“This day is about young girls in Swaziland. This day about you!” said SWAGAA Director Cebile Manzini-Henwood to a captive audience of around 300 girls. It was a Saturday, 9 a.m. and the hall at Swazi National High in Matsapha was packed. “Enough is enough. We refuse to be vulnerable. We are going to take back the power, stand up and take back the power,” Cebile continued, her voice rising until all the girls joined in the chant. “Take back our power,” they shouted.
The audience comprised girls from many other high school girls clubs, out to support the new venture. By the end of the year, Manzini-Henwood noted, there would be a total of 25 clubs throughout the country.
The clubs provide a special, dedicated place where girls can explore their dreams, have fun and also tackle serious subjects. “The Girls Empowerment Club saves lives,” Manzini-Henwood told the crowd, explaining, “Some young girls are on the verge of committing suicide. They need somewhere to go and feel safe. We are all different but we all need to have a place to go and be loved and feel safe. At the club you can dig deep into your own potential, so you can share and help others. It equips you to go out and help others. There was a girl who shared her journal with a friend. In it she wrote about how she was being abused by her brother. The friend took her to the club and helped her report the situation. It saved her life because she had been feeling helpless and overpowered and didn’t want to live anymore. By reporting the situation, her parents were notified and the abuse stopped.”
The program was full of wise words from inspirational women, as well as song and dance performances from club members. St. Paul’s High School girls did a rousing African dance, scientist Thabile Ndlovu spoke about the importance of education and Swazi poet Black Note presented a moving piece about abuse and protecting the spirit.
The launch also featured motivational speaker, Gciniwe Fakudze, CEO of Matsapha Town Council. At 34, Gciniwe manages the administration of one of Swaziland’s most important industrial hubs. She is constantly interviewed in the newspaper and as a successful, single businesswoman, she is proud to declare she achieved her goals solely under her own steam. “When I was in high school, I was not someone my teachers thought would succeed. I was never in the top 10. But at one point after high school I decided, ‘I can do this. I don’t want a mediocre life.’ I made a few decisions, and I realized I could be the greatness I wanted to be. I just had to work hard. Here’s what I did…
- Changed my friends. People who speak into your head and heart are important. I found I didn’t work well in groups where everyone did the same thing. I had to hang with people who wanted greatness in life like me.
- Stopped trying to impress boys. They are always going to be there. If you are competing you go nowhere. Boys just want to play with you…and older men just want to abuse you. So I didn’t worry about them.
- Raised myself up as a package. When you go shopping in a high-end boutique, you might feel a little uncomfortable and say, “I’m just looking.” But the higher you raise yourself up to feel comfortable in elevated situations, the more elevated people you attract.”
Gciniwe was not finished with her advice. “I’m not married and society says when you are single you are incomplete. But I say, ‘Don’t rush into it.’ There is no better feeling that waking up and saying ‘Let me buy myself a ticket to Dubai or New York. I have a good job, I own my own car I can make my own decisions. I don’t have to rely on a man. You need to have power in society and that is based on money. Men will abuse you by tempting you with money or gifts. You have to be strong and eventually you will make your own money.”
Reaching out to her young listeners, Gciniwe left them with these final thoughts, “The good thing about the club is that it is a place where girls support each other. We understand what each other are going through. I had known what greatness I had inside, I would have started working on myself a lot earlier. You need to do the work, make a difference and don’t let anything get in your way. Including yourself!”
As the event wrapped up, I turned over my printed program and read SWAGAA’s message for month of the African Child: “Take pride in yourself. You are Swaziland’s future. Live with joy, but also take care. Don’t accept gifts, rides or invitations from strangers. Be safe, make friends, share information and make sure you report any incidences of abuse.”
Judging from the bright energy in the room, the message had found its targets. Girl power!