SANRAL leads from the front on women empowerment
Gauteng, 1 September 2022 – As long as she heads the South African National Roads Agency SOC Limited (SANRAL), Acting CEO Lehlohonolo Memeza will remain unapologetic about employing more women into leadership positions.
This is the message Memeza confidently conveyed at the annual SANRAL Women’s Month Seminar held at Sun Time Square in Tshwane yesterday (Wednesday).
The theme of the seminar, attended by a live and online audience, was “Encouraging Women and Men to Grow Beyond Gender and Live in Full Colour’.
One of the highlights was a robust panel discussion that got to the heart of several hard-hitting, gender disparity issues, often considered taboo.
Memeza did not mince her words: “We need SANRAL women around the boardroom table, not only to be present, but to be vocal. Your opinions, your solutions, your creative ideas, they are needed around the table. You went to the same universities as the men around you. You are capable. Trust yourself.”
Memeza went on to talk about how the “pulldown syndrome” among women has to come to an end.
“We will never win this battle if we pull each other down as sisters.” At the top executive level at SANRAL, there are only two women, Memeza noted.
“But we are trying, and as long as I am in leadership of this organisation, we will always put the needs of women first and try to understand our issues better. We will continue to work towards our transformation objectives and towards the empowerment of black people, especially women, in meaningful roles in the organisation,” she said.
Memeza said women needed to benefit more in the construction and engineering sectors, including in the way tenders are written and awarded.
“Only one in five engineers in South Africa is a woman. That tells us that a lot needs to happen,” she said.
To this end, women do not need to “imitate men”, but should push forward simply as human beings in a competitive world, she said.
“I have never liked the reference to being the first black woman. I would like to believe that the SANRAL board appointed me based on my competence.
Memeza said her time at SANRAL will be spent trying to influence policy that will open doors for women in the company.
Referring to the hurts of the past that suppressed black people, especially women, Memeza encouraged people to seek healing.
“I see my psychologist every week. It is not a taboo to seek help, to heal, because you become a stronger person,” she said, adding that SANRAL employees have access to free counselling services.
The seminar kicked off with a vibrant discussion between four panelists: Vusi Mona, General Manager: Marketing and Communications at SANRAL, Mbuyiselo Botha, gender activist on the Commission of Gender Equality and spokesperson for Sonke Gender Justice, Pearl Zhou, SANRAL’s Strategy Implementation Monitoring Manager and Beverly Ditsie, lesbian activist, artist and filmmaker.
Mona recognised that men like himself are “socialised, through culture and religion, into gender roles that confine and enslave us”.
“We have to be conscious in breaking down those stereotypes,” he said.
Mona added that, in breaking the cycles of gender-based violence (GBV), men also needed to hold each other accountable, and not treat these incidents lightly.
“Unless we do that, GBV will continue to be a vicious circle, and we will celebrate 16 Days of Activism, but afterwards it’s business as usual,” he said.
“At a national level, we tried (to heal) at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but it was unfinished business. We didn’t hold people accountable, and it has to cascade down from national level to communities to families, to men. Let’s confront the past and current demons,” he said.
Ditsie agreed, saying those who bullied or allowed victimisation of people who didn’t fall into gender stereotypes needed to be held accountable.
For its part, SANRAL had introduced a series of events for men during the year, which would serve to bring gender discussions into mainstream dialogue in the organisation, Mona said.
It was important to continually deliberate about gender roles and how these play out, Botha said.
“Statistics tell us that women-led households are 60%. It’s not because there are no men, it’s because men themselves have been abandoned. Boys need to be assured that it’s OK to be vulnerable, to be emotional, to cry,” he said.
Zhou noted that at the same time, women needed to emancipate themselves “by living out the reality of who we truly are”.
“We need to ask, who is setting these norms on my behalf? It’s about introspecting and asking how I live my life,” she said.