University of Pretoria: ‘They enabled us to conceive the inconceivable’ – panel member on Mandela and Maxeke during UP-hosted webinar

The Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke Institute recently partnered with the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the University of Pretoria (UP) to host an online discussion titled ‘Charlotte Maxeke and Nelson Mandela: A Legacy of Service Dialogue’.

The South African government has earmarked 2021 as the Year of Charlotte Maxeke to commemorate the 150th anniversary of her birth in Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape. This webinar focused on the leadership principles of both Charlotte Maxeke and Nelson Mandela, and lessons that can be learned to tackle current challenges in our society.

Charlotte Maxeke was a South African religious leader, and the first South African black woman to obtain a university degree. She advocated for women’s rights and religion, and in 1918 founded the Bantu Women’s League, the first women’s organisation in South Africa.

“The impact of the unparalleled icons we are celebrating today lives on, and there is much we can learn from their leadership traits and styles,” said UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe in his opening remarks. “Leadership can be described as a process of social influence that maximises the efforts of others towards the achievement of a goal or outcome; leadership continues to evolve with the times.”

UP’s Head of Public Law, Professor Ntombizozuko Dyani-Mhango, moderated the conversation, in which four distinguished guests participated.

Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa was one of the panellists. “Mama Maxeke was clearly a visionary, well ahead of her time in more ways than one, and statements from her writings confirm this,” he said. “Having listened to Mama Maxeke, I believe President Mandela would have taken lessons from her to heart. He remained truthful to the commitment of his revolutionary duty on matters relating to women’s emancipation.”

Historian Dr Thozama April-Maduma, Senior Curator at the National Heritage and Cultural Studies Centre at the University of Fort Hare, also made reference to President Nelson and Charlotte Maxeke’s leadership traits. “Both were leaders in trying times; they carried the hopes and aspirations of society. Through their strides, they made it possible for us to imagine the unimaginable. They enabled us to conceive the inconceivable.”

“President Mandela and Mama Maxeke were great believers in inclusivity and equality,” added Dr Brigalia Bam, former Chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission. “The poorest people in this country are women and the heads of households are also women; I wonder what Mama Maxeke would have said to us in this time.”

In relation to how we should navigate the concept of community, Professor Tinyiko Maluleke, senior research fellow at UP’s Centre of the Advancement Scholarship, said: “Leaders should not live above their people, because if you live above your people, you talk down to them, you look down on them, while losing touch with who they are and where they are.”

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