Botswana. The tremors were felt through South Africa and Mozambique.

Being the humorous nation that we are, we were quick to paint the social media with quips that President Zuma is reshuffling the provinces and maybe the whole of SADEC. Others concluded that the late struggle heroes of our country, Mandela, Sisulu, Tambo and Kathrada are starting a new underground political movement.

This comes after the shocking events of the past week where President Zuma announced a midnight cabinet reshuffle, which saw brazen political divisions within the ruling party (ANC). The surprise reshuffle further sent shock waves through out the country, with civil society organizations, opposition parties and trade unions calling for the President to step down even as the rating agency Standard & Poors down-graded the rand to junk status, citing lack of political and institutional stability.

It seems that as the earth moves beneath us, there is also a rattling and shaking of our politics. Others are calling it a crisis and an unraveling of our democracy, while some see it as a moment of renewal.

From my viewpoint, it feels like we are sitting on a runaway horse that needs to be reigned in, lest we find ourselves lost in an unfamiliar place. Where do we want this democracy to take us? We surely need new, honest dialogue about issues that matter the most. These include choosing ethical and visionary leaders, social transformation, building an inclusive economy, curbing corruption and proper governance of our institutions amongst others. Our plate is full and the people’s hope is wearing thin.

We are at a watershed moment where we as citizens are going to have to assert our place in the direction our country is taking. In the sea of competing agendas ravaging our national discourse, what is our own voice and conscience telling us? What tangible actions are we willing to make, lest we find ourselves having sold our souls?

So as others fiercely defend the President and some take to the streets and the courts, declaring a national shutdown, which side of the tectonic plates will we be?

I hope whatever side we choose, it is one that puts the constitution, justice, and human rights first. The collective interests of the people and the future of our country need to take precedence over any political party, factions and personalities.

I navigate the events of this moment singing “Nkosi Sikelela iAfrika”, an anthem that is also a prayer for God to preserve Africa. I have a firm hope that the earth moving beneath us will not swallow us but usher us into a new place that truly affirms our collective dignity, unity and development.

God bless Afrika!

Pearl Pebetse.



Rape Culture in South Africa: Why are progressive men silent?

Have we grown complacent of the rape culture as a society? Have we grown weary of activism and accepted that the war on women’s bodies in South Africa is an inevitable part of our make-up? Moreover, why are men silent amidst the brutality that continues to haunt women? Women who are easily our sisters, friends, colleagues and daughters?

These are some of the questions that have dominated the media space this past week as reports of women being gang raped while using taxis (cabs) emerged. The most traumatizing tale, being that of a mother being gang raped for 4 hours in front of her 10 year old son. She was brave enough to reveal her ordeal on radio.

The most unsettling question for me, is the question on the silence of men, progressive men in particular. When the topic under discussion is anything else, men hog the conversations with their views. Yet for some reason, only a few men raise their voice when the topic involves sexual violence against women.

It could be that they are also shocked into silence. It could be that they think this is a “women’s issue”, even though women don’t rape themselves. I am of a view that some men keep quiet because they know they are complicit. What do I mean?

Well, you have the “garden variety” type of rapists; the strangers that prey with violent methods and brutalize their victims. These are the ones we are all scared and wary of. The ones society condemn with vigour. And then you have the “sophisticated rapists”. These ones wear suits, drive expensive cars, hold respectable positions in the private sector, government and academia. They profess to be progressive, feminist or pro-women empowerment. They are invited to speak on important social/national platforms and say all the right things.

Yet they move amongst women as trusted wolves in sheep skin. Their crime does not involve knives and guns. I am talking of men who use their economic and social status and power as weapons. These are men who sexually harass students or young women in the workplace. These are men who do not take No! for an answer from their secretaries, interns, girlfriends or the girl next door. These are men who are public heroes but private criminals.

They bank on several things; they enjoy the respect of society and a lax justice system. Secondly, they use the element of trust and familiarity to cause confusion and shame for their victims. Thus many of these men are never reported, the assault remains a private hell for the women and girls involved. How can they speak out against an “esteemed” man? A father, teacher, pastor, CEO, policeman, professor, politician or boyfriend?

