To study the intellectual contribution of Charlotte Maxeke, who is a major symbolic political collosus of our liberation struggle, requires intense focus on the study of human movements, economy and history as a whole. Just yesterday, 6 April 2021 marked 369 years since the arrival of Jan Van Riebeeck and 1652. The ANC in its January 8th Statement declared this year, a year of Charlotte Maxeka, unity and renewal, it cannot therefore be diametrically opposed to her contribution, and the history of colonialism. As a symbolic feature of our liberation struggle, we cannot afford to embrace colonial-cum legacies even in a democratic state.
Born in 1871, and later at the age of 30, in 1901, she graduated as a first black women in Wilberforce University. She was among a generation of intellectuals and played a role as an anti-colonial activist, tenaciously resisted colonial laws. Amongst many historical recordings, she has earn the space of a foundational embodiment for women activists, and creates a lineage of women’s leadership lessons and skill that can be traced back to the 19th century. It was Charlotte Maxeke who recruited and encouraged many male figures to study law abroad, having met with known pan-africanist across the globe, the likes of W.E.B du Bois, whom she was a student to and many others. Her true conviction to african leadership and advancement of education, led her to be the first women to form part of SANNC gathering of 1912. She earned that space on the basis of a political process, intertwined with an overarching of historical development, of trials and tribulations, discussions and activism. She then later, in 1918 became the 1st President of the Bantu Women’s League. At this period of history, the world struggle was taking a paradigm shift of political systems encouraged and influenced by the great October Socialist Revolution of 1917, led by Ulyanov Lenin and the Bolsheviks in Russia. Charlotte Maxeke’s presence in history, also influenced her to utilise her capabilities to built schools for the children of domestic workers, garden workers and industrial -mining workers to attend school.
The late, former General-Secretary of the South African Communist Party, Albert Nzula was a teacher at one of the schools built by Charlotte Maxeke. The idea of the schools was that, whilst black parents were exploited labour at white-controlled surbubian and industrial areas, the children would be consciously and literally developed mentally and socially, able to read and write.
It is therefore important that as in well as we reflect on the life of Charlotte Maxeke, we used that reflection as a mirror and an archive to seek for solutions for today’s challenges.
Post 94, there is a highly developed conscious of feminist struggles on the rise, however, without a reflection on Charlotte, such struggles will be short-lived. To have an euphoria of some sort of convincing of a correct path of struggle, we will have to gather strength to arrive at the logical conclusion of organisational renewal, unity and development. For the ANC to renew itself, organisationally it would need to accept a tradition self-discipline in all facets of historical moments. It would have to pay critical attention to unity that is objective and programmatic, however not undermine the subjective internal challenges. Unity of the organisation, for it to be sacrosanct, it needs to re-purpose its vision in the same breath President Charlotte and many understood the importance of african leadership and its purpose, and the reason for its existence. Today, largely in our movement, there is a rise of a culture, by design or deliberate attempts to misinterpret conference resolutions for a cult-agenda. This debate de-recognise healthy debate in an exchange of feeding groupings, and sustenance anarchic tantrums that undermines our tradition. On the other side, it appears that class-hegemony in favor of capital defines the ANC’s character as that of a bourgeois-fiefdom of advancing austerity measures and preserving colonial-cum legacies.
What lessons can be drawn from the political tower, Charlotte Maxeke?
Charlotte was for the revolution, and if the national democratic revolution is at an interrognum, how should we respond as the ANC in renewing, and uniting our movement. Of recent, amidst covid-19, there has always been a crisis, before this crisis, in all sectors which are for the interest of our motive forces, in health, basic and higher education, social services etc. We need an ANC leadership that will practically resolve the challenges faced by students, academically and financially. Charlotte embraced education, and took practical efforts in ensuring african kids get access to it. Charlotte would never postpone the importance basic services to the rural poor and the working-class communities. There is uneven-ness of access to health, dilapidated public schools, over-crowded classes, etc.
All these challenges defines a pucture of what should unite, and renew the ANC.
Lang lebe Charlotte Maxeke!
Written by Xolani Tseletsele
YCLSA Deputy Provincial Secretary