Address by Deputy Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces Ms T. Memela, at the SADTU National Women`s Day Celebration

9 August 2012, Durban University of Technology, KZN

Programme Director
Mayor of Ethekwini Metro and Councillors
Leadership and Members of SADTU AND Cosatu
Leadership and Members of SACP and ANV Women’s League
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

I am certainly honoured and delighted to be part of this occasion to celebrate the Women’s Month. The theme for this year’s Women’s Moth is “56 years of women united against poverty, inequality and unemployment”. This is in recognition of the 56th anniversary of that heroic day when the women of this country marched to the Union Buildings and dared the then Prime Minister JG Strydom and his government to stand in their way saying “wa thinth’abafazi, wa thinth’ imbokodo”.

It is these kinds of gallant actions that have brought us the liberation and democracy that we enjoy today. So it is indeed appropriate that we must celebrate them. However, we must not forget that the struggle is far from over as we still have serious challenges of poverty, ineqaulity and unemployment that we must confront. This responsibility is upon all of us and teachers must be at the forefront of this struggle.

The teachers as nature’s foremost dispenser of societal values remains a critical motive force in the shaping of nations. Our South African economy has shortages of skilled personnel such as scientists, artisans and engineers and who should mould these people? Teachers. Teachers pass on knowledge and values to children, prepare them for further education and for working life and are main contributors to good education.

Teachers are the resource of excellence. The books are important, the pencil and pen, and the blackboard are important and so are the desks and chairs to sit on. Bit if there is no motivated teacher in front of the desks and the chairs, if there is no teacher to write on the blackboard and to teach reading, math and how to pick up knowledge and values, the goal will never be achieved.

Their influence can and will stretch on long after the final bell rings, beyond the wall of the actual school. The role of the teacher is complex, far beyond what people would assume as just someone who teaches what is mandated by law.

This role played by a teacher necessarily places teachers in a leadership role. They need to run their classroom and need to do this through respect and dignity. They need to be firm and flexible. They need to be objective and fair. This can’t be an easy job, so our teachers must be able to stand up to this challenge.

Teachers are also necessarily parents as they will often find themselves as a temporary “third parent”. This is during the times where children will see their teachers a bit more than they might see their parents during most days. This is particularly the case in the lower grades, where children are in schools, seven, eight and nine hours a day, with a single teacher at the lower grade levels.

Also, teachers are mediators, able to hash out and make those learners who are having an argument have some kind of common ground. Anyone can really just punish the tow parties and be done with it, but there will be no lessons that will be learned from that. If a teacher is able to figure out what has happened and help develop understanding, then the youth will be fore better off.

From these roles you can see that being a teacher goes beyond mere teaching. As a teacher you are a leader in your own right. So it is incumbent to also celebrate teachers when we celebrate leaders that have helped us achieve our freedom like women leaders of 1956.

Teachers have played an important role in our liberation struggle. Dr Kwame Nkrumah started as a teacher and graduated to being President of Ghana and founding father of the Organisation of African Unity, now African Union. In fact, Nkrumah declared in his inaugural speech as President of Ghana that teachers must be part of his government. This was in acknowledgement of the role teachers played in the liberation struggle of Ghana. This was of course an era when most of the educated people of Ghana were teachers.

However, even today when we have a relatively high number of educated people outside the teaching profession, teachers are still important, if not more, in the current struggle - the economic struggle. For our economy to have these much needed artisans, engineers and so on, teachers are needed to mould these skills.

So the question is what kind of a teacher does South Africa need today? We need leaders who can also be catalysts for change, visionaries who are never content with the status quo, but rather always looking for a better way. These are tranformationist teachers.

These visionary teachers are the ones we need, especially for the empowerment of our women. This is so because the majority of our people who are bearing the brunt of poverty and inequality are women. Until we have achieved this we will never have an equal society.

This inequality is also prevalent in professional and formal sectors. There is still a huge gap between men and women in leadership positions. This is so despite the progressive policies and legislation that we have put in place to address this. This means there is not enough willpower to change the status quo.

Our struggle today is not to have a female Einstein get appointed as an assistant professor. It is for a woman professional to get as quickly promoted as a male professional. The same should go for the woman farm workers to become forewomen.

We have to realize that as long as you keep a person down, some part of you has to be down there to hold him/her down, so it means you cannot soar as you otherwise might. Both men and women should Endeavour to hold one another up so that some part of theirs is up there.

Women power is a formidable force and for our democracy to sustain, we need this formidable force. If you have a sense of purpose and a sense of direction, I believe people will follow you. Democracy isn’t just about deducing what people want; democracy is about leading the people as well. And what our democracy need is women empowerment.

The challenge of women empowerment is also relevant to unions such as Sadtu. I have noted Sadtu is also taking this seriously if one has to take the number of women representation in Sadtu leadership. This has to be commended because in the past, the number of women representation was very small, despi9te the fact that women teachers constitute about 66% of the total teaching force and about 64% of the Sadtu membership.

Sadtu must ensure that this situation is sustained and more and more women teachers are empowered to lead this organization. It doesn’t we might have a situation where women teachers are disgruntled and feel marginalized, and form their own union like it happened in England in the 1920s when the National Union of Women Teachers was formed because women teachers felt marginalized in the existing unions. We need a Sadtu that is caring for all men and women teachers alike.

Also, Sadtu’s activism in fighting gender oppression and addressing the challenge of gender subordination and patriarchal relations in education must be lauded. Initiatives such as Gender Committees are appreciated and must be multiplied. However, these alone cannot be enough. As I’ve said, women teachers must be empowered to take leadership roles in Sadtu.

Programme director, allow me at this point to call on all women to raise and be counted. This is because the true worth of a nation is measured by the character of its womanhood. For a long time women worshipped men for their strength, forgetting that they themselves are strong. Now is the time for women to rise up to their strength and build a prosperous South Africa. Women really do rule the world; they just hadn’t figured it out yet. But I hope women of South Africa have now come to realise this.

One woman who has realised this is our own Minister of Home Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Today she is the new Chairperson of the AU Commission, making her the first female to lead this 54-member organisation. So women empowerment is possible and can work wonders for our country as well as the African continent and the world at large. We therefore take this opportunity to congratulate Minister Dlamini-Zuma on this remarkable achievement.

Programme director, allow me to conclude my remarks by referring to a biblical text. The Bible says God created man before woman and this makes God a master artist. But I always ask myself this question: “Did God make a rough draft in the form of man before the final masterpiece - in the form of a woman?”

As we celebrate the achievements that we have made thus far, we must not forget that there is still a lot that we must do. And chief among these is the issue of women emancipation and empowerment because it is through this that we can really eradicate poverty and inequality in our society. Malibongwe!

I thank you