Of course, we women and are also complicit in propping up this scourge with our silence and culture of shaming each other. We wonder out loud if “you were flirting with him, what were you wearing, why were you at his place?” We are quick to cast doubts on victims before we out known “respectable offenders”.

However the silence does not erase the fact more women and children get sexually assaulted by people they know and trust than those who are attacked by total strangers. The culture of rape ferments in these spaces of trust and intimacy.

Hence when radio talk show hosts ask why men are not speaking or acting against this war on women, I am not surprised by the silence.

How can these men speak against themselves? They have a lingering fear that the defense mechanisms they use to justify their behavior and differentiate themselves from the “street rapists” might not hold. They might expose themselves for either being perpetrators or accomplices protecting the brotherhood code.

What will it then take to change this culture that is becoming abnormally normal? What should women do when the men who should be allies are turning a blind eye and a deaf ear? When the police send victims from pillar to post? How do we expose the wolves lingering in the chicken coops?

I suspect we might have to engage in the type of radical activism last seen in August 1956 when thousands of women marched to the seat of power at the Union Buildings to protest the unjust pass laws. We might have to bring the country to a standstill again.

Meanwhile, ‘good’ men can continue to stand up, speak up and act to end the war on women’s bodies. It is the humane and right thing to do.

God bless Afrika!

Pearl Pebetse

Dlamini-Zuma’s legacy as AU Chair: Women will lift the sky.


Dr Nkosana Dlamini-Zuma.

The term of Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma as head of the African Union came to an end at the end of January 2017, after turning down a bid for a second term. The jury is now out on her legacy for her four year tenure.

I personally don’t know enough about what was expected of the AU chairperson to make an informed opinion on her legacy. I would rather leave that assessment in the capable hands of the scholars and analysts of African politics. On the other hand I wonder if my limited knowledge is a product of my  ignorance or a testament  of the workings of the AU being far-flung from ordinary people. Perhaps it is both.

The other day I listened to radio 702 where a panel of scholars were weighing on her legacy. Their views were predictably opposed with some vehement that she leaves nothing to write about, while others pointed to agenda 2063 and the successful democratic transitions of power in several countries as hallmarks of her legacy. However, what caught my attention when the panelists were asked about her legacy, was the fact that two of the men opened their remarks with; “As a woman, she…”

That statement was telling about how society relates to women as leaders. Clearly, her performance should have been about her as a person, given her many years of professional and political leadership. Despite the fact that she was there to hold the other half of the sky, significant attention was paid to her biological make-up. I am not advocating that we should over look her gender, infact it matters because women are still second class citizens in many countries.

Yet the statement left me wondering about what impact her navigation of the AU in a female body affected her leadership of the male dominated institution. I know she has traversed many battles in her many years in politics and can stand her ground. But, is that experience enough to shield one away from a culture still steeped in patriarchy?

I wonder if  she felt included, respected and heard. I wonder if she felt taken seriously by those accustomed to a culture that privileges the male voice and reveres men as “natural” leaders? Was she expected to perform wonders and magically wad off the developmental and governances challenges that have plagued the continent  under male leadership?

Did she have to work twice or thrice as hard to prove herself? Is that why she did not stand for a second term, the same way that many women who finally make it to the decision making seats in boardrooms don’t stay long? Did we expect her to be Africa’s Atlas?

On the contrary, she may have had a welcoming and affirming experience at the AU. Perhaps her early departure has something to do with what some analysts speculate as her  using the position at the AU as leverage to position herself as South Africa’s  first woman president in 2019. I don’t know.

What I do know is that Dlamini-Zuma’s presence as the first woman to head the AU is of significant interest. It was a historic feat and a powerful symbol of the space and role of women in the leadership of our continent. I personally wish she had served a second term and  strengthened any positive tractions she may have made. I particularly lament the fact that she could have continued to champion the women’s development agenda more, but alas, she had other mountains to climb.

