Amplifying Women's Voices – Celebrating Africa

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

My Homeland: South Africa


Drought  has cast its spell on the land

The sun  beats down on the rolling hills

Shriveled carcasses lie desolate under the unforgiving sun

Casualties of El Nino

We gather at Union buildings to summon the skies for rain

Canopies of Jacaranda blooms  colour the Capital purple

Thousands flock in and out of the City of Gold-Johannesburg

Braais turn on crimson ambers under summer’s glistening sky

The pink sunsets and orange mornings

Each day birthing new miracles

The student protests #Feesmustfall

Young people  are finding their voice

A rainbow nation whose colours refuse to stand together #Rhodesmustfall

A 21 year old freedom coming under scrutiny

The rand that tumbles and falls #Junkstatus

An economy on edge

I am a part of it all

This, my homeland whose cradle is a turbulent comfort

A home to legends, freedom fighters and Ubuntu

A place where laughter, music and dance masks our uncertainties

A land rich with hope amidst all of today’s odds and tides

Africa’s butterfly, breathtaking in its beauty

This is my home, my South Africa

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika!

Pearl Pebetse

Nelson Mandela Day 2016: Live for a Cause

NM DAY 2016

It is July 18th and I am excited by all the build up to the Nelson Mandela International Day of service which is celebrated annually on this day: his birthday.

I am encouraged to see how much the day has grown and the plethora of programs and initiatives that ordinary people will be participating in. From community clean up projects, mobile soup kitchens, school visits, nature conservation; the list is long. People are becoming more creative in finding ways to give back.

We all know that NMD should be every day and there is a need to institutionalize community service as part of our nation building project and to get us out of our own heads and comfort zones. Our part of the 67 minutes is a right step in getting us to live for and support a good Cause.

But I must say that this year I am particularly touched by the cause of young people in South Africa. I will elaborate in another blog post. However, just to paint you a picture, the past few years have been rough for the youth.  Unemployment has risen starkly, drug and alcohol addiction is taking root, exorbitant fees are hindering access to higher education and now new stats have come out that young women between the ages of 15 and 24 are once again facing the biggest brunt of new HIV infections. sigh!

So I am hoping that if many of us start living for a Cause and not just for the Applause of a 67 minutes, there is a chance to turn things around for the better.

As a country and people committed to the ethos of Ubuntu, we can’t  ignore the plight and voices of young people anymore. NM day should be a springboard for sustainable efforts to advance the cause of young people by giving them the resources and opportunities that will enable them to be scriptwriters of their destiny.

I am thinking of ways that I can contribute to these efforts.

To everyone who will be brightening up their corner anywhere in the world: Long live to the spirit of serving humanity and making every day a Nelson Mandela Day in any small way we can.

God bless






I Am Not Done with African Immigrant Literature

AiW Guest Shadreck Chikoti


I get afraid, very afraid, when somebody, anybody, prescribes to me which books to read and not to read. When somebody gives me a template of what African literature ought to look like.

And boy! You can imagine the shock I got when I read an article on written by the gifted Siyanda Mohutsiwa, in which she gave a prescription for African literature, authenticating some forms and denouncing another.

I’d just finished watching an interview with Dambudzo Marechera on YouTube, when a Facebook friend pointed me to this article in which the author pronounces her dislike of “African immigrant literature” and declares that she has, with immediate effect, stopped reading this genre because, she writes, “I couldn’t get over the fact that my first encounter with Alain Mabanckou’s work was a foot-chase in a Paris subway station (The Fugitive). I couldn’t take a single…

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A letter to racism in South Africa

racism in SA pic

To whom it may concern

Your recent spewing of hateful speech against black people in South Africa this month refers.

I am appalled that after all the years of exploitation, plunder and oppression under colonialism an apartheid, you have still not had enough. You are greedy, malicious and your hatred is so deeply ingrained that you can’t even hide it anymore. You have moved out of whispering your hatred in private spaces to a place of spreading your poison into the public space, into our face.

You call us monkeys, animals, scum of the nation and entitled victims. When we vocalise our anger and disappointment, you trivialize our experience and try to appease us with cheap sentiments that you that you are merely exercising free speech, that you have black friends and you did not mean anything by it.

You pretend to be gobsmacked at how sensitive we are, meanwhile you know exactly what you are doing; tearing our country apart. You know you have hit where it hurts and in your twisted mind you rationalize that you are putting us in ‘our’ place, out of your privileged spaces.

Well, this time South Africans have had enough of you

You see, we live with your overt and subliminal manifestations everyday and swallow your hatred.

We forgive you every time you cast suspicious and hostile looks at us when we enter your businesses. We know you think of most of us as criminals

We forgive you when we still have to ask a white colleague to call white property owners on our behalf or book restaurants in their names, because we know you lie about the availability of space for black faces.

We forgive you when you move out of residential areas and schools when black people move in. We swallow particularly hard when you downplay your lessons in hatred by separating black and white children into separate classes due to “English and Afrikaans language differences”.

When you meet us and address us as “you people” in a baas-like tone of authority, we keep quiet, pretend we didn’t hear you. The following day we smile and greet you because once again we have forgiven.

We forgive you when you pepper every social commentary with reference to black incompetence, corruption and laziness.

We forgive you when you will not try to learn the basics of any of our African languages and mispronounce our names while we make every effort to speak yours.

We forgive knowing this is not ok or normal. We give you the benefit of the doubt that steadily you will change you ways and join the rest of us in being human. But clearly we are mistaken, you have chosen to remain the insecure and scared monster that you are in spite of all the privileges that continue to cushion your life.

As for forgiving, the 70×7 principle extends to you too because we know people are victims of your deception.

2016 is year we clean the rot of racism under our national carpet.

God bless Africa!

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