“Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all. Let each know that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfil themselves.”

~Nelson Mandela~

Let us hear Madiba’s words clearly, let us feel it deeply, and let it lead us powerfully, as we reflect on this time of conflict, and the unspeakable attacks on our democracy and Constitution, by our very own people.

It is a common fact that South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world. In the last fortnight, this inequality has been used as a trigger to cultivate extreme levels of political instability, while gender inequality was magnified.

To this end, a BBC picture that made millions around the world gasp in shock was of baby Melokuhle being thrown out of a smoke-filled Durban building by her own mother Naledi Manyoni, is symbolic of what women and children endure during conflict. It is horrific to consider that a mother thinks her child has a better chance of survival in being thrown out of a burning high-rise building, than being with her.

The South African National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace and Security was adopted in March 2021, a collaborative effort by government and civil society – which includes expected results of fostering dialogue, co-operative relationships, and creating a clear policy framework, while ensuring ownership, accountability, and capacity building – was going to change the landscape of gender equality in the face of conflict.

This made me think about Ma Gertrude Shope and Ma Florence Mophosho, who in the 1970s, started VoW, the Voice of Women publication. Vow wanted South African black women to understand liberation, from a gender perspective, encouraging women to break with tradition and join the MK and the rural struggle.

The imagery of victorious women soldiers with a gun on one hip and a child on another sent a formidable international message. Papers, thesis and even books have been written about the impact of VoW during the liberation Struggle.

The Gertrude Shope Annual Dialogue Forum, formed by Dirco, to serve as a discussion platform for African peace-building and development, is yet another, of many references of Ma Shope’s impact on the role of women in peace and security efforts, and the liberation of our people.

The Gertrude Shope Women Mediators Network is a legacy of this Dialogue Forum and has trained more than 350 mediators, including myself, to be deployed in these times of peace building, although it is bittersweet because as much as we are trained, we also hope that we are never called to deployment – Phoenix was a first stop for the Gertrude Shope Mediators Network, after the Peace Roundtable.

What has been built by the liberation founding mothers, simply cannot be undone!

Today, we have the NAP as a powerful transformation tool, for inclusive decision-making, gender justice, and driving sustainable peace and stability. Women, after all, have more effective responses in preventing and resolving conflicts thereby building peaceful, inclusive societies.

It was just last year at the sixth Gertrude Shope Annual Dialogue Forum, that accord’s general manager Pravina Makan-Lakha stressed the importance of empowering local, grass roots peacebuilders, especially because of Covid-19’s impact, highlighting a critical need to bridge the gap between the local, national and international levels by ensuring that funding is directed to local organisations, and women’s networks.

I echo her call and ask you to support organisations like the Gertrude Shope Brigade, FemWise, GiMAC, PABWA, and others.

Pope Francis prayed for South Africa on the Sunday of the conflict’s peak, saying that violence had rocked the country “already hit by health and economic challenges because of the pandemic”, and President Ramaphosa also saying on the same day: “We must emerge after this much, much stronger and much more capable than we were before this incident happened.”

In this respect, I posit the following:

•There can be no peace and security if women and poverty are synonymous

•There can be no peace and security if women and the economy are mutually exclusive

•There can be no peace and security if women in decision-making and power positions have to tussle with patriarchal tropes just to be in the room

•There can be no peace and security if institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women are only dusted off during women’s month

I see our role as peacebuilders, where we all have a seat of equality at the Peace Roundtable, to harness the legacy of Ma Shope by taking action in peace efforts, which is the foundation for South Africa to “build, back, better”, especially for women and children who would have been the hardest hit.

While we have witnessed some of the most hateful and loathsome sides of humanity that looted, burnt and destroyed decades of infrastructure development, and regressed our economy even further, I thank the majority of South Africans for their unity and selflessness in the face of adversity, being peacebuilders by default, and changing our nation’s narrative to truly embody the essence of “By the People, For the People” – we have proven that no matter our differences, Ubuntu is part of the South African DNA.

* Pinky Kekana is the Deputy Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies. Peacebuilder and mediator, at the Gertrude Shope Brigade.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.

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