Sunday, August 30, 2015

FNB Business Women's Breakfast - A Student's Account

By Zaynura Jehan Dolley 

With the pleasure of Almighty Allah and the generosity of MSA Union, I was fortunate enough to attend the FNB Business Women's Breakfast held in KwaZulu-Natal on the 5th of August, at one of Durban's prestigious ICC Halls. The event was held not only in celebration of Women’s Month and the phenomenal strides that women have made in South Africa, but also to highlight the unique journeys, lessons learnt and in advice from the key speakers that addressed attendees that day. 

Please note, the following account could be offensive to boring and otherwise humourless individuals. With only the greatest amount of respect, if you so find yourself of such disposition and choose to read further – please note that you do so at your own irritation … hehe 

Key speakers at the event included author and former President Nelson Mandela’s assistant Zelda la Grange and Freshlyground's lead singer Zolani Mahola. Not to mention the award-winning ballerina, businesswoman and current Top Billing presenter Lorna Maseko and finally IT innovator and former Google South Africa Boss, Stafford Masie …

On arrival at the event, we were met with a red carpet welcome and big warm smiles by polished, uniform-clad hostesses, ready to escort you to your seat within the hall that held over 700 woman from all walks of life. Seated at round tables each laid with a buffet of fruit, smoothies and fruit juices, as well as a basket of breads, an assortment of cheese as well as berry and muesli trifle, the set up itself was quite aristocratic. Everything was most delicious let me assure you … except for perhaps the blue cheese, which I could not touch! (I eventually asked if they could have it removed from the table. To be very honest – I thought someone had taken off their shoes and such smell had wafted up to my nose … but alas – it was naught but the joyous presence of blue cheese)

Our first address was by the ever-charming Stafford Masie who, as an IT specialist, expressed his terror at addressing a hall full of females – saying as an IT nerd, talking to one female is practically impossible so the 700-to-one ratio would be pushing it a little. The MC of the event didn’t make it any better of course with her advising the crowd to acknowledge “hotness” when you see it (referring to poor Stafford. Not that I looked at all of course – the blue cheese and I had developed quite a relationship by then). Stafford spoke about the great love he has for his grandmother and her being his great inspiration. He found such strength and happiness through her rearing and being a little coloured South African boy eventually finding his way to rubbing shoulders with the greatest names in IT programming – it says a lot for the rearing, foundational, inspirational values of a female in the home environment doesn’t it? Stafford strongly believes that a woman’s role does not end at home though. He is a strong advocate and supporter of having females on the exec boards of businesses and companies, in fact citing the reason behind Kodak’s insolvency being the lack of female influence. He advocates female representation not just to create a balance of the inequalities of the past, but because females possess a unique understanding of people and what they need, feel and want. That, coupled with their natural intuition, is a round table recipe for success!!

Our next speaker was the ever beautiful Lorna Maseko - Glamorous, Diva, Comedian and from ever humble backgrounds. Growing up and coming from the Alexandra Township, having given the opportunity to practice ballet at age 8 – she found herself becoming the first black ballet dancer travelling to and performing in Switzerland, dabbling in business and eventually finding herself become a presenter on Top Billing. She speaks on the essence of hard work and says that it’s the most rewarding and the key to success, quoting that “Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard”. Saying further that her life is about putting the work in, reaping the rewards  and creating your own success story; it doesn’t matter where you’re coming from or what people say you can and should not even entertain dreaming of doing because of your circumstance – go ahead and make it happen anyway

We then had Zelda le Grange share her experiences with former President Nelson Mandela. Eliciting a great response from the crowd, she starts off by mentioning the women of 1956 marching to the Union Buildings in protest of the “pass laws” , moving to the woman that she was - admitting that she and her family happily lived in Apartheid and they never asked questions. In 1994 she applied for a job as a typist in government only because it was close to home. When she first met Madiba she says she was absolutely dumb founded by his friendly and open demeanour toward her. He in fact extended his hand to shake hers and her immediate thought was … “surely he must know I voted no in the last elections” and secondly was that in his first approaching her – he spoke to her in Afrikaans. The language of the people who oppressed him and tortured and killed many of his people … and yet the humility of the man to speak to her in that very same language - was mind-boggling. Madiba always said that “when you speak to a man you speak to his head, but if you speak to a man in his language – then you speak to his heart”. This she says is true as it started a process of her digging into the history and reasoning of Apartheid and led to the start of her ultimate loyalty and respect for the man known as Nelson Mandela. Dedication, loyalty and commitment are what she says is the recipe for achieving the world and reaching the distance. Discipline, respect and integrity are what Nelson Mandela taught her. To the extent that Madiba even disliked those people who came late and found it nothing short of disrespectful. With respect, she says the two most important things that he had told her was  “never allow the enemy to determine the grounds of battle” and “the way you approach a person is the way the person will treat you.” He always respected each and every person absolutely and that is what she says is the Madiba magic. She further says that if we make it fashionable for the above values to be practised with our children - as women and parents – society and the world can be a much better place.

And finally was the lead singer of super successful and locally nourished Freshlyground! She started her address with a powerful rendition of a lullaby that represented her life and is one of the most popular songs that Freshlyground produced. She too came from a township, but in the Eastern Cape. She comes from a single parent family where it was her father who had looked after and her siblings and spoke about her love for her family and the importance of maintaining family ties as, not only in business but also in personal life, the importance of having a network of people to count on and communicate with can make a world of difference. She also told a tale of not letting the critique of other people dictate the distance you travel. When she and her band had first performed, during their early days, in front of a panel of judges, the judges had said that the band was a “talentless bunch of hippies destined for oblivion” and despite which…  heyy perhaps some of us don’t know who in the world Zolani or Freshlyground are – they currently climb the stairs of music industry success and have performed with international artists and on international stages. Hence the sentiment of not giving up because of bad critiques or because of a speed bump or two.

