07 August 2019 | Story Charlene Stanley | Photo Stephen Collett
Prof Francis Petersen, Prof Puleng LenkaBula, William Bulwane and Min Thoko Didiza
Prof Francis Petersen, UFS Rector and Vice-Chancellor; Prof Puleng LenkaBula, Vice-Rector: Institutional Change, Student Affairs, and Community Engagement; Mr Kwekwe William Bulwane, Free State MEC for Agriculture and Rural Development; and Ms Thoko Didiza, Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, who presented the 2019 Charlotte Maxeke public lecture.

“This work is not for yourselves. Kill that spirit of self. Do not live above your people. Live with them.” 
These famous words by Charlotte Maxeke, one of South Africa’s leading academic and social pioneers, formed the thrust of Minister Thoko Didiza's public lecture in a packed Equitas Auditorium on the UFS Bloemfontein Campus, three days before South Africans celebrate Woman’s Day.

The Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister urged her audience to heed the “rich lessons this remarkable woman holds for our generation today”, in a lecture with the topic: Feminist Leadership, Intergenerational Dialogue on Knowledge, Agriculture and Sustainable Futures.

Educational pioneer

Referring to Maxeke’s many academic and cultural achievements, Minister Didiza pointed out that, “Her educational achievements did not make her see her fellow Africans any differently. It made her want to change their lives for the better.”
She called Maxeke a “true feminist, with an inclusive vision to fight for the betterment of all South Africans”.

This was echoed by Prof Francis Petersen, UFS Rector and Vice-Chancellor, in his welcoming address. He singled out the fact that Maxeke used to spend long hours tutoring her less skilled classmates while still at school.
“This wonderful example of using your own knowledge to make a real impact in the lives of others, is something we at the University of the Free State truly salute,” he said.  

Women’s conversation on land

On the topic of land reform, Minister Didiza referred to the fact that countries all over the world were involved in a ‘continuous process’ of land reform. She appealed to all South Africans to get involved in dialogues around the land issue.
“I know the pain and the cries of African people when it relates to land. But I don’t hear the cries and concerns of our white compatriots. Because until we understand each other’s pain, we will never be able to navigate the future.”
Minister Didiza then called for a ‘women’s conversation on land’, as she believed women to be ‘calmer’ than men and more inclined to collaborate with and listen to one another on an issue that is vital to all South African communities. 

Knowledge should lead to action

Minister Didiza said she believed universities had an important role to play in “gaining collective knowledge to solve problems”, and that agriculture should be a key focus area here – “benefitting from innovations in other sectors”.
“We need to urgently revitalise agriculture to once again bring glory to the Free State,” she said.
 “Knowledge means nothing if not translated into action and solutions for the problems we face in South Africa,” she concluded.

The Charlotte Maxeke lecture has been presented annually since 2009. Previous speakers include Minister Angie Motshekga, Prof Hlengiwe Mkhize and Dr Frene Ginwala.
Who was Charlotte Maxeke?

The CMM Institute describes her in this way:
“Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke (1871–1919) was a pioneering South African woman who was passionate about inclusivity, education and evangelism. She grasped every opportunity presented to her and accomplished many notable firsts during her lifetime.”
These ‘firsts’ include:
- being the first black woman in South Africa to obtain a BSc degree (at Wilberforce University in the United States of America in 1901);
- being the first woman to participate in the King’s Courts under King Sabata Dalindyebo of the AbaThembu;
- being the first African woman to establish a school (in Evaton, with her husband, in 1908);
- being the only woman who attended and contributed to the first African National Congress (ANC) conference in 1912; and
- being the co-initiator, organiser, and first President of the Bantu Women’s League, founded in 1918.

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