The Nelson Mandela Foundation (the Foundation) partnered with the Graça Machel Trust (GMT) and the Kuhluka Movement today in hosting Oprah Winfrey at the Soweto campus of the University of Johannesburg. Winfrey headlined an event designed to mark the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth at the same time as promoting the work the organisations are doing to combat patriarchy and to link in with the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence campaign.
Nearly 3 000 people attended an event which also featured contributions by Machel, her daughter Josina Z Machel, Executive Director of United Nations Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and Foundation Chairman Njabulo Ndebele. Proceedings were facilitated by renowned broadcaster and author Redi Tlhabi and enriched by powerful musical performances from Mbongeni Ngema and Zonke.
All the speakers alluded to unacceptable levels of violence in societies around the world and the need, even in democracies, for the identification of more effective strategies for dismantling oppressive structures and systems of power. There was consensus that women and girls carry the heaviest burden.
This conversation took place in the context of recently released statistics showing that in South Africa, more women and children die from criminal violence than do in certain war zones elsewhere in the world. An estimated 40% of women in South Africa will be raped, one in three children will be subjected to violence by a parent or a caregiver, and one in five will be sexually abused by the time they reach 18 years old.
Members of the Mandela family, the Machel family and the family of Walter and Albertina Sisulu were in attendance. Mandela’s great-grandson, Luvuyo Madasa Mandela, said: “I think it’s important to hear more voices of women … We [men] just need not be intimidated by or fight the role they have forever in empowering and enriching communities.” Elinor Sisulu argued that “an event like this is necessary for women in difficult situations who need to hear someone like Oprah saying, ‘I’ve walked this road.’”
Winfrey reflected on her relationship with Nelson Mandela, “my favourite mentor,” and her passion for South Africa – “this is my 36th visit to your country.” She shared the thinking which led to her establishing a leadership academy for young women near Johannesburg: “women are going to save South Africa.” vowed Ms Winfrey
Graça Machel indicated that the centenary of Mandela’s birth would not have been complete without Oprah’s voice. And she made a call for everyone to dedicate the next 100 years to fighting for a world in which the lives of women matter.
On 6 December, the Foundation will continue with the centennial celebrations of Madiba’s life with another address by the acclaimed author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.