Perhaps Mme Dlamini-Zuma will host a round table soon and speak for herself because we have many questions. Regardless of the jury’s verdict on her legacy, I applaud her courage to stand and make a historic representation in the lifespan of the AU.  She may have given women more courage to rise up as an army of Atlases that will one day hold up the African skies in places where it really matters.

God bless Afrika!

Pearl Pebetse

No more Copying and Pasting America: It is time we put “Africa First”.

On January 20th, 2017, Donald Trump took the oath of office to be the 45th president of America  and I was glued to the screen looking forward to his inaugural speech.

I imagined that his speech would draw inspiration from the words of Kwame Nkruma, Julius Nyerere, Thomas Sankara and in rounding up the ceremony he would deliver a profound poem inspired by Thabo Mbeki’s “I am an African” speech.

So my daydream got thrown under the bus when he did not even mention Africa. But he came close enough, albeit morbidly  when he proclaimed his “America First” vision which was full of vivid imageries of carnage, decay, crime, tombstones and ravages. This was a far cry from Mbeki’s scenes of Africa’s rolling hills, majestic rivers and dramatic mountains

You might be wondering what in my wildest imagination made me think   President Trump would look to Africa for inspiration when he has at least 44 previous American leaders to draw inspiration from. Why would he marinade his vision for America with wisdom from Africa when he could actually just quote himself ?

Well, it is simple. President Buhari of Nigeria and President Addo of Ghana made me think this was possible. I refer to the 2016 drama of  the “plagiarized” aspects of their speeches from America’s former Presidents Bush, Clinton and Obama. For a moment, I imagined that maybe there is a  new USA-Africa memo to draw inspiration and vision from each other given the history that links our people. But clearly this is a one-sided fantasy.

However, the plagiary saga was a short-lived sore story for me because I read the rest of President Nana Addo’s speech and I found it inspiring and cognizant of the legacy paved by the  pioneers of Ghana’s independence. And to be fair, these two leaders are not unique in the practice of  trying to “copy and paste America” when envisioning the development and future of African countries.

I think the ‘plagiary’ is symbolic of us still harboring romantic ideas of the illusive American dream as a standard of our development in-spite our espoused pan-african vision . In other words, a part of us still looks to the west for charity, protection and self-definition. I remember that Julius Nyerere cautioned us that “Independence cannot be real if a nation (continent) depends upon gifts”

Therefore, I hope if we took anything from Trump’s inauguration speech and want to copy and paste, it should be the analogy or vision of “Africa First”. I don’t mean it in the trumpian style that leaves your mind restless about building walls and draining swamps. Infact, where they build walls, we should open our borders, where they close their doors, we should welcome others with a spirit of Ubuntu.

Trumps speech should be a  loud wake up call to Africa. America is no longer going to baby-sit any country. Infact, to put my own positive spin on Trump’s speech, America will be taking a step back to reflect, renew, strengthen and redevelop itself and its people. We, beloved Africans should do the same. I know its not going to be easy, when we have been mentally and materially dependent for so long, but it is time the 54 of us become each others brother/sister’s keeper. Kwame Nkruma’s words still echo; “…a united Africa could become one of the greatest forces for good in the world”.

“Africa First” should be a rallying call to get serious with looking within ourselves for a change. It is time to rebuild and strengthen our governance institutions, educate and empower our youth, promote ethical leadership, excellence and nurture peace.

Copying and pasting America has never and will never work because as the adage goes in my mother language (N-Sotho) “Dinaka tsa go rweswa ga di dule”borrowed horns don’t stick.

It is time to put Africa First, by dismantling language and border walls and leveraging all the human and natural resources to reimagine and reinvent ourselves. “…it is time for Africa to write its own history of glory and dignity” – Patrice Lumumba

God bless Afrika!

Pearl P Mashabane

Thuli Madonsela Legacy: Lessons of a Good Public Servant


Adv Thuli Madonsela

Former Public Protector, Adv. Thuli Madonsela delivered her inaugural Good Governance lecture on 1st November 2016 at the St George’s Hotel. The lecture was hosted by the University Of Pretoria’s Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation (GovInn) and sponsored by Women Investment Portfolio Holdings (Wiphold).

