SPEECHES: Address by L N Sisulu, MP, Minister for the Public Service and Administration on the Occasion of the Women of Excellence Summit Johannesburg, 26 August 2013

Date: 16 Oct 2013

Program Director

Ladies and Gentlemen

Thank you for inviting me to join you in this Summit which I believe addresses a unique and important aspect of our lives. I found the subject on Excellence not only attractive but also very challenging.

I address you on this occasion while we as a nation and the world at large continue to pray for the greatest gift to this country, former President Nelson Rolihlala Mandela. Although Madiba, the world icon, does not need any introduction, it is perhaps befitting to share with you what O.R. Tambo, his partner at law and a friend, thought of Madiba. Tambo remarked that Madiba is

"...a presence in the consciousness of our people and of the world public so powerful that it cannot be explained except in terms of the indestructibility of the cause to which he has surrendered his liberty and offered his life".


We celebrate today, this month, not the Excellence of the purest kind of Nelson Mandela, but nonetheless the Excellence of determination and sacrifice achieved through several decades of women in struggle. The same excellence that has made it possible for all of us to be here today and be who we are.

For purposes of today, for us ordinary souls, we can settle for different measurement. And let me attempt to define this concept at the level that is attainable. In my view, excellence can be looked at from several perspectives.

Drawn from the root word "Excel", the connotations include:

    • Exceed the norm.

    • Go beyond the established.

    • Reach further

    • Outshine

All of these very abundantly displayed today in various fields. For each one it has had the result of self-drive to do their best, to strive, to give everything in themselves to any task assigned to them. To seek to apply themselves to their work and life. To concern themselves with a search for new and better ways to achieve their goals, to take responsibility to empower themselves, to leave it to no one nor chance. They did not wait for anyone to say, "come here" or "sit here" and "I will empower you". Excellence is the ability to drive oneself to be the best they can be.

I believe excellence is a personal trait that defines ones character. And if it is lacking, it can be learnt and acquired over time and it is strengthened through competition. And the best result can be attained through competition with one self, to compete with one self, to better the last achievement. To improve the last contribution. To compete with one self to outdo and outshine one self, to benchmark the last act and outperform one self.

Excellence is Not an accident, but a consequence of:

    • Ernest effort and application

    • Consistency and repeated practice

    • Investment towards self

    • Self respect and self worth

    • Love of something greater than one self, something worth committing one's life to.

Programme Director, let me offer a few suggestions on some practical aspects of achieving excellence.

a. Be clear what your part is in any matter and play THAT part very well. Choose your part and let it live on long after you have left the stage. And yes, when you look at your own part in any scheme of life you ought to ask yourself what share or contribution one is making to make things better for others. It is very rarely enough to simply show up "on stage. The impact should out-shadow the moment on stage.

b. Embrace honest feedback and reflection. Look within yourself and see if you are open and receptive to constructive feedback. Or if you shrink back from such input!!! This is what sharpens self application.

I wish to remind you of the words of one of the outstanding revolutionaries of our time, Bram Fischer who said, "I owed it to the political prisoners, to the banished, to the silenced and those under house arrest not to remain a spectator, but to act. I knew what they expected of me and I did it. I felt responsible not to those who are indifferent to the sufferings of others, but to those who are concerned."

In my observation, "excellence" remains a universally inspiring and appealing concept. It often eludes many of us, yet it is well within reach for many of us. Excellence is to a large extent an expression and reaffirmation of the potential for change and the power of intelligent action. In the closing paragraph of his book - The Tipping Point - Malcom Gladwell invites his readers, and today I extend the same invitation, to:

"Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push - in just the right place - it can be tipped."

Our country and society can only be a better place with more successful woman, who are excelling in their multifaceted roles and professions.

Equally, the growth of women in leadership and the business world has been phenomenal. With this growth comes the demand for excellence. It is this excellence that will, in the main, affirm the correctness and inevitability of women ascending the heights of business management, leadership and ownership.

We must bear in mind that the role of women in society is, and will continue, to change and therefore the pursuit of excellence must continue to call us to strive higher beyond our selves and our current level of achievement and contribution. Excellence is not an isolated, secretive achievement.

May it be that you are not found to be a lone wanderer in a some lost desert as you pursue excellence for itself. I encourage you to step up, apply yourself and excel for the inspiration, prosperity and advancement of our nation.

I, as a woman, am very glad that government has dedicated this month to the recognition, celebration and acknowledgement of the contribution of women. I am particularly pleased to be surrounded by women who have excelled at their work. We, as a society, are beginning to use this month to claim our place in society. A place so long denied us, a place we so richly deserve, a place so grudgingly given, because we fought for it. Let's use this space to send a message of the long struggles of women for freedom and equality and very soon it will be clear that women might not after all need to be affirmed. When we reach that stage, then we will know that we are truly free, that we have truly attained that level of development that is ideal.

Women have a rare and special quality that will forever make them just so much more determined in everything they do. Women possess that rare gift to give their all to any particular cause they have chosen. It has now become common cause that the best man for any job will invariably be a woman.

But our successes, our incidence of excellence are understated, because for the most part we await men to affirm us, in a world we know women's excellence lies in abundance.

I believe in women. I believe in their greater tenacity. I believe in their ability to beat all odds, their clarity and resolve. With all those qualities, women have an inner excellence in them that, when nurtured, would make it impossible to quantify. Women have a rare quality when they do what they do, they outdo men any day. Perhaps one day we will redefine excellence, not in male parameters - that one day we will see that women's excellence is so much more.

