I met the Women’s Leadership and Training Programme (WLTP) in 1994, in my second year after Matric. My parish priest Fr. Stanislaw Dziuba heard about WLTP and organized a workshop for the girls in his parish. He found me fetching water at the Umzimkhulu river and gave me the invitation, along with other girls in my parish, to attend the leadership training event. I did not know about careers at that stage except for my passion to become a fashion designer or a teacher. I enjoyed WLTP’s training so much that when there was a call for volunteers for further training to help other girls, I eagerly offered myself ahead of everyone else. From 1995 I started attending leadership training sessions with young women from other provinces. I learned the Paulo Freire principles of conscientisation and action/reflection and I have used them ever since in my personal life and work.
My perception of myself was broadened during the training to understand that I was more than just a shy, unassertive, ‘uncivilised’ rural girl; I was in fact a capable woman with dreams, her own identity, ambitions, leadership potential and freedom. I began to love who I was while searching all the time for more understanding of life around and beyond my village. The gender aspect of our training made it clear to me that I would have to break all the boundaries that were holding and would continue to hold me back. To do so I had to leave the known life, the ‘normal’ life of my family, the accepted gender practices and the community perception that girls’ and young women’s worth lie in getting married and bringing cattle to the family. I stopped thinking that I was born to fulfil men’s goals, and not my own. I knew I was capable of making my own decisions about my sexuality, respecting my culture but not submitting to norms and practices that demean my integrity. Fortunately I did not have to battle around gender roles with my siblings because we were raised as children not ‘gender machines’. But I had to end the nine year relationship with my boyfriend that was obviously going to hold me back if I married him. I had to end it because I knew it was no longer right for me. He subsequently abducted me to force me to accept it, but I escaped with the help of my grandmother and by agreeing to marry him. I was subjected to two further attempts to abduct me until I took out a Protection Order and asked my family to send back the dowry that had been paid. I experienced the pain of losing some family members and friends who ostracized and insulted me for walking along my self-defined path.
To discover my true self, I had to stretch my neck high like a giraffe to see beyond my known world and find inspiration and meaning in the foreign lands where I did short courses. That was the beginning of my life as you see it today.
I have committed myself to giving space, opportunity, support and leadership skills to other girls and young women so that they too will have the courage and confidence to make their own choices. I don’t give up on myself and I don’t give up on girls and women.
My grandmother had dreamt of education for all of her grandchildren as our only security, although she had no means to make it possible. I valued and took advantage of any small or big training opportunities as stepping stones towards the realization of my grandmother’s and my goal. At the age of thirty I became the first of nine siblings to receive a university diploma, followed by a degree three years later from KimmageCollege in Dublin. I took my degree certificate to show my grandmother who was close to dying. She read out the name and exclaimed in the Bhaca language of the area, “Kufetekile! Ufetekise iphupho lami lokukubona ufundzile! Usebentile Mntanami! Usebente kantima! Utisebentele wena nabo bonke abalomndzeni nomphakathi wakho” (“It is done. You have made my dream come true to see you educated! You have achieved this through your hard work my dear daughter, not just for yourself, but for all the women in this family and your community”.) This brought me to tears because I did not know that her mind was still lucid enough to remember her dream. My mother left the emotional scene so that my grandmother and I could be alone to celebrate the fulfillment of our dream for education.
In tracing my ancestry to my fiery beginnings 14 billion years ago, I am in awe of the creative processes that resulted in my life. I rejoice in the privilege of being a member of the human species immersed in the whole of creation, as we move inexorably forward along the evolutionary wave.
The women role models in my family were in control of their own lives; a great aunt ran a beef herd, an aunt organised a lawyer’s office and my mother worked for herself and was president of the local Women’s Institute. I am grateful to my father too who encouraged me to escape patriarchally-defined roles by introducing me and my school friends to outdoor activities and the wild – tennis, cricket, hunting and swimming in the sea. Fortunately the hunting was short-lived and has now become refined into bird watching and game viewing.
As a member of an international women’s movement, The Grail, an extraordinarily rich life has followed. My travels and experiences on four continents have opened my eyes to the beauty, complexity and fragility of Earth’s life systems. Deep friendships have transcended barriers of race, age, sex, class, religion and nation state borders; and have left me with a deep longing for something lost in modern life, but still visible in Native American, Aboriginal, Maasai and San practices, and in the African uBuNtu philosophy: an Ur-culture that respects the beginnings of time and the natural laws that continue to shape our existence, with concepts of “limits”, and ”enough.”
Quantum Theory states that the Whole is more than the sum of the parts. In a leap of faith I helped to start WLTP in 1985 and I marvel at what we have achieved since then. I have experienced this Whole many times in collaborative work with colleagues in a workshop or in a particular project or when addressing a particular challenge. Amazing ah-ha moments!
I believe that as we continue working with girls and young women, educating ourselves and others to understand and apply Sacred Laws to the huge challenges of our time, Patriarchy, Global Warming/Climate Change, and Loss of Biodiversity, we will become part of a Quantum leap to reach the Whole on Planet Earth and will find our place once again in the Universe.