Although her legacy speaks to issues of good governance and upholding the tenets of our constitution, today I want to share my sense of the lessons that she leaves for women and girls in particular.

There is no doubt that our public and private institutions are beset by the chaos of maladministration and bad governance. The chaos affects us all but it is always women and children who are more disadvantaged by dysfunctional institutions. We suffer more when those in power serve their own interests and public service is compromised. It is not only a matter of inconvenience; it is sometimes literally a matter of life and death.

In short, we are a society with a leadership deficit. We are in dire need of ethical and transformational leaders like never before. And when we do find people that embody those qualities, it is only prudent that we recognize them and showcase them as positive role models for society to emulate. As the master of ceremonies emphasized at lecture, “Motho o lebogwa a sa phela – A person is honored/thanked while still alive”.

On a more practical and personal note, I am proud that Sis Thuli as she is fondly called, serves as a positive role model to young women. Like all of us, Sis Thuli is not a hero or a saint. It is indeed her ordinariness that has endeared her to many of us because we can identify with her. What sets her apart though, was her unrelenting courage to stand up for what is right, holding office bearers accountable and speaking truth to power without cringing.

She pushed through the vitriol and violence of patriarchy that undermined her, mocked her looks, and sought to discredit her at every turn and even labeled her a spy. Yet this black, competent woman soldiered on and focused on the mandate before her: to protect the public.

She decided to be a good public servant and execute her role to the best of her ability – without fear or favour. She taught us to be brave and passionate!

She stood up to protect herself as well when she duly told Michael Hulley “I will not be bullied by you Sir”. That was a Viva moment! I say this because as women, and black women in particular, there is a sense that we have to constantly jump through hoops of fire to prove ourselves as society unrelentingly seeks to “put us back in our place”.

She taught us that leadership does not always have a loud boisterous voice or wear an air of self-importance. She demonstrated well that modesty is also an effective leadership tool. We learnt that we don’t have to copy popular notions of leadership, when being our authentic selves can serve us better.

I observed how since her tenure, the whole nation kept silent when she spoke. We became silent because we knew she had an important message to share and we valued her input. Moreover her soft tone forced good virtues out of us: Attention and Patience. This is not easy anymore in the sea of competing din of voices that constantly echo and demand our attention.

She taught us that our voices matter and that people would listen when we refuse to be unduly silenced. The annals of our history will revere her example that women can lead effectively and with integrity even against odds.

We can all take a leaf out of Sis Thuli’s book.

God bless Afrika!


Pearl Pebetse

“When two elephants fight”: democracy gets trampled

pix courtesy @ Charles Vanpraet/Barcroft USA
pix courtesy @ Charles Vanpraet/Barcroft USA

Looking at the latest events taking place in our country, I can’t tell if it is two elephants fighting, an elephant fighting against itself or a group of elephants gone haywire. All I know is that whatever these elephants are doing;  the idiom’s warning still rings true: it is the grass that suffers.

Here is  bit of context, incase you are wondering how elephants and democracy mix together. Whereas it is true that African elephants are now an endangered species due relentless ivory poaching, today I am speaking about different kind of elephants: all those occupying our political space, entrusted with the running of our country.

For the past two years, it seems every month births a new crisis or we get spooked with more rotting skeletons crawling out into our political space. There is simply no time to process one set of shocking developments before another one is thrown at us.  Indeed we are a resilient people, having survived the brutality of the apartheid regime et al, but seriously how much can one country take before the seams of our social and mental fabric starts to come apart?

One minute racism rears its divisive plots, then our state institutions/public enterprises are found to be dysfunctional, then there are allegations of  massive financial looting and “state capture”. While we are flipping through our dictionaries to find what that even means, various protest marches pop up,  intra and inter political party factions emerge, investigations of ministers loom, calls for change of leadership grow louder and the rand plunges deeper.  The elephants are fighting.

