ARTSCAPE WOMEN’S HUMANITY FESTIVAL 2023                           1 August 2023


It’s so very fitting that you, the members of the Coffee Club of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry, are joining us today, the 1st day of August, Women’s Month. Because, as I understand it, your goals are to network, inspire and showcase. As we prepare for a month-long celebration of women through our Women’s Humanity Festival, we echo those goals. We too, aim to inspire, showcase – and as with you here today – to network, specifically as all that relates to women.

To those goals we add raising awareness of the Arts – because, as it has often been said, ‘With no Art, a country has no soul’, and that ‘practising art is a way to make your soul grow’. So, a country that ignores its artists, risks losing its soul. The Arts are also a means through which we can express ourselves and our emotions – the ultimate way to communicate thoughts and ideas, and with communication so often challenged, this is of increasing importance. 

The theme of this year’s Festival is: 

MILESTONES: Celebrating, Supporting, Empowering Women of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow 

So, there are a number of questions I would like ask, firstly:

Where have we come from? Here I would like to echo the words of former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, ‘Let’s not allow acknowledging women’s besieged status to unprecedented violence against them, make us lose sight of the women’s epic leadership behind Women’s Day. Let’s see women as leaders, hear their voices, see them represented in all decision-making’. But let’s be honest – women across the world, and no less in this country, have faced many challenges – not only as victims of heavy-handed patriarchy, but also of apartheid and injustice, undoubtedly as victims of violence, but, and in far too many cases, of abject poverty as a result of all the above. 

Where are we now as women? Undoubtedly, we’ve come a long way – women are in roles that were previously unattainable: airline pilots, judges, heads of institutions, etc. Younger women, too, are glimmers of hope with education. Some doors are opening, but so many doors remain closed  through lack of finance, support, understanding – and again, let’s be honest – deeply entrenched patriarchal attitudes – at home and in the workplace. And here there is the ongoing question: 

How far have we really come? For example, in terms of economic empowerment of women with disabilities, what legislation is in place to ensure this? Are women living with disability given equal opportunities to access employment in your company? Is your organisation making sure its building plans incorporate structural innovation to enable access for employees and clients who live with disability? In my experience, there seems to be reluctance within the business world to truly implement the legal framework at our disposal to ensure we remain true to our country’s proud constitution that ‘guarantees the right of every person not to be unfairly discriminated against, directly or indirectly, on the basis of race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origins, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language etc.’ 

Further, with regards to disability, as a person living with disability all my life, we have the following specific demands, and appeal to you for help with these to:

  1. Address misperceptions about disability. Disability does not mean inability. Society in general, individuals, business and employees must learn that people with disabilities are also able and should not be written off. Given the opportunity, they can accomplish, even excel, in many tasks.
  2. Create a conducive, welcoming workplace environment. Remove barriers by eradicating hostility, both passive or active, towards people with disabilities. Treat people as people and judge them by what they can do, not want they cannot. 
  3. Be intentional about employing or bringing on board people with disability. Slogans, rhetoric, manifestos and conferences must translate into implementable policies that can be monitored and evaluated. There must be consequences for not implementing policies or meeting targets. Bias in recruitment processes must be detected and stopped.
  4. Budget for tools of trade that will enable people with disabilities to perform. Workplace infrastructure, including offices, kitchens, toilets, etc, should be upgraded to accommodate people with disabilities.

More generally, other demands for women include the issue of workplace leave:

  • Women have different biological needs as a result of their natural contribution to society by giving birth. These come with their own challenges and maternity leave in particular requires careful consideration from leaders who are conscious of the well-being of their staff. 
  • Maternity leave apart, many countries have a form of menstrual leave as part of their legislation, with one example where the state’s social security system takes responsibility for funding this leave. South Africa would do well to learn from such examples. 

Where do we want to be? So, our list of wishes, or demands, is long and in addition to the above there is an urgent need to address GBV, other challenges in the workplace, escalating poverty, crime, safety, etc. But above all, we require a change of attitude. How do we socialize our children – the next generation? How do we inspire our young women, educate both girls and boys to see that the future can accommodate a balanced approach? We want companies to extend opportunities for internships and jobs for newly-graduated young women, and to work harder at transforming perceptions that certain skills are not meant for women. Women are every bit as passionate as men about learning new skills and applying them. Their creativity and desire for growth is boundless – as we hear in the words of some of the young women interns at Artscape:  

Alyssa Daniels (31) from Elsies River: ‘Some of us may well be the first in our family to have attained this level of education or earning potential and so, as a young professional trying to break the mould in the working world, in general it is definitely harder as a woman.’ 

Sive Wana (26) from Brown’s Farm in Phillippi: ‘Being a young professional woman at work creates a space that encourages and empowers me to fully express my creativity.’ 

