Celebrating Extraordinary Women this Women’s Month

As a tribute to the thousands of women of all races who marched to the Union Buildings on 09 August 1956 in protest against the extension of Pass Laws to women, South Africa commemorates Women’s month in August. This historic march was a seminal moment where women claimed their space as equal partners in the struggle for a non-racist and non-sexist South Africa. While significant progress has been made in empowering women in many spheres, poor women in under-resourced areas continue to battle harrowing odds for access to the most basic rights to security, to reproductive rights, health, education and workplace equality. Persuasive analysis of the realities on the ground makes it difficult to feel any real sense of achievement when the face of poverty and unemployment is largely African, black and female.

As the month of August celebrates women in South Africa, BRIDGE takes this opportunity to celebrate recent achievements of two of its board members.

Not only did Shafika Isaacs win the Woman of the Year in Education Award, she was also honoured with the Overall Woman of the Year Award at the 2017 Women of Stature Awards. Her unstinting work in empowering women and the poor through education and technology can be traced back to her activism from an early age, when she co-founded the Bo Kaap Cape Youth Congress as a young woman. The flagship initiative of that program was the Primary School Tuition Project. The project pioneered community education programmes focused on alternative approaches which challenged Apartheid indoctrination. Her current work focuses on digital technology as a powerful tool in enabling access to quality education for all. Shafika is passionate about the use of digital technologies to support community empowerment across the world and fighting for education rights for the poor, especially for girls. Her next challenge, she says, will be a PhD at the Soweto campus of the University of Johannesburg, focusing on children in Soweto and how they navigate their lives through their challenges. Shafika views her award as an opportunity to highlight the importance of empowering women, engaging with men and boys in a country as wounded as South Africa, and pioneering new avenues of innovation for social justice.

The second shout-out goes to Nonhlanhla Masina, a young changemaker who co-founded the African School for Excellence before she was even 30! Born and raised in Tsakane in the East Rand, Nonhlanhla is familiar with the sheer fortitude township learners have to possess to access education. Noni started primary school in 1994 and was part of what was called the “Mandela Matrics”, the last group of learners who were schooled in a hybrid form of the old graded and new democratic systems. Nonhlanhla would walk eight kilometres daily to get to Buhlebemfundo Secondary School where she was named Best Female Learner as a matriculant in 2006. The African School for Excellence is set to revolutionise education in South Africa by creating a network of world-class private high schools that anyone can afford. On getting to the University of the Witwatersrand for her undergraduate studies, Noni soon got to contend with the harsh realities of being a third language English speaker in an environment that was not set up to support students who were coming from an under-resourced schooling system. The fact that she has a Masters degree and is planning to read for her PhD attests to her work ethic and resilience. Her strong sense of community led to a partnership which founded the African School for Excellence whose goal is to enable township learners to compete globally. She believes strongly that the same skillset is needed all over the world, whether in Johannesburg or London. Nonhlanhla is on a mission to challenge the system and ensure that every child gets an education worthy of their potential, regardless of where they come from.

BRIDGE is honoured to have Shafika Isaacs and Nonhlanhla Masina as their board members, guiding the strategic direction and providing oversight to BRIDGE operations. As we close Women’s month, we salute these two Mbokodos. May the fire in their bellies continue to burn in support of our education!