As all these stand-offs unfold, the attention is focused on how investors and markets are affected by the yo-yo diet that is our politics. Little attention is paid to us mere mortals on the ground and how we are affected.

We are the grass that suffers; trampled economically, politically and psychologically.

Our minds stew in anxiety. Will we lose our savings? Are we becoming another failed African state? Is this the making of a civil war? Should we seek greener-pastures? Will we still be able to afford the bare necessities of life? What kind of a country will our children inherit?

There are more questions and fewer answers or reassurances.

Clearly our democracy is unravelling and no one knows where the constant stand-offs will lead to or what is going to shock us next. I had wanted to write and appeal that the political giants stop and consider how this is impacting the psyche and the quality of life of us ordinary people.

Then I remembered that I don’t know of any place or situation where emotional appeals have changed the minds and actions of anyone addicted to power and self-interest. If anything, it only entrenches and justifies their saviour-syndrome where more damage is done and blood gets spilled in the name of protecting the poor and the vulnerable. If you listen to the rhetoric of all political parties, you will hear the same lame chorus about “our people” (as if anyone owns people) or “the poor masses”.

So, should the grass just close its eyes and take all the trampling silently and accept it as the fate of the laws of the jungle?

I am reminded of a book title by one of my mentors; “When the sleeping grass awakens”. In the book, the author asserts that sleeping grass gets awakened by fire.

Perhaps this political unravelling is the fire that we need to awaken us from our civic stupor. It might be a scary thing, but not necessarily a bad thing. A government by the people for the people means it is time that we become active  and (positive) participants in the building of our country. We can’t afford to be passive bystanders anymore, completely shirking our power to a few people while we mind our private business. Unless we want to wake up one day and find we no longer have a country.

We have to be visible and make our voices heard. I am preaching to myself and other african women in particular, for we are always the grass that suffers most brutally when self-made beasts tussle for power and control. We have been too complacent and others continue to make decisions for us without us.

Our participation in a democracy does not need us to be card carrying members of any political party or faction. The constitution makes provision for all of us to be heard. I am not prescriptive on how our participation should look like. We can write, protest, start our own movements, build our own schools, pray or vote differently. One thing is sure, we can’t support any person, party, institutions or policies that undermines the value and quality of our lives or the future of our country.

I believe that everyone who claims to represent people should be subject to scrutiny and accountability.  We will continue to be the suffering grass, trampled by the weight of the elephants if we don’t claim our place and role in society. “it always looks impossible, until it is done”

God bless Africa!

pearl-p mashabane





South Africa’s 2016 Local Elections: creating space for new political voices.

On 3 August 2016, South Africa hosted successful local elections, which were deemed free and fair by independent observers. The onset of the elections had their own challenges, with at least 14 ward councillor candidates having lost their lives in what is suspected to be politically motivated murders. On this score, I wonder if the elections were really free and fair.

It is unfortunate that the tree of freedom is still being watered by blood, 22 years after our emancipation from the apartheid regime. May their families be comforted.

What is interesting though is what the election results are saying about the state of our democracy and how we are evolving as a nation. The playing field has been somewhat levelled, with opposition parties gaining momentum and securing significant support than in the previous years.

On one hand, this does not bode well for the majority party and requires honest introspection on how it has been performing. On the other hand, the opening of political space for other players is good for the country.

South Africa is one of the most diverse countries in the world and our politics needs to reflect this through policies, representations and creating spaces for all voices.

Research in diversity studies consistently shows that homogeneity /dominance of any one group, race, party, gender etc leads to stagnation in creativity and growth. It also creates a an in group-think that promotes elitism, bigotry and intolerance for external ideas and people.

So on this score, I am excited by the new developments that create space for party collaborations and coalitions, shifting comfort zones, spurring growth and opening space for inclusivity.

I believe that the new developments will prove beneficial for those who depend on government the most to deliver quality services and improve the course of their lives.

The people os South Africa have spoken and we remain one of the shining lights on the continent and the world.

God bless Africa !

pearl p mashabane

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