Women's Month in South AfricaIn August 2020, South African women celebrated their 65th Women’s Month. The 30-day event originally celebrated for one day on August 9, 2020, commemorates the 1956 march of approximately 20,000 women who protested against the newly enacted laws. These laws required black, South Africans to carry an internal passport and they are part of the legacy of Women’s Month in South Africa.

The legislation, known as the Population Registration Act, perpetuated apartheid by controlling urbanization and maintaining population segregation. Girls and women across the country came together in Pretoria, non-violently congregating in its Union buildings for 30 minutes of silent protest. They also brought a petition against the law, which included 100,000 signatures. This powerful display of strength and unity continues to inspire South African women. Here are a few highlights from this year’s Women’s Month in South Africa.

“This is Gold” Awareness Campaign

Several South African gold producers, including AngloGold Ashanti and Sibanye-Stillwater, used Women’s Month to pivot attention to the key role women play in the mining industry. Specifically, they called for an end to gender-based violence and sexism. The lockdowns caused by the spread of COVID-19 have increased violence against women, an issue already prevalent in South Africa. For instance, sexual assault increased by 10% in 2019 alone and national femicide rates ranked five times the world’s average.

The gold-mining companies sought to help alleviate these issues by appointing more women to higher job positions. Also by demanding accountability from male leadership in their treatment of women and establishing a Women in Mining forum. This forum’s purpose would be to encourage interested women to join the industry. Lastly, these companies called on their stakeholders to use their funds to take action against gender-based violence by reporting these incidents.

Girls Skate South Africa

The organization Girls Skate South Africa hosted an event in Johannesburg, one of the nation’s largest cities. More than 30 girls attended, engaging in activities such as skating and skateboarding at Tighy Park. Because skating is typically considered a masculine sport, Girls Skate South Africa aimed to acknowledge skating’s growing popularity among girls. In this way, they aim to break gender norms by organizing a girls’ skating day during Women’s Month.

Nubian Music Festival

Bonang Matheba, a premier South African television personality, partnered with the Nubian Music Festival to host a virtual concert for Women’s Month. Hosted by Matheba, the event featured a group of talented female performers in the country, including jazz singer Judith Sephuma and singer Lady Zamar. The show was broadcasted live from Sun City a city within Matheba’s home province — and fans could stream it online. Mpho Mathope, the founder of the Nubian Music Festival, praised the event for promoting social unity to a broad audience during the COVID-19 pandemic.

All-Female Shakespeare Festival

James Ncgobo, the artistic director of the famous Market Theatre in Johannesburg, enacted an all-female theater event. He noted that COVID-19 did not stifle theater, but simply adjusted it. He chose to highlight speeches by Shakespeare originally meant for male actors but called upon women to perform them. The 44-year-old theater, with more than 300 awards, is famous for producing work that centralizes African voices. This recent production was dubbed “Chilling with the Bard,” and is available on YouTube.

In 1956, thousands of South African women rallied against an unjust law, armed with staggering amounts of signatures and sheer will. Decades later, women in the nation continue to channel their strength, talent and resilience to honor Women’s Month in South Africa and the legacy of generations past.

– Faven Woldetatyos
Photo: Wikimedia

Nelson Mandela's ChildhoodNelson Mandela was a civil rights hero and arguably one of the greatest African leaders in history. He led a resistance movement, spent years behind bars unjustly and served as the president of South Africa. His life’s work was instrumental in abolishing apartheid and improving race relations. Not only was he a champion for justice and peace in his own country but also around the world. In 2009, the United Nations declared July 18th “International Nelson Mandela Day.” An examination of Nelson Mandela’s childhood contextualizes his legacy, both honoring and humanizing the man who contributed to the development of democracy and human rights around the globe. His young years are fascinating and enlightening as he exhibited leadership skills and spirit from an early age in his unique circumstances. Read on to discover the beginning of Mandela’s journey towards liberating millions.

Born into Royalty

On July 18th, 1918, Rolihlahla Mandela was born into the Thembu tribe in the small South African village of Mvezo, Transkei. Nelson’s birth name, Rolihlahla, is translated to mean “pulling branches off a tree.” His father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa, served as chief of the tribe. His mother, Nosekeni Fanny, was Mphakanyiswa’s third of four wives. Collectively, the wives bore Mphankanyiswa nine daughters and four sons. Nelson Mandela was born into a powerful family that was devoted to serving and leading his community. He grew up listening to stories of his ancestors’ bravery in wars of resistance, planting the seeds of courage within him to continue the struggle of bringing his people into freedom.

When colonial authorities denied Mphakanyswa of his chief status, he moved his family to Qunu. When Mphakanyswa died from tuberculosis in 1928, Mandela was only nine years old. He was then put under the guardianship of a Thembu Regent, who raised him as his own son.

A New Name

Nelson Mandela was the first in his family to attend school. He excelled in his learning, and the schools he attended had a fundamental impact on Nelson Mandela’s childhood. At his primary school in Qunu, Rolihlahla’s teacher told him that he would be called “Nelson” from now on. This followed the tradition of giving schoolchildren “Christian names”. This given name would be adopted by Rolihlahla, becoming his lifelong moniker. He continued his education at a Methodist secondary school called the Clarkebury Boarding Institute and Healdtown. Throughout his time there, he performed well in boxing, running and academics.

In 1939, Mandela advanced to the prestigious University of Fort Hare. At the time, it was the sole Western-style higher learning institute for South African black people. The next year, Mandela, along with his fellow peers, was expelled for joining a student boycott against university policies. His lifelong advocacy for peaceful protests began here.

