Graça Machel in conversation with Professor Christopher Cramer

1 September 2015 | Natasha Pearce

Natasha Pearce is currently studying for an MA in Human Rights and Cultural Diversity. She has a background in History and Film Studies which she studied at Queen Mary, University of London. She focused her studies largely on African history and the aftermath of colonialism, as well as studying the depiction of colonialism and African independence in African cinema. She has undertaken placements in Ghana and Tanzania, as well as visiting a number of other African countries. Whilst previously working for the Centre for Armed Violence, she has been an intern with Resolution:Possible for a year.

The School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS), July 21st 2015

graca machel; graça machel; SOAS; school of oriental and african studies; africa; Africa; Sustainable Development Goals; Millennium Development Goals;

Graça Machel and Professor Christopher Cramer at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.

Graça Machel has long been known in the human rights world. A global advocate for women and children’s rights, she has spoken at the UN on multiple occasions, is currently the President of the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS) in London, is a Member of the African Progress Panel, chair of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health and has opened her own trust, the Graça Machel Trust, which empowers women across the African continent. Within all of this, she has been actively involved in politics in her home country of Mozambique as well as in South Africa. She was also married to the Mozambican president Samora Machel from 1975 to 1986, and in 1998 she married the late Nelson Mandela.

On the 21st of July 2015, Graca Machel was invited to ‘have a conversation’ with Professor Christopher Cramer at SOAS. The conversation covered education in Africa, women and children’s rights as well as Ms Machel’s work with the Sustainable Development Goals, which are due to be announced at the General Assembly in September and will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

I was lucky enough to attend this conversation and hear some of Ms Machel’s thoughts and ideas around these issues and her own advocacy work.

Education in Africa: “Education is one of those systems that you have to plan in the long term.”

Education is an issue that is close to Graça Machel’s heart. Growing up in a peasant family in rural Mozambique, she was lucky enough to have a father who believed in education for all, and who insisted on educating both his sons and daughters. Even though her father died just days after she was born, Graça Machel’s mother held onto the promise she had made to her husband and continued to have all of her children educated. As a result, campaigning for quality education for all children across Africa is a cause that Graca Machel supports whole heartedly.

Her work as Minister for Education in Mozambique until 1989 allowed her to have a greater impact on children’s education and their accessibility to it. However, during her conversation she explained that education in Africa faces a great number of hurdles. As it stands today, there are 30 million children on the continent who are not in school. There are a number of reasons for this; some of these children come from nomadic communities who simply do not have access to formal education and school; some of these children live in extreme poverty and simply cannot afford education- in many countries, whilst primary education may be free, the necessity of a school uniform or equipment still places a financial burden on the family; for other children, the presence of a disability means that they do not have the same access to education that other children have as the school cannot provide for their particular needs.

When asked what she thought needed to be done to improve access to education and educational systems in general across the continent, Ms Machel responded that the biggest weakness African educational systems faced was the fact that there is little correspondence between what is taught at school and the employment opportunities available. She explained that “you may have a country based on minerals, but the education doesn’t focus on this. If the employment available focuses on minerals, then schools should be teaching children about these things”. For Ms Machel, the biggest issue was the lack of alignment within these education systems.

There are some countries however, who are making progressive steps. On the whole, most of Africa will not meet the desired goals set by the MDGs. Two countries however, Ethiopia and Rwanda, are closer to meeting those goals and have managed to create more of a balance within its education, focusing on knowledge and skills simultaneously. Ms Machel emphasised that these types of education systems were, in her eyes, the kinds of education that would help Africa progress.

Women’s rights: “You have to be able to absolve the fears and insecurities of men”

In recent years, Africa as a continent has made significant progress in bringing women into the public sphere. Rwanda, for example, now has more female politicians in its parliament than Britain. These women are making their mark in public sectors including politics, the judiciary, universities and science. These achievements are incredibly positive and suggest changes are occurring in the way women are viewed across the continent. However, Ms Machel said that whilst women are gaining prominence in the public sphere, the continent has “not been successful with women in business leadership”. In this profession, it is still men who dominate.

Ms Machel explained that the biggest issue the continent faces now, particularly with the rise in female leadership, is violence against women. As women rise, men fear that they will lose the control that they have held for so long. To deal with this fear, men resort to violence against women. This isn’t necessarily an Africa specific issue; most countries have been male dominated and women suffer repeatedly in their campaign for equality. However, it is an issue that Africa actively faces right now. Ms Machel explained that for her, it was not about changing laws or society, but changing mind-sets of people within society in order to provoke mass change. “Women need access to the space men have and men have to be willing to share this space.” There is no easy answer to how this can be done, but Ms Machel advocated that if we begin to teach children these ideas, and change their mind-sets from those of previous generations, changes can be made in the long term.

Children’s rights: “We need to support young people to be organised.”

The biggest issue that the youth face today is the lack of organisation they have, according to Ms Machel. She explained that for many of the youth who want to provoke change, they lack the organisation and the long term ideals that many of the older generations (Mandela, Nyere, Nkrumah, Kenyatta) had when they fought for change in the independence era. Today, children across the African continent are plagued by difficulties but the youth lack the same organisation that their previous generations had.

Children today face a great many challenges in their lives, particularly in Africa. Terrorism, conflict and poverty all directly affect children and their development within the country. The girl child in particular, is faced with the threat of rape, abduction and forced marriage that hinders their education and long term development. It is the youth that can incite these changes but the lack of organisation, and arguably their support from older generations, prevents major achievements being made in these areas.

As someone who was so actively involved in the independence campaigns of countries in Southern Africa, Graca Machel supports the organisation of the youth and their desire for change. She says that changing the mentality of some of the older generations may be a struggle, but the support from this generation can also be vital in inciting the change the youth desire. The average age across the continent is just 17. With politicians in government who are in their 60s, the partnership between these generations is more important than ever before.

This post has only captured some of the key ideas Ms Machel spoke about in her conversation. Her visions and desires for the African continent are constantly changing to fit with the constantly changing issues that the continent faces, but her desire to improve the continent as a whole never changes. Whilst she advocates for youth organisation, her work to better the lives of women across communities aims shows that there is no need for the movement to be given solely to the youth. Rather, every generation can play their part.

Most importantly however, is the fact that Africa doesn’t need the West to intervene. There are millions of people within the continent who have grown up with a desire to better their own continent, who understand their continent and are working for their continent. These are the people who can have the biggest impact.

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