Finding Strength By Zubeida Jaffer

Friday 27 August 2021

Charles Dickens said in 1859: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

I am reminded of his words today, 27 August 2021. This morning at 10am I will receive an award from the Charlotte Mannya Maxeke Institute (CMMI) for my contribution to the preservation of her legacy. At noon, the Mail and Guardian will announce their 50 Women of Power for 2021. I am one of those 50.

When I shared my news with our national poet laureate, Dr Mongane Wally Serote he said: “Do sit back a bit and ponder on your faith, belief and hard work and find your strength there.”

I follow his instruction. This is a time of great tragedy in our country and many cannot understand why this is happening. It is a harsh reminder that there is so much more to be done for us to create a just and fair South Africa.  At the same time, this is a moment of great possibility where we can challenge ourselves to let go of old ways of doing things and finding new ways of moving forward.

We are surrounded by death and criminality that we were not expecting. We are being shown the worst in ourselves every day. Is it so we can be forced to make an effort and cleanse ourselves? Will we move into a higher gear and reject the present conduct fully?

As a person of faith, I ponder over my complicity in the worst side of ourselves?

I have to recognize both sides of who I am and the people I am part of. I feel the pain of the tragic news that surrounds me but today I have chosen to allow myself to relax into the good news that I am blessed with.

I receive these two awards on the day of collective prayer for Muslims. Friday is a day of gathering to both thank God for our blessings and to search for answers for our personal and collective challenges. It is considered to be a good day and so it is particularly pleasing for me to be able to focus on the positive.

Eight years ago, I started the work on writing the life story of Charlotte Mannya Maxeke.  There were many moments when I questioned why I had agreed to the UFS’s Professor Jonathan Jansen’s suggestion that I write her life.  It was hard because finding sources of information was a challenge. I did not want to write an academic text that few could understand. I wanted to write a narrative that could make sense to a wide audience.  The letter from the CMMI confirms that the book, Beauty of the Heart, The Life and Times of Charlotte Mannya Maxeke, has met this objective.

“Your tireless work in ensuring that the work and impact of Mama Charlotte is known and never forgotten has ensured that generations of women and men will find literature and continue to be educated on the role she has played towards our liberation and development of our society.

Beauty of The Heart: The Life and Times of Charlotte Maxeke is an iconic publication that has encapsulated the story of Ma Maxeke; a work that will stand the test of time and be referenced by future generations.”

As I reflect today, I am so conscious that her spirit hovers over us to help us find the strength to restore our communities to the kind of dignity that she envisaged.

These are the best of times. These are the worst of times, said Dickens. These are the times of tragedy. These are the times of great possibility. We pray that God pulls us through the darkness and into the light.

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