Fleeing to Johannesburg

Mandela returned home after being expelled from college and his guardian, Jongintaba, was furious. He threatened that if Mandela did not return to Fort Hare he would arrange a marriage for him. In response, Mandela decided to escape. He fled to Johannesburg and arrived in 1941. He first worked as a mine security officer, then as a law clerk and finally finished his bachelor’s degree through the University of South Africa. As he furthered his studies, he also started attending African National Congress (ANC) meetings against the advice of his employers. In 1943, he returned to Fort Hare to graduate. He furthered his education and expanded his worldview by studying law at the University of Witwatersrand and it was here that his interest in politics was heavily influenced. He met black and white activists and got involved with the movement against racial discrimination that he would continue for the rest of his life.

As Nelson Mandela’s commitment to politics and the ANC grew stronger, he participated in boycotts, strikes and other nonviolent forms of protest to oppose discriminatory policies. He opened South Africa’s first black law firm, which specialized in legal counsel to those harmed by apartheid legislation. He offered his legal counsel from a low cost to no cost at all. A long struggle was ahead of Mandela to achieve full citizenship, democracy, and liberty for his people. His journey began in his early years as Thembu royalty and in his academic work. Nelson Mandela’s childhood is only the first piece in the remarkable making of an international icon.

– Mia McKnight
Photo: Flickr


Healthcare in South Africa

While South Africa has come a long way since the pre-Mandela era, many still largely view it as one of the most unequal countries in the world. The history of apartheid in South Africa still plagues many sectors of its government, especially its healthcare system. Glaring racial and wealth disparities among South Africans contribute to unequal access to high-quality healthcare services. Here is some further information about the state of healthcare in South Africa.

Positive Outcomes Post-Apartheid

Two years after Apartheid ended on April 27, 1994, South Africa developed a new Constitution that included a Bill of Rights. A new law under Article 27 stated that every person has an entitlement to healthcare in South Africa, including the right to reproductive care and guaranteed emergency medical treatment. It also states that the government must have measures in place in order to properly carry out these programs.

Since its implementation, life expectancy ages have risen from 54 in 2005 to nearly 63 years as of 2018, along with a continued decrease in the mother-to-child transmission of HIV. While healthcare services and medical treatment have dramatically improved since the 90s, equal accessibility is still a huge problem within the country.

The Public Versus Private Health Sector

While public healthcare is legally available to everyone in South Africa, it comes with an enormous shortage in proper supplies, functioning machinery and high-quality services. Along with this, it includes virtually guaranteed long wait times, hasty appointments and unavailability of skilled doctors. Only five of the 696 public hospitals meet most of the nation’s standards, which include services to contain infectious diseases and to provide prescriptions and medications.

This is not the case within the private health sector. Only 14% of South Africans pay for private health insurance, but more than half of healthcare funds go to that 14%. They have access to 70% of the country’s doctors, whereas the rest of the population utilizing public healthcare have access to far fewer doctors.

Racial Disparities

At first glance, there seems to be a battle between government services and for-profit insurance companies within healthcare in South Africa. However, it is increasingly clear that there is a divide between the historically elite and systemically poor.

In 2018, the World Bank named South Africa as the country with the worst inequality in the world. As of 2015, about 55% of the country’s population lives on less than $5 a day. Meanwhile, the lower-bound poverty line of $1.50 a day includes 47% black Africans, 23% mixed race people and less than 1% white people. The history of apartheid is far from gone because it has created a system with a lack of opportunities for all citizens. While South Africa may have legally outlawed discrimination, many still practice it, and data outlining who has access to high-quality healthcare clearly shows this.

Projects and Initiatives to Improve the State of Healthcare in South Africa

South Africa is trying to completely nationalize its healthcare by 2026 through a National Health Insurance (NHI) proposal. The country first implemented it in 2012 and will carry it out in phases over 14 years. Under the full program, citizens will be able to receive care at clinics and hospitals at no charge, but will also have the option to seek and pay for private care if they desire. If South Africa implements it as planned, it should help to reduce the number of those seeking private insurance and allow for the reallocation of funds to the public sector. In order for this to properly happen, government elites will have to examine how to break down their own history of systemic racism.

The SAME Foundation (the South Africa Medical and Education Foundation) works to provide high-quality medical services to everyone receiving public healthcare. The Khayelitsha Hospital in Cape Town was incredibly under-resourced and over-crowded, particularly in its Emergency Ward and Mental Health Ward, leaving many patients sleeping and getting treatment on the floor.

In 2018, SAME provided the Emergency Ward with 16 new stretcher beds, a ventilator, an x-ray machine, a diagnostic set and an HB tester. Doctors can now provide higher quality care for more patients at any given time. The new equipment gives more accurate results, as well as performs certain tasks that the doctors would otherwise have to do by hand (i.e. continuous CPR versus a ventilator). Within the Mental Health Ward, SAME raised enough money to provide 65 new beds that have rounded edges, are easy to clean and are waterproof and flame retardant. These efforts have created a more positive and safe environment, as well as restored patient dignity.

The overall state of healthcare in South Africa could certainly improve within its public sector, however, the country is actively trying to overcome decades of segregation and current practices of de facto discrimination in order to provide high-quality services for all citizens. With the help of NGOs, and as South Africa continues to implement the new health initiative over the next few years, only time will tell if the goals of the country meet with equality and justice.

Stephanie Russo
Photo: Flickr