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Charlotte Maxeke an Extraordinary Woman

30 April 2019

An unwavering faith and a steadfast belief is what make miracles happen. The life and times of Dr Charlotte Maxeke made her resolve in Christianity even stronger. Born in 1874 in Fort Beaufort in the Cape Colony she lived through an exciting time of the turn of the century from the 1800s to the 1900s.

Photo:  Dr Anna Mokgokong (centre) pictured with young South African women achievers and activists and a poster of Dr Charlotte Maxeke.

It was a time when colonial restrictions and limitations were placed on African people to favour the white colonisers.  Dr Maxeke overcame this as well as the gender bias to obtain an education and the opportunity to travel in Europe and America.

Dr Anna Mokgokong in her ‘Dr Charlotte Maxeke Annual Memorial Lecture’ on the 145th Anniversary of the birth of Dr Maxeke used the superlatives Icon, Pioneer, Activist, Evangelist, Symbol of Resistance, Scholar, Torchbearer and Trendsetter to describe a South African woman with extraordinary abilities.

Apart from scholastic talent which she excelled at, she had a beautiful singing voice which was described as angelic. It was this gift that opened the many opportunities for Dr Maxeke. While in Kimberly  as a tutor in languages and music, her sensational solo singing led to her being appointed  to a choir that toured the major cities of Europe, including performing at the 1897 Jubilee of Queen Victoria in London at the Royal Albert Hall. The acknowledgment and recognition of these African Choral sounds led to further performances in the USA and Canada.

As luck would have it, the choir were left stranded in New York City by the organizer who had stolen all the funds and disappeared. Many Americans came to the rescue of the stranded African singers as the story made the headlines in the US newspapers. A former missionary in Cape Town, Bishop Daniel A Payne of the African Methodist Church of Ohio recognized the name Charlotte Manye. He contacted her and offered her a church scholarship to Wilberforce University. In 1903 Dr Charlotte Manye Maxeke became the first South African woman to attain a Doctorate in Arts and Humanities.

‘Because of her passion for women’s rights and that of others, we’ve witnessed several advancements of women occupying leadership positions since the dawn of democracy. South Africa now boasts having women heading both Houses of Parliament, Thandi Modise at the National Council of Provinces and Baleka Mbete at the National Assembly – and a female president of the Supreme Court of Appeal - Judge Mandisa Maya. Hence, 35% of permanent judges are women. Today, women constitute 42% of the cabinet and 57% of both Houses of Parliament,’ said Dr Mokgokong, an activist herself for the emancipation of women, in her tribute lecture hosted at the Gorong campus at UNISA in Pretoria.

Dr Maxeke would probably be pleased to learn that strides have been made in women’s political empowerment globally stated Mokgokong, but pertinently asks the question why the high levels of violence, abuse and inequality still remain.

K Bhana



September/October 2019










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