South Africa marks the 2017 Women’s Month under the theme “The Year of OR Tambo: Women united in moving South Africa forward”. This month is dedicated to women as a tributeto the thousands of women who took part in the historic 1956 women’s march to the Union Buildings against the pass laws of the oppressive apartheid government.

Women’s month a call to action for the current generation of women to continue the struggle towards the total liberation and empowerment of women.

ANC Today speaks prominent business woman Basetsana Kumalo, on the strides we have made and the most pressing challenges facing women in South Africa.

ANC Today: What are some of the key ingredients that have led to your success? 

Bassie: I was raised by incredible parents. My father was a bus driver, my mother was a teacher. We were an enterprising family that didn’t have much, but what we had was love. We were raised by God fearing & God loving parents. To a  great degree, that has defined who I am, and what I stand for.

It was my parents who also taught us from a very early age that young minds should not be idle, but also critically, that hard work has never killed anybody. When other kids were used to playing after school, my parents created opportunities to supplement the family income.

We never had time to play in the streets. We never had time to idle. We had a collective responsibility to help the family, supplement the income, so that we could have shoes on our feet, clothes on our back, roof over our heads, and education.

As such, I used to sell a tray of boiled eggs up and down our street. I sold sandwiches and ice cream. My dad would braai meat and my mother would prepare pap, and we would sell those at stadiums. I understood at an early age, growing up in the dusty streets of Soweto, that one had to work hard to be able to get yourself out of the environment.

My mother also got us involved in all sorts of extra-curricular activities. We were in the youth choir and entered beauty pageants. I won Miss Black South Africa in 1990 and Miss South Africa in 1994, a year after the black majority was “allowed” to enter Miss South Africa.

At the Miss World pageant in 1994, Basetsana was not the first runner up – South Africa was. It was a critical time of our country, new democracy, new generation, new dispensation, a new era. I understood the opportunity it presented to me that I needed to use the platform, not only as an ambassador of a new nation, but to inspire a new generation of young people.

Growing up in Soweto, under the apartheid was not easy. The system of the past had relegated some of us to be rebels. I decided to become a rebel with a cause. I decided that I will help rewrite the narrative about what a black girl child can achieve even under the system of the past.

ANC Today: In your view what are the key challenges faced by women in society today? 

Bassie: There are many challenges that women are facing in South Africa and  access to education is one of the most critical. Madiba said “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. A girl child, often does not have an opportunity to finish school and unfortunately when a girl child is not educated, she is already out of the system. If girls and women are not economically emancipated they are already out of the system. For me it is about waking up to a South Africa where a girl child is able to complete school.

At a given time, women also have to have children and build a family. That plugs you out of the economic mainstream. In your 20s, you go to school and get degrees. In your 30s, you are already in the work force, and it is in their 30s that women are having kids.  While you are on maternity leave and raising kids, somebody else is being promoted to take on a job that you were qualifying for.

To this day, women are still being paid less for the same job that men are doing. This needs to be addressed.

The numbers that speak to the upward mobility of women in the corporate sector are increasing at a snail pace. There is a pool of capable women that South Africa is not gleaning from, a pool of smart women who can help us fast track this economy, grow the economy, and make sure that this economic is sustainable.

We need men to really understand why women have to be equally empowered. When a society is progressive, when both men and women are working together to build a progressive society, that society becomes a winning nation. There have been really great strides made by government regarding gender parity, but it is not enough, so much more can still be done by government, civil society and business.

As a business woman, I made a conscious decision to predominantly employ women, 90% of my staff are women. It is only when we lift each other up that we can succeed. We have a collective responsibility to pull each other up and rise. I want to urge women to make a conscious decision and employ a girl child, and give them an opportunity.

We need to raise strong boy children. We need to raise decent men in our own homes. We should raise them so that they can respect women.

We live in a country currently where the rate of femicide is deplorable, women and children are being raped, murdered everyday.  We have been too silent for too long.

I recently launched a campaign “Not in my name! Count Me In” . Such campaigns must be run for 365 days of a year, because often times, when the headlines have stopped, when a Karabo has been buried, everybody seems to have moved on with their lives. When we hear someone being abused in the hood, you raise the volume in your car higher so that you don’t hear it. You are a co-perpetrator if you don’t speak out and report what you see in your environment.

I still believe that there’s hope, but it is going to take everybody, collectively, to bring the change forward

ANC Today:  Looking back over an illustrious career, if you had an opportunity to speak to your younger self, what advice would you give her? 

Bassie: This is what I would tell Basetsana Makgalemele – “You have inner strength, ability, intellect and are somebody in the society.”

The system of the past sought to relegate us to people that we would never amount anything, so I became a rebel with a course. When I was young, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to become, but I knew for sure, that I never wanted to be poor. I knew for sure, I wanted to be educated and make my parents proud.

I would tell my younger self that be brave, have courage, stand up for yourself, own your voice, work hard and have a bit of fun.

ANC Today: Critics say nothing much has been done for women in the past 23 years of this government, what has been your experience? 

Bassie: I commend this government for the work it has done with regards to gender parity. In 1994, when the ANC came into power to lead a new nation, a third of the cabinet was women, that alone said that this government is serious about taking the course of women forward. In 2017, parity is there. We are sitting at 50% of parliamentarians from the governing party if not more being women.

The polices are there – be it gender equality, Black Economic Empowerment, Employment Equity. Regulation is what will change the trajectory. The private sector must be held accountable, named and shamed where, for example, boards have no representation of women.

Much more still needs to be done, especially with key portfolios. We want to see women in key portfolios and not relegated into softer portfolios. Corporate South Africa has an equal responsibility to ensure that women are given the fair opportunity to lead the JSE listed companies.

I had the privilege about 10 years ago to be the President of the Business Women Association, we used to do a survey every year. The survey seeks to track the upward mobility of women in corporate South Africa and in government.  The statics are disconcerting when you see the trend of were women seat.

In Corporate South Africa, approximately only 11.9% of CEO and Chairpersons are women. That is not good enough. Only 22% of executive directors and 29% executive management are women. Women make up more than half of the population in South Africa. Gender parity is very key.

We live in an incredible country, we have our own challenges. However, equally so, we all have a collective responsibly to take this country forward. It is through the collaboration and working of both men and women in this country that we can be able to move South Africa forward.

Government needs to be lauded and applauded, that they have really taken forward the call to empower women. The battle is not won yet. We have to work together to take this country forward.

ANC Today:  If you were to be a President for a day, what would you do? 

Bassie: I would want to wake up to a country where there is no more violence and rape of women and children. I would want to wake up to a country where women and children are treated equally. Violation, rape and murder of women and children had ended, that is a country I want to live in and would work tirelessly to achieve.

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