I am a historian by profession and I can tell you, if history were written by women, recording women's stories, you would learn how most major events in the history of our people were either as a result of some woman or prompted by some powerful woman. Manthatisi of the Tlokwe was one such major force of history. So too was Mkabayi or Nandi of the Zulus. One day our history will be told by women and they will tell a different story. For, as long as history is recorded by the hunter, you will never know of the heroism of the hunted.

We meet today, almost two decades after the glorious victory of our people against the system of Apartheid rule, which coincides with the centenary of the heroic struggles against passes. On some fateful day on 29 May 1913, a large contingent of women took part in a historic march to ostensibly protest against the Passes. By this time women had filled most jails for pass offences in South Africa especially in the Free State where repression and racism was most acute and pronounced. The 1913 Land Act was dangerously looming in the horizon and the women of the Free State were undeterred as they marched through the streets one town after another tearing up their passes and demanding to be arrested. They had come to the limits of their endurance and were prepared to suffer imprisonment as the ultimate price that had to be paid for their freedom, knowing full well, by the way, that there was no longer any space in any jail for them. They could demonstrate their defiance with impunity. This is where we trace the roots of our current struggle.

It was neither by accident nor by some inadvertent visitations of some struggle muse that the second generation of our leaders took that first step to march to the Union Buildings in 1956. The grand march was the culmination of our women's anger at injustices in its most extreme. The grand march was also as a result of a deep seated quest to redefine and reassert their human rights in the face of a regime that consigned them to the status of less than half citizens in the land of their birth.

The leaders of the 1956 Women's Great March were inspired by their forbearers such as Charlotte Maxeke. Like those women of yesteryear, like those gallant fighters of yesterday, we of the Ruling Party, the ANC, we of the third generation too remain undeterred in our fight for the attainment of a society where women will not live in fear, discriminated against and oppressed. Our solemn determination when we took up arms of struggle was that we envisaged an egalitarian society, based on justice, freedom from exploitation, freedom from discrimination and freedom from fear.

However, we in the ANC recognise that women's struggles have not been won, that women remain the most marginalised, that women bear the brunt of inequality. It has zeroed in on the gender agenda being pre-eminently about women's struggle for equality. For now, therefore and for the purpose of this forum, allow me to limit the scope of my discourse to the parameters that we in this country and government are setting for itself to help define the gender agenda. Our agenda is to end all discrimination, and in particular against women in all its forms - if not in our life time at least in your lifetime. This is why we celebrate women's courage and join those that led the struggle. This is why we specifically ensure that the month of August is dedicated to women, because the women's struggle is the current struggle for all.

The struggles of women in this country have ensured that their voice is not only heard but is entrenched in the totality of the rights we fought for in the liberation of this country. We have therefore ensured at all material times that the agenda of equality between the sexes receives as much priority as that between races. This is why today our legislative base is firmly grounded on the elimination of discrimination against women and the elimination of gender based violence.

This is how far we women have come, not through the magnanimity of men, but because we took up arms to fight for our rightful place in a society - free of all forms of the residue of injustice, oppression and discrimination. This is where we are, having taken the baton from the courageous women who dared the odds and ensured our place here. Women whose struggles remain poorly documented and poorly acknowledged, these remain peripheral to history. Women's struggles remain an appendix to our history and are from time to time dug up as a feel good gesture in the month of August.

Looking back at the 1913 Pass struggle, women have made amazing strides. When you look at this period and you look at where we are now, you cannot but marvel at how far we have come.

In 1994 we buried a nation where woman were not just treated as second class citizens but where they were treated as no citizens at all. In 1994 we bid a happy farewell to a system of rule where women had no rights to own property and inheritance. In 1994, through the People's Movement, the ANC we ushered in a new nation steeped in the tradition of tolerance, justice, equality for all. This egalitarian society is thanks to the toiling struggles of women who march in 1956. Today, we reap the full rewards of the struggle of Lilian Ngoyi and her fellow combatants.

Looking at the canvass of our recent history, one sees different shades of progress in advancing the cause of women. Several pieces of legislation in place, underpinned by the Constitution, to ensure that the benefits that we fought for, are firmly entrenched in the very fabric of our society.

Chairperson, with regard to the advancement of women in the political arena, government has led the way. As you know, there are 13 women Ministers in Cabinet, out of a total of 34, 16 Deputy Ministers out of a total of 33 and 5 women Premiers out of a total of 9. In all, South Africa has one of the highest number of women representation in Parliament in the world.

Our struggle today is probably more challenging than our forebears. The struggle of the past was a tangible, identifiable enemy - an oppressive state. Our challenges now are so much more complex - it is about the totality of the transformation of our society. It is about finding new ways of dealing with drift wood and the drags of an oppressive culture. Let it be in our life time that we can say we made good the baton given to us in that everyone in this country can live in a country free of fear, free of discrimination, free of violence. What this means in short is that we bear on our shoulders the immense responsibility to strive for the ideal.

How far have we come on the backs of the struggles of the women in 1913 and 1956 and imagine how much further we can go with new forms of struggled being waged every day. You have an enormous responsibility.

I thank you.

*Having trouble viewing this site? Please make sure you are using Internet Explorer version 7 or later or Firefox version 3 or later.