Call to support women

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Former Deputy President, Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, is convinced that there’s a special place in hell for women who do not support other women.

“I can tell you without fear of contradiction, there is a special place in hell for women who don’t support women!”

The bold assertion was recently received with chuckles, hand claps and no doubt a silent “Amen” from the participants attending a National School of Government (NSG) masterclass event.

The NSG is mandated with the responsibility of ensuring that public servants comply with the provisions of established legislation, regulations and systems, and can exercise proper discretion and innovation in solving routine and complex delivery problems.

At a time when the country is commemorating Women’s Month, Mlambo-Ngcuka said sisterhood is an important ingredient in the empowerment of women.

She said that often women are the ones who leave other women behind in society.

“So we depend on you to make sure that you pay particular attention to  women in society…. Your empowerment is an empowerment of the rest of the women. Sisterhood has to be one of your biggest and most important priorities,” she declared.

Mlambo-Ngcuka called on women in the public service to support “other women that you see in the streets and everywhere in the country that need support from you.”

She also stressed the importance of paying attention to the country’s younger women.

“It has to kill us when we hear that children in Grade 4 who are 10 years old cannot read… finding a plan to rescue that rests on you. This is where you show that you care about other women if we hear that girls in schools are getting pregnant … how do I use my advantage of being in the leadership of the public service to intervene in order to make sure that we address this?”

The former Deputy President was referring to the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, which has shown that many Grade 4 pupils cannot read for meaning, something which government has committed to resolve.

Cabinet has called on South Africans to use Women’s Month which is commemorated annually in August, not only to honour women who fought for the country’s freedom, but also to play their part in building a society that supports women empowerment and guarantees the safety of women and children. 

This year, Women’s Month is being commemorated under the theme: “Accelerating socio-economic opportunities for empowerment of women” to pay tribute to the more than 20 000 women who marched to the Union Buildings in 1956 to protest against the oppressive pass laws of the apartheid government.  

The former chair of Parliament’s Public Service Committee reflected on working with the then Public Service and Administration Minister, Zola Skweyiya. The committee worked with the Minister in reconfiguring the new public service after following the dawn of democracy in 1994.

Gender representation

Government at the time came up with the Batho Pele policy of which September 2022 marked 25 years since South Africa adopted the Batho Pele (putting people first) Principles and the White Paper on Transforming Public Service Delivery.

Batho Pele is an inclusive concept that refers to all government policies, strategies and programmes aimed at transforming public service delivery.

She recalled how Skweyiya was “very emphatic” that the policy must reflect “equity in the system so that the citizen that is least served … who always falls between the cracks must feel thatgovernment sees them.

“And obviously women were high on that agenda. We wanted Batho Pele to address the issue of gender representation in the civil service but also the civil servant sensitivity about the gender discrimination of women in the society they are employed to serve,” she explained.

While women have gone on to attain much over the years, Mlambo-Ngcuka said the achievements of women must be celebrated and to “never forget the work that still awaits us.”

“Our work is not yet done - there is still much more that we still need to do,” said the former Executive Director of United Nations Women.

Mlambo-Ngcuka referred to the strides made by the SPAR Proteas netball women’s team and Banyana Banyana who made the country proud at their respective World Cup tournaments recently.


Having served the public service in various roles including that of Minister of Minerals and Energy, she stressed the sector’s importance saying it is the “backbone of government”. She highlighted that while women were continuing to break barriers, they should also mentor others.

“Because there is no point if we are breaking the glass ceiling for yourselves when you're not doing anything for the rest of society.  We have to do these things simultaneously.”

“… So lifting as you climb has to be your mantra and the nice thing about mentorship is that it’s not hard, it has to come from here,” she said as she pointed towards her heart.

In his Women’s Day address, President Cyril Ramaphosa encouraged all sectors of society to advance and improve the lives of the women and girls of South Africa.

“We must mobilise all of society to support the women of our country on their road to empowerment and the improvement of their lives. As government, we are irrevocably committed to continuing the process of advancing and improving the lives of the women and girls of South Africa,” he said.

While it is said that a woman’s work is never done, we all can lend a hand in ensuring that hell freezes over to advance the interests of all women. –