​‘Women’s voices cannot be silenced on our watch’

Posted on August 28, 2020

Why Bonolo Makgale, programme manager at UP’s Centre for Human Rights, considers herself a social justice and human rights activist – both at work and outside of it.

“If a family member or a friend is xenophobic, homophobic or misogynistic, or I notice any other form of discrimination in my presence, I’ll call it out right away.” Centre for Human Rights programme manager Bonolo Makgale tells us more.

TV: Tell us about yourself and your educational background.

BM: I was born and raised in North West, in a village called Dikweipi in Rustenburg. I recently completed a master’s degree in Public Policy from the Wits School of Governance. I am passionate about human rights, democracy and politics. I enjoy listening to jazz and I read a lot of African literature by African women.

TV: What is your role at UP?

BM: I work at the Centre for Human Rights in the Law Faculty, and head up the Democracy and Civic Engagement Unit. The centre’s work focuses largely on the realisation of human rights in Africa by enhancing the capacity of the African Union human rights and democracy-related bodies.

My contribution is to lead the Pan-African Parliament Project; our efforts are to close the democratic gap by creating a space for citizens and civil society to interact and influence the work of the Pan-African Parliament. The unit also spearheads the centre’s efforts to promote democracy in Africa. Our guiding instrument is the African Charter on Democracy – we look at innovative ways to apply it, disseminate it and help states to implement its objectives.

TV: What are some of the challenges of your job?

BM: Interestingly, the one thing I enjoy the most is the most challenging thing about my job. I love people – if you want to torture me, deny me access to human interaction! I thoroughly enjoy establishing and nurturing partnerships; this has also been one of my biggest challenges. The project I manage is still in its infancy, and requires patience and an incredible capacity to get the buy-in of important stakeholders. This has been quite a rocky road, with lots of learning and sometimes tears.

TV: What are your aspirations at UP and for your life in general?

BM: Working in an academic institution comes with many opportunities. I look forward to doing a second master’s in Diplomatic Studies through UP’s Department of Political Sciences next year and, eventually, a PhD with the same department. I also want to grow the work of the unit that I manage – it’s a new unit, so it offers me room to be creative and innovative. 

TV: What do you consider to be a highlight in your career thus far?

BM: My entire career has been filled with adventures of great magnitude. As a young girl growing up in a village, I dreamt of becoming who I am today (though I’m still becoming) and to do what I do now. I have so many defining moments and memories that I cannot mention one. But if I have to, I would say it was a few years ago when I took a sabbatical and travelled to Kampala in Uganda. I stayed there for a couple of months, and did a lot of development and social justice work with young people. That experience was surreal – on the plane back home, I was a changed person with clarity of purpose.

The other biggest highlight of my career is best shown in the young girls I have mentored over the years. I beam with pride knowing that I have contributed positively to another black girl realising their full potential.

TV: Do you find managing a career and home life challenging?

BM: I don’t know how to compartmentalise things; I am the same person at work and at home. I don’t know how to switch off – I am a social justice and human rights activist both at work and outside of work; everything is political with me. The challenge is that even around the dinner table with my friends or family, I still engage in human rights issues. If a family member or a friend is xenophobic, homophobic or misogynistic, or I notice any other form of discrimination in my presence, I’ll call it out right away. Sometimes I wish I was able to switch off. However, I make a conscious effort every day to lead a balanced, authentic life.

TV: What steps do you think should be taken towards eradicating gender-based violence?

BM: Women should be seen as fully human rather than as sub-human, and we need to recognise that the rights of women are human rights. Also, the criminal justice system has failed so many victims of gender-based violence in South Africa – we need a radical reform of the system and to put an end to the culture of impunity. Gender-based violence is deeply entrenched in institutions, culture, religion and tradition; therefore, we should relentlessly speak truth to power, and transform systems and institutions that continue to perpetuate violence against women.

TV: What advice would you give to women today?

BM: Over the course of centuries, there has been an erasure of women in society – women who have been revolutionary in every respect. Patriarchy and misogyny have stripped women of the right to be celebrated and the right to be seen. My message to women is that we should never lose our fight. We have a voice and we have the right to be at the table; we should continue to push back against our erasure – our voices cannot be silenced on our watch. We should also remember that we have the power to reimagine a different future, a future where we are seen and heard, a future where we are hopeful of a reality that contradicts our current experiences, a future of equality. 


- Author Xolani Mathibela

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