Südafrika: Mirriam Malala

Women's empowerment is the key to social change. Women have to learn skills and must have knowledge that they can impart to their children.

— Mirriam Malala

Mam’u Mirriam Malala was born in 1936 in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. Mam’u Malala founded the Zanoxolo Junior Secondary School in 1978 in Sinyonwani. It catered for children who had to travel long distances, as there was no school nearby. In the 80s and 90s she founded a crèche and started HIV/Aids and women projects. Mam’u Malala has been an inspiration in the community for her strong will to achieve.

The villages in the heart of Transkei are very remote. They are barren and difficult to cultivate. Bad weather such as drought and snow or heavy rain kills the animals and crops. Sinyonwani is one of the barren villages left by the colonialist when they took over all the fertile land. It was left to be the home of Africans. Poverty is rampant. The majority of the men are forced to become mine workers. Mirriam Malala has lived in the area since her childhood and wished to change its destiny. She founded a secondary school, Zanoxolo Junior Secondary School in 1978. From 1982, it has also been used for adult education classes. She saw the need for a crèche, which she opened in 1987. The department of education in the Transkei has used it since 1996 for early childhood development programs. Unemployment is a big problem in Transkei. “Our people are trained to be jobseekers rather than job creators,” she says. When many men returned after being retrenched from the mines, tension in the homes resulted in more problems. Women needed empowerment. The main obstacle was that most of the rural women are illiterate. As a remedy, Mam’u Malala, along with other 12 women, started an income-generating project in 1997. Women took on different activities based on what they could do best. Some went into bread baking for schools through a government-feeding scheme for the underprivileged children; some took on sewing projects, while others started vegetable projects. These projects have been of great help to the Aids project called Siyakhathala, “we care”. Since then, the women’s self-esteem has improved.