Stories of extraordinary resilience from ‘ordinary’ women

(Caption: The hands of Selina Makabe as she sorts through waste to have it recycled.)  

 

For Women’s Day, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation interviewed women from different walks of life capturing stories of strength, resilience and survival.

 

While those interviewed reflected on the challenges that South African women in general face post 1994, what emerged was that those from disadvantaged backgrounds face a substantially higher number of issues.

 

Here are the stories of the women we spoke to:

 

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Selina Makabe is from Orange Farm and is a mother of five. She struggles with income so she works by collecting plastic bottles and other material for recycling in the New Town vicinity.

 

She states that the money she makes is barely enough to put food on the table and her children are not particularly comfortable with the work she does, but she has no other choice. Makabe works from Monday to Friday in Newtown, and goes home to Orange Farm over the weekends only.

 

When asked what she would be doing on August 9, she stated that she'd be attending a women's rally in Sebokeng.

 

Makabe, who was interviewed before August 3, was not enthusiastic about the municipal elections, indicating that she was not sure about voting. "I am really not sure because for me conditions have not changed and I'm still struggling in life," she said.

 

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Young and bubbly Kelsey Joffe feels that she is free since we live in a democratic country where women and men have the same rights.

 

She is however, determined to be one of the women who defy the societal status quo that deems women unequal to men. “The biggest challenge for women is not only getting jobs, but also to progress in their respective fields. It is much harder for women to become CEOs of companies than it is for men,” she stated.

 

On August 9, she will be helping out her mother who is involved with a charity 'organisation that aims to help women who are in need.

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“Finding comfort in discomfort,” is what 21 year old Marie van Niekerk describes her upbringing and current situation as. Van Niekerk says she grew up in a poor family. She is a mother of two and wishes that she can provide her children with the opportunity to finish school and study further - an opportunity that she did not get.

 

When asked what she would have wanted to be had she had a chance to complete her studies, she momentarily looked away and with tears in her eyes said, “I wanted to become a lawyer, not just any lawyer though. I wanted to become a lawyer that deals with cases strictly pertaining to women and I would have loved to defend women who go through abuse, rape and any other injustices.”

 

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Nestled at a street corner in Joburg’s cultural district, Newtown, we met a street hawker, Cecilia Phiri. She was seated next to an elderly man, her husband, braving the chilly Joburg weather. The two are from Zimbabwe and came to South Africa in 2014 for a ‘better life’. The husband and wife team have been running their business of selling biscuits, cigarettes and snacks for a while. “I have a family back home and I do what I do for them,” she says.

 

Phiri is very vocal about her rights as a woman, saying that South Africa has progressed when it comes to gender equality. She recognises the sacrifices made by the likes of Lilian Ngoyi, Hellen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn. “God made us women and we are proud. I celebrate August 9, and I always will, because all those women worked hard for all of us. Why should I let them down?”

 

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Ameera Sarfuddin, Ra’eesah Vally, Farnaaz Ali and Miriam Kola are students at the University of the Witwatersrand.

 

They indicated that the call for women’s rights should not only be heard on August 9, but should be rallied around throughout the year.

 

While recognising their position of “privilege” as South African women who by law have equal rights, the four stated that they still face discrimination. These were just some of the reasons why they indicated that women are not entirely free: people question why women should study; females are seen as weak; women are judged by different standards compared to men; and women are still unsafe in South Africa.

 

When asked if there was any perception about women that they could change, the group indicated, “We don’t need to choose between work and family. There is a perception that you have to give up one or the other. One can do both.”

 

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On Solomon Street in Fietas, we met Zimbabwean-born Cynthia Nyazira and her one-year old son. At 20 years old and a single parent, she is unemployed and says that she begs on the streets for survival. The young lady travels by train all the way from Majazana informal settlement in Eikenhof on the days she can.

 

She explained how she makes the best of the meager R30 she would gather from drivers or passersby and that it is simply not enough to provide for all her son’s needs. “I am a mother and I am a woman, so I have to be strong for the sake of my son,” she says.

 

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Khanya Ntisana is an accounting student at the University of the Witwatersrand. She indicated that gender discrimination still occurs widely, with males retaining a dominant position, while women are seen as “weak”.

She indicated that women are seen as unfit for certain positions due to the “mind-set” still prevalent in South Africa.

 

Ntisana indicated that black women particularly are overlooked, facing both gender discrimination as well as racism in the workplace and in varsity: a white woman would more likely be preferred for a job as opposed to a black woman.

 

She indicated that black women are “not taken seriously” and are “five steps behind everyone else”.

 

* This voxpop was compiled by Kabelo Kemp, Zinzile Mavuso, Delani Majola and Zaakirah Vadi.

 

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