Abenathi Zukelo (25) from Khayelitsha: ‘As a young professional woman in the workplace I’m learning as much as I can in areas that interest me, even in some that don’t. I’m expanding my mind and viewpoints by working with people who have diverse experience and different ways of seeing the world.’ 

At Artscape we strive to be all-inclusive with our artistic programmes, infrastructure and partnerships, and our Women’s Humanity Festival is a great example of this.  I seeU is a mentoring programme aimed specifically at young women from the troubled Cape Flats. We are giving them a platform – just one of many we are offering to a range of artists and activists this month. 

Which brings me not just to other events of the Festival, but to the Arts in general. This is the one area where there is possibility for complete equality – show me the discipline where women can’t perform every bit as well – and differently to their male counterpart. But the role of Arts in Business, we see as vital in the following ways: 

  • Partnering with the Arts through a company’s marketing or promotional budgets is a costeffective avenue for companies to reach its target market and communicate effectively with clients. It assists with building corporate image and a strong brand.
  • As today’s business landscape continues to shift, companies need talent that can respond to an ever-changing world of work. Participation in creative expression fosters and incubates the essential skills and leadership needed in today’s world. Innovation can be defined as applied creativity and partnering with arts organizations and artists unlocks pathways to that innovation.
  • This in turn leads to job creation and a stronger economy not only on stage but off-stage too within the disciplines of technical assistance, administrative assistance as well as fudiciary.

In addition, other reasons for partnering with the Arts include:

  • Engendering Diversity and Empathy – assists with an inclusive workforce.
  • Amplifying Skills – cultivating creative thinking skills resulting in retaining talent.
  • Driving Innovation – Inspiring and engaging employees resulting in an ever-evolving economy.

Finally, partnering with the Arts sets your business apart. Leveraging a partnership with an artist/arts organization will help you communicate your company’s story by engaging customers and clients, conveying your unique values.

And so, whilst throughout the year, Artscape promotes the arts in all disciplines including ballet opera, musicals, contemporary dance including jazz and hip-hop as well as differently abled, a range of music styles including international cultural and African indigenous and so much more, because of historical imbalances, in our Women’s Humanity Festival we choose to address the inequality by showcasing the work of women, in particular. This is because Artscape is committed to commemorating the Women’s March of 1956 – an event characterised by the peaceful but assertive stance it took demanding justice, dignity and the repeal of the pass laws. With the challenges women still face, not least gender-based violence, this historic event remains as significant today as it was all those years ago which is why August 9th, now declared Women’s Day, is such an important date on the South African calendar.

Previous productions hosted by Artscape that have paid tribute to iconic women include Ruth First 117 Days (2018), Krotoa (2019 & 2022), Cold Case: Revisiting Dulcie September (2021), Dance of the La Gumas: life story of Blanche la Guma (2023) among many others. This year we honour playwright, poet and director 75-year-old, living legend Fatima Dike, the first black South African woman to have had a play published and performed – The Sacrifice of Kreli (1976). We also honour internationally-acclaimed, prolific writer, also a living legend, Sindiwe Magona, on her 80th birthday this month as well as Sophie de Bruyn, the last surviving member of the four women who lead the Women’s March of 1956. And lest we forget the women on whose shoulders we stand, we honour and remember the lives, amongst others, of the late Cissie Gool who symbolises the 100 years of Women in Law, activist Amy Biehl, musician Dr Madosini Mpahleni, women’s champion Kimendhri Pillay, and poet Primrose Mwebi.  You can see their images on our Wire Woman statue in the Marble Foyer which has been dressed for the Festival as Mama Milestone.

In the 17 years that Artscape has been hosting the Women’s Humanity Festival, we have collaborated with a number of organisations supporting and empowering women, amongst them Woman Zone who have a Women’s Library on the ground floor. The overall intention being to promote, celebrate, support and empower women in all spheres, all walks of life, all cultures and capabilities – ultimately to ensure an equal, balanced society for all – now and in the future.

In conclusion, I want to emphasise the vital role the Arts play to reflect on history and to envisage the future. The recent award-winning Netflix film The Woman King, depicts the importance of portraying  women as visible, strong and courageous. This historical epic film – so needed in present times – is inspired by true events and celebrates the strength and courage of women. It is based on the allfemale unit of warriors who fiercely and skilfully protected the African Kingdom of Dahomey (now Benin) in the 1800s, once one of the powerful states of Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries associated with the slave trade. 

The bottom line for all of us is: Be part of the change. We need a strong movement that has everybody on board – the TEA PARTY IS OVER! Wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo! (You strike a woman, you strike a rock)!

Very finally, we invite you to visit our exhibition, She has a name, by Karen Bester in the Marble Foyer, and see the details of all the events and productions coming up at the Artscape Women’s Humanity Festival in the brochure, which we trust you will attend. 

(Marlene to specify any events/productions/people as she sees fit)

I thank you, and look forward to seeing you here in the Women’s Month of August.

Marlene le Roux