By Bernice Elizabeth Green
In Nelson Mandela’s first public appearance in the United States in June 1990, he stopped in Bedford-Stuyvesant at Boys & Girls H.S. to address an audience of young people and national and community leaders.
In Graca Machel’s first public appearance in the United States since the death of her husband, Madiba, she guided a panel discussion last Friday, May 15 in Harlem on the subject of “Women and Youth: Driving Development in Southern Africa.” It was taped for future broadcast by BET News for world audiences at MadibaHarlem at MIST, co-host of the event with Shared Interest, a leading New York-based nonprofit social investment fund.
Both leaders had one simple message: that the power to change the world for the better is in the hands of the people. But at MadibaHarlem last Friday, the former First Lady of Mozambique and of South Africa said something more: “It is essential: Women must take center stage in (global) politics.”
Let’s not be simplistic…,” she said. We all must acknowledge the past (slavery and apartheid) “and how deep it was, how far it can go,” but “all of us in a serene way, must ask what do we do to heal.”
Her message touched on the delicate issue of lack of opportunity for the grassroots involving land grab, lack of opportunity for business development, unsafe conditions for the powerless, lack of participation in the political process.
It reminded us of the missions of the African Union 2015 which states that “Africa is seen by foreign interests as the last great frontier for investment in large-scale, land-based agriculture and tourism ventures. But the appetite for acquisition is pushing vulnerable communities off their land, with authorities often taking the side of investors over local people.”
Graca Machel is urged that “we must reimagine our future, reimagine the dream then mobilize the best in ourselves to link hands to effect change and build opportunities.”
She announced that she is personally concentrating her efforts on economic empowerment of African women. “We have to sow seeds of transformation so young women (and children) will have a different start than us, and won’t have to face what we did.”
She noted that despite its challenges and its problems, “South Africa has one of the best Constitutions in the world”, one that underscores Madiba’s wish that “never again will one person oppress another.”
She admitted that despite some progress in South Africa, as in other parts of the world, “The economic condition has not changed enough. Opportunities have not been gained. People are coming from other nations and getting jobs in South Africa.”
“We have common problems within different contexts, alluding to the similarities between Africa and the U.S. histories:” For instance, “millions of girls have not been able to realize their dreams fully.. We must use the same strategies (to overcome). We have a common history; we can have a common future.”
In her belief that women of the world should take the lead in politics to make the world better for all, she said, in relationship to the state of world affairs, “Are we dealing with the soul, the wounds from other generations?”
And on a special message to the United States, as represented by the diverse audience that applauded her every reference to empowering the vulnerable, she offered an appreciation. “I know when Madiba passed, it was a personal loss for many of you.”
She noted that “his body couldn’t take it anymore. But his spirit was as strong as ever” knowing that the people supporting him and understanding his reimagined dreams.
About Graca Machel:
Graça Machel is an internationally renowned advocate for women’s and children’s rights. In 1997, she was made a British dame for her humanitarian work. She is the widow of both former South African President Nelson Mandela and Mozambican President Samora Machel. Her lifetime of humanitarian work ranges from her impact as Mozambique’s Minister of Education and Culture to the stewardship of Nelson Mandela’s legacy. Today, her own foundation, The Graca Machel Trust, works to eliminate gender inequality, uphold the rights of children, and empower women and their communities in Southern Africa and beyond.
About Shared Interest
The organization is helping women and youth in Southern Africa transform their communities, countries and regions, from small businesses and farms to townships and cities. Shared has 2.2 million beneficiaries who are entrepreneurs in Southern Africa.
About MadibaHarlem at MIST
The Harlem-based entertainment complex, led by the vision of owner Carlton Brown, “has a mission to be a space that advocates the visibility of culture, politics, education and economics of the African Diaspora.”