Official Launch of 'Gender, Modernity and Indian Delights'
The Women's Cultural Group of Durban, 1954 - 2010
 Remarks By Prince MG Buthelezi MP
President of the Inkatha Freedom Party

   

 

Orient Islam School: Durban: 20 October 2010

 

In 1972, the year I became Chief Executive Councillor of the KwaZulu Legislative Assembly, I had the privilege of attending the 18th anniversary of the Women's Cultural Group of Durban. Today, I am overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude for the longevity of this Group which now celebrates its 56th anniversary. To Mrs Zuleikha Mayat and the women of the Cultural Group, I say thank you for serving South Africa so faithfully for more than half a century.

 

The Women's Cultural Group, by reason of its long presence in KwaZulu Natal and the philanthropic nature of its work, is today a well known and respected organization. For years, women have been turning to Mrs Mayat's cookbook titled 'Indian Delights" to create authentic traditional meals. As an aside, I am pleased to hear that Mrs Mayat has personally prepared a meal for me today. I look forward to benefitting from her culinary talents.

 

But of course, while the cookbook became a household staple in many homes, the Women's Cultural Group offered a great deal more to our communities by way of their service and fields of interest. One of the most outstanding contributions the Group continues to make is in assisting students to access tertiary education by providing interest free loans. This ensures that students are not loaded with debt the moment they qualify, but have the breathing space to find employment before beginning repayment.

 

This has offered a lifeline to young people who have the capacity to rise above their circumstances, but lack the resources to do so. Aside from tangible support, the Women's Cultural Group thus offers hope; which is a scarce commodity in today's challenging world. This alone highlights the important role which the Group has played in our communities and our country, for there is no better investment in our future than educating our youth.

 

The 56 year history of the Women's Cultural Group is a fascinating account of ordinary women accomplishing extraordinary things. Having started during the apartheid era, the Group faced the cruel challenges of discrimination as well as the extensive poverty of their communities. I was inspired by their tenacity and determination to make a difference in a country thrown into darkness. The founding of the Group preceded my own founding of Inkatha ye Nkululeko yeSizwe, the national cultural liberation movement, in 1975.

 

At that time, many of us in the oppressed majority sought freedom for South Africa. Today, our children are largely taught the propaganda that liberation was won by one political party, unilaterally. But the truth is that our struggle was borne on the shoulders of heroes and heroines from every culture, affiliation and language group. The history of the Indian community is part of our collective history; part of all that shaped the democratic and liberated South Africa we enjoy today.

 

Our country hosts the largest Indian diaspora in the world and over the years we have enjoyed the immense contribution of South Africans of Indian extraction in all fields of society. This contribution is most evident in KwaZulu Natal, and also in the Western Cape. 150 years ago, Indians came to our soil as indentured labourers, and they have not stopped working since. Their contribution is felt in business, industry, our academia, media, medicine, law, spirituality and politics.

 

It is wonderful when academics and historians pursue the details of our shared history and offer us the opportunity to celebrate the heroes and heroines of our past. The book we launch today, "Gender, Modernity and Indian Delights" is an account of the lives of the women who forged a role for themselves through the Women's Cultural Group. 

Spanning 56 years, it is an historical account. But it is not a closed book. It continues to be written as the women of this Group continue to give, serve and assist in a vital way.

 

It is a living testimony to the members of this Group, which places them more centrally in the public eye. It is an honour they deserve and a place they should rightly assume. I wish to thank the Human Sciences Research Council of the University of Cape Town for publishing this book. And, of course, I must congratulate Goolam Vahed and Thembisa Waetjen from the Department of Historical Studies at the University of KwaZulu Natal, for bringing this important work to light.

 

Far from being a coffee table book, the 460 pages contain detailed nuances of Islam, and the history of gender issues and social and political challenges in South Africa. I am always pleased to see new books that bridge the gap between our cultures by giving us insight into our differences and commonalities. I cannot help but think of my good friend, Professor Fatima Meer, who passed away earlier this year after suffering a stroke.

 

A few years ago, Professor Meer came up with the idea of establishing an Indo-African Institute in order to achieve closer interaction between Indian and black South Africans. Based on our long friendship, she approached me as a possible founding member of the board of such institute. I regret that even then her health was failing. She also approached prominent members in academia such as Mr Desai, and even the Anglican Bishop of Natal the Rt Revd Rubin Phillips.

 

As she was ailing and almost immobile, she could not drive this project herself, and she tasked others with doing it for her. Sadly, they let her and all of us down, and Professor Meer passed away without seeing her vision fulfilled. Her idea of setting up this Institute remains a challenge to all of us as the Indian and African communities of this Province.

 

I had the privilege of being close friends with Professor Meer, having met her in 1950 when we attended lectures together under Professor Kenneth Kirkwood at the University of Natal. I had been accepted into the non-European section of the University by its founder, Dr Mabel Palmer, after my activities in the ANC Youth League branch at the University of Fort Hare saw me rusticated from that institution.  We attended these lectures at SASTRI College.

 

It was during that time that I also met her husband, Ismail Meer, who was an attorney, as well as Mr Oliver Tambo, Mr Nelson Mandela and Mr Walter Sisulu. I interacted with many other political giants in the Indian community, such as Dr Monty Naicker, Dr Yusuf Dadoo, Mr Debhi Singh, Dr Goonam, and Pat Poovalingam and Sakunthalay Poovalingam in whose home my family and I spent many happy days when we could not stay in hotels because of apartheid.  It was also during this time that I met and struck a friendship with Zuleikha Mayat and her wonderful husband Dr M G M Mayat.  They both offered hospitality to me and my wife Irene on a number of occasions.  One of our treasured possessions is a copy of 'INDIAN DELIGHTS'.

 

I have had many friends in the Indian community, such as the late Yellan Chinsamy. I am grateful for loyal and faithful friends like Logan Reddy, Steve Moodley, Prim Iyer, the Laganparsad family, the Branpakash family and SV Naicker, amongst so many others too numerous to mention in a speech of this kind. I am reminded of the contribution of the Indian Education Committee, which provided funding for classrooms for black children; and also the Lockat Family Trust. Mr Vivian Reddy and Mr Rajan Reddy, and others have done so much for the upliftment of black people in this Province.

 

It is right that the Women's Cultural Group takes its place of honour among these giants, and I thank all those involved in bringing us "Gender, Modernity and Indian Delights" for highlighting this important part of our history. May the Women's Cultural Group remain a vibrant organization, a household name and a respected grouping of patriots, mothers, sisters, wives and leaders.

 

Among the many contributions that it has made, this Group has given us indisputable evidence that South Africa's women are multifaceted, multitalented and uniquely competent citizens. I wish them well on this, their 56th anniversary, and extend my support for another half a century in the service of our nation. It is my privilege to launch this book and to wish the Women's Cultural Group every success for the future.

 

I thank you.

 

Contact: Liezl van der Merwe, 082 729 2510