Saturday, June 29, 2013

'Celebrating Womanhood Gives Me Joy'

‘Celebrating Womanhood Gives Me Joy’

SATURDAY, 29 JUNE 2013 00:00


At the South African High Commission, Lagos, Ms Thandi Mgxwati is the Counsellor for Political and Economic Affairs. She gives insight into her work and ‘Take a Girl-Student to Work,’ an initiative committed to improving the living standards of the Nigerian girl child.

MS Thandi Mgxwati, Counsellor for Political and Economic Affairs, South African High Commission, Lagos is a reporter’s delight on diplomatic matters. Your job is made easier as the lady is already more Nigerian than you can imagine: her day is usually made with a bowl of pepper soup, a Nigerian delicacy.

Her love for Nigeria, she explains, makes her ‘Take a Girl-Student to Work’ initiative easier.The initiative works to support efforts to raise better living standards for the Nigerian girl child.

According to Mgxwati, the idea is to expose young girls to boundless roles in the society, enhance their self-esteem, inspire and motivate them to reach their full potentials through exposure to diverse careers and positive role models to assist them to prepare for the world of work in both economic and political sector.

Despite advances in legislation, she says, there remains a big gap. A dream, she has tied to the Women’s Day that has Since August 9,1994, been commemorated yearly in her country.

In a chance encounter at the local wing of the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Mgxwati reveals to The Guardian that, “The idea is that companies, individuals and governments are encouraged to adopt a female student, and for the whole of that day, she will be exposed to the working environment and given a special treatment that will help her positively from then on. This has helped us in South Africa, and because women’s struggle is the same everywhere, it is believed it will benefit a girl child even here in Nigeria.

“Like you know, South African women participated actively in the fight against apartheid. You will also recall that on August 9, 1956, a resounding voice of women was heard as they staged a march in Pretoria against amendments to the Urban Areas Act of 1950. Their efforts morphed into over a multitude of petitions with over a 100,000 signatures at the then PM J.G Strydom’s office doors and stood for 30 minutes —- many with children on their backs. They also sang a protest song composed in honour of the occasion that spurred a turning point in South Africa’s history. Their tune “Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo!” (You strike a woman, you strike a rock” has become a symbol of female strength) has come to represent women’s courage and strength in South Africa. In 2006, a re-enactment of the march was staged for its 50th anniversary, with many of the 1956 march veterans.

Mgxwati hinted that, apart from the usual festivities, this year’s event, which is commemorated as National Women’s Day, will, as usual, come with constructive programmes that address the challenges women face in society,”

The month of August, she adds, is used to push such programmes aimed at further empowering and advancing the cause of women. “One of these was the ‘Take a Girl Student to Work.’”

Her words: “The realisation that women issues are not common to just South African shores saw to the birth of a Nigerian version in partnership with the Lagos State Government and the University of Lagos, both of whom we are very grateful to. For three years in succession, the public/private partnership has benefitted women in the state.

“Now that we have successfully introduced this to the country, as our pilot edition, we wish to take the gala nights that mark South African Women’s Day to other states of the federation, and we shall unveil the benefiting states soon. But I can say here that we will be talking with some states in the Niger Delta and some other regions in the north. My joy will be to see how we can replicate these events in all interested states of Nigeria because of its huge importance for women in our continent. We would also like to work with other women groups in Nigeria who have the same vision.”

Mgxwati added, “This event reminds us that we need a deeper interaction with each other. Let us work for other collaborations.”

Firms like South African Airways, MTN, Stanbic IBTC, MultiChoice, Shoprite, Silverbird Galleria, Topcomm, Protea Hotels, Chain Reactions Nigeria, and other notable companies have been involved in this initiative, she adds.

Her belief in Nigeria is remarkable, especially as it remains a hub for South African Tourism marketing activitieswhich caters for countries in the West African region, including Ghana, identified as a tactical market for SA Tourism marketing initiatives.

But how does she feel each time negative stories emanate about the ill treatment of Nigerians in South Africa, especially through legislations against Nigerians’ interest?

“I must sincerely tell you that most of those issues are sometimes blown out of proportion and not managed well. That was why my country tendered an apology on how the visa issue you are talking about was handled by the officials. We believe it could have been handled differently, which is the reason we apologised.”

She recalls that the bond between Nigeria and South Africa is far more important than whatever difference, “That is why we believe that the two countries who are giants of the continent should rather exert more energy on how to improve the continent’s fortune and unity. When we do that, the continent will be better because the two countries have what it takes in terms of human capital and resources and political clout to move Africa forward.

She expresses joy that high-level genuine moves by both governments aimed at improving relations have taken place with the Nigerian government officially commencing the distribution of a new encoded international certificate of vaccination and prophylaxis (yellow card) for Nigerian international travelers...

On its part, she says, South Africa may have even kicked off moves at exploring the full potential of relations with Nigeria with the official outsourcing of visa processing by the government back in 2010 following the opening of an independent South African Visa Application Centre to handle the over 50,000 yearly South African visa applications and operated by the VFS Global Services, Ikoyi, Lagos.

Still on a synergy between both countries, the Counsellor recalls that, “In October last year, the very best of Nigerian and South African traditional lifestyles and art, fashion sense, cuisine, business opportunities, among others were on show as Lagos-based Inspiro Productions with the full endorsement of The South African High Commission in Lagos presented an exposition of tourism and business in a fiesta tagged: ‘A Tale of 2 African Cities.’

“That event which featured an exposition of arts/culture, tourism and business and with participants from both countries followed in the wake of a renewed vigour to strengthen relations between the two countries after two editions of the Nelson Mandela International Day were elaborately commemorated in Lagos.

“It was an exciting cultural exchange extravaganza in Lagos that will be replicated in Johannesburg later this year by showcasing both countries’ cultures through art, music, fashion and more…

Our view is that this is an opportunity for south Africans and Nigerians to come together as Africans and share life experiences, appreciate each other’s cultures but at the same time showcasing other talents in various facets,” Magxwati says.

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