Margaret Matlala – South Africa

Margaret Matlala – South Africa

Date: November 12, 2015
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Changing one person’s attitudes can change the whole community

It does not matter what happens in your life as long you overcome challenges and allow new and better things to happen.

I first met Gender Links when I went to the “I story” workshop at Khuseleka Place of Safety. We came from the Matlala TVEP and I was not aware of the pain in me, until I started talking and writing my “I” story.

We were crying in that workshop but we had support from Khuseleka social workers and they counselled us. I thought that was enough because I left feeling much better that day and I thought Gender Links did me a favour in giving me the opportunity to talk about my problems. Little did I know that it was the beginning of the new me.

I was then invited for the second time to Khuseleka for another workshop. I thought we were going to talk about our problems again and I thought this time I am ready, no crying, I am stronger and I will be the one comforting other participants but I was disappointed because I did not get the chance to do that instead there was something better in store for us.

Growing up in the rural areas, you are reminded every day of your life that you are a woman and that there are some things that you cannot do and cannot achieve because you are a woman. That day we were taught that the only thing I cannot do as a woman is to grow a beard and have sperm. I was taught that I am important and I am able to do anything a man can do.

I experience gender based violence and I accepted that there was nothing I could do about it, I am married and that is what marriage is all about. One is told when you get married that marriage is tough and you have to take everything that happens in it. The one thing they tell you is do not even think about going back at your parents’ home when things get tough. So you stay in that marriage waiting to die. When we attended the first workshop and I realised my value because I am a hard working woman, a light was lit inside me. When we started talking about starting our own businesses, I already had something in mind but I think I needed somebody to tell me I could do it. I built my house with my hands starting by making my own bricks and I finished it, therefore, I could start my own business.

I had never touched a computer in my life when Susan and Juliana came to us with computers and I was scared to even touch it, but when they left I made a business card by myself and I was so proud. I told my children that I could use a computer. I just wish Gender Links could teach us every day how to use a computer. But that week I felt like a new person. I even felt confident enough to ask people about business plans and to ask assistance in doing my business plan.

We were approaching 16 days of activism and the local police station was organising the activity. We approached the organisers and participated in that activity by doing a play to raise awareness for other women about gender based violence and the importance of speaking out and never thinking you are alone. I took a part in the play and I was proud. We did not just end there. We negotiated with the police station to use their yard that was not in use for a vegetable garden so that we could feed people who are living with HIV and AIDS with the vegetables. We were given the place and as I am talking to you we are growing beautiful vegetables. We feed our families and members of the community and I work there every day.

My passion was to grow chickens and sell them. We were trained to undertake market research and advertise our businesses. I started by building a small place for my chicks to keep them warm. I then started my business and my children help me to sell the fully grown chickens. On the main road where I stay there is a sign for my business with my name on it to show people where chickens are sold. When I pass there I am proud of myself because I thought I was a nobody but people pass the board and see my name and know where chickens are sold. It is hard work but I will not change anything.

For the first time I left my house with a bag and was not going to a family funeral or to take care of a sick family member, I was going to the summits.

Even my husband did not believe it when he saw me going out of the house with a bag, going to Johannesburg for business and I was scared that I needed to present my business in front of strangers, but I was very proud and nothing was going to stop me. I felt like a winner by just coming to Johannesburg. Sleeping in a hotel where I did not have to make my bed, me, Mamatlala – somebody needed to pinch me to believe it.



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