And at the end of it all, I got a chance to meet and greet a few busy women before they had to rush off back to the office and the wealthy housewives to pick up their kids and even recognised a lecturer or two from my University and exchanged knowing smiles. All in all it was a beautiful and inspiring experience and one thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated. Jazaka’Allah Khair for the opportunity and to all of you for reading.   

About the author
A "die-hard winged eyeliner fan and wearer", Zaynura is studying her third year in Law at UKZN Howard College. She is also the current deputy chairperson of the MSA chapter there and dedicates time to motivational speaking.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Civic Engagement - An Islamic Duty

By Nadeem Mahomed

Today (12 August) marks International Youth Day; a day commemorated by the United Nations (UN) since 2000. This year the theme adopted for the Day is ‘Youth Civic Engagement’.

UN’s Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, comments “In this landmark year, as leaders prepare to adopt a bold new vision for sustainable development, the engagement of youth is more valuable than ever. At this critical moment in history, I call on young people to demand and foster the dramatic progress so urgently needed in our world.” 

The engagement of youth in societal matters is essential in achieving sustainable human development, yet platforms for them to engage with these issues in the spheres of society (economically, politically, socially) are often not easily accessible. Being the representative body of Muslim student in the country, the Union of Muslim Students’ Associations (MSA Union) of South Africa has endeavoured over many years to provide such a platform to our students.

Why do we need a socially conscious youth?

We know that Allah SWT is Al-Adl, The Just and Most Equitable. If Allah is just and we see injustice being committed on the Earth, then it is because we, the Creation, are perpetuating this injustice.

There are verses upon verses in the Holy Quran making justice unavoidable for us. Verse 135 of Surah Nisa reinforces this: “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, be he rich or poor, Allah is a Better Protector to both (than you). So follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you may avoid justice, and if you distort your witness or refuse to give it, verily, Allah is Ever Well-Acquainted with what you do.”

Allah makes it clear that if we have tauheed, we must pursue justice no matter the circumstances.

As members of broader South African society, we have a responsibility to contribute to it. We do not live in a cocoon, and living in a society riddled with a range of socio-economic issues - especially post-Apartheid - it is imperative that we engage and look at the ways in which as Muslims we can contribute. For example, the National Development Plan has been adopted by the ruling party and can therefore be seen as the plan for the future of this country. Do we know what that plan says? Have we scrutinised it and been involved in pointing out its flaws – and working to fix those flaws? Have we sat down as a Muslim community and given thought as to how we can improve education, healthcare and security, how we can combat corruption and unemployment and address transformation?

As a Muslim organisation, we have too often heard that politics has no place in our work within the Deen and this was an unfortunate rhetoric that was put forward by many during the Apartheid era. Over the years, the practicing of our religion has, in many regards, been reduced to a mere set of rituals.

But [this is a blog, so I will use my literary licence to start this sentence with “but”] I would like to ask this: our Islamic calendar – when did it begin? It does not begin with the birth of the final prophet Muhammad SAW, as the Christian calendar does with the birth of Hazrat Isa AS, nor did it begin with the first revelation. The Islamic calendar began when the Muslim community of Makkah made hijrah to Madinah and assumed political power of the city. Islam, has since day 1, been intertwined with politics (if looking at politics as the activities associated with the governance of people).  

It is understandable that everyone has their interests, and politics may not be one of them, but social issues must be. We must make an effort to know what is happening around us. Listen to the news, not just the weather or sport updates. Occasionally flick through a newspaper. Follow some news accounts on Twitter, along with Mufti Menk’s. Discuss the news events of the day with your family at dinner. Formulate views and opinions on what we see unfolding in parliamentary proceedings on a daily basis; about the investigations into Nkandla; about whether the widows of the miners killed in Marikana will get justice. Formulate them and express them.

Further afield, we must remain aware of international issues. We know all too well about the atrocities committed against the citizens of Palestine, but Palestinians are not the only persecuted people. Exhibit A - the Rohingyan people. They have been discriminated against since the 1980s, but their plight has gone unnoticed for the most part. As a society, we are comfortable in waiting for someone to tell us whose struggle is important and whose struggle we must care about – we do not take that initiative ourselves.

And why Muslim youth specifically?

As Muslims, we believe wholeheartedly that Islam is the best way of life, and that the Holy Quran has the answers to all our problems. So why then are we fine to entrust the future of our communities and families in the hands of everyone else? We need to be at the forefront of charting out the future of our country so we can rest assured that our future generations will grow up in a country whose values are closely aligned with that of Islam’s and continue to enjoy the religious freedoms we do today.

Over decades, we have inherited societal ills from the generations before us. Ultimately, it is the youth that will have to deal with those issues. We need to take this platform, with both hands and a loud voice, to engage with these issues and come up with the solutions. The mere fact that the problems our societies face have not been solved indicates that those solutions must lie within the minds of the generations to come. We need an environment that cultivates this thinking to see this to fruition. As the youth, we cannot remain ignorant. We need to champion causes, and have an active voice and presence in our communities.

You do not need to be going to marches or protests or even re-tweeting 'Free Palestine', or whatever the struggle-trend of the moment may be, to prove that you are aware of injustices that may be going on. In fact, you do not need to prove anything to any human being. Our duty is with Allah to fulfil His commandments during our time on Earth.

It is vital that, as an individual, you are able to empower yourself with the knowledge of the status quo - from both a local and a global perspective - to remain aware of injustice, to take up the fight of the oppressed and carry this Ummah forward, God-willing.

About the author
Nadeem is the current President of MSA Union and represents MSA Union within national civil society circles. Doing his Honours in Accounting Science at Wits University, he also plays an active role in student development and politics on campus.