2013-2017 Vice President, African Development Bank, Special Envoy on Gender
2020-Present Chancellor of Nelson Mandela University
One morning in the early 1970s, in apartheid South Africa, a young high school girl bravely decided to sit on the empty front seats of her school bus reserved especially for the white learners. Her actions spark disapproval from all present, including the bus driver who pulled her off the bus and left her standing alone at the side of the road. This action only scratches the surface of the story of Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi’s life.
Born in 1960 in Lansdowne, Geraldine stayed with her grandmother, in Klipfontein, during the week and went home on weekends. Both her homes shared the beauty of simple gatherings around the kitchen table, with a game of Dominos and discussions on every political issue of the day. One of her favorite pass times was reading banned books from behind the counter of One Books bookshop in Cape Town. From there, this young woman found herself propelled into taking the route very few had the courage to take.
While attending Livingstone High School, Geraldine was part of reading groups that consumed the works of the Dialectics and 'German Ideology' (a set of manuscripts by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels obtained illegally). She soon got inspired by Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia, attaining their independence in 1980. This coupled with the arrival to Zimbabwe of an aunt who had been in self-exile, motivated Geraldine and a group of 4 other women to leave for Zimbabwe, where she worked closely with ANC activists like Joe Gqabi and other apartheid stalwarts. She soon underwent military training in Angola followed by specialized training in the then Soviet Union. She worked from Zimbabwe, as part of the frontline states, in building internal underground political and military structures. for the ANC from outside South Africa.
At the age of just 21, she was confronted with the assassination of Comrade Joe Gqabi, including being framed and imprisoned for it. Geraldine’s life and story reads like a historical masterpiece. Yet the loneliness of solitary confinement, the fear and trauma of imprisonment and the wounds of the freedom struggle against apartheid never detracted her from the call to service. A symbol of servant leadership worthy of note.
Key Quality of a Servant Leader
Never Be Silent
South African Public Servant
Deputy Minister of Welfare and Population Development
Minister of Welfare and Population Development
since the 1960's
In her family, there are two rules
"... Two non-negotiables: you've got to support Pirates when you're part of this family ... and social justice, you've got to be committed to social justice...”
Please note this is a word-for-word transcript from Daniel and Geraldine's conversation.
Her Rosa Parks moment at 14
“One Fine Day, One fine morning, I just thought after I had stood up, and all these adults are standing in the bus, not one adult is sitting on these empty seats, and nobody is there, policing them closely. So I decided I'm going to sit and the bus driver because he wasn't the driver and conductor. It was just the bus driver because it was a single decker bus. You know, the bus driver stops, no, he first says to me, you must get up, you know, you're not allowed to sit there. So I said to him Why? And he says, you know why you're not allowed to sit there? So I said, No, I'm not getting up, why can’t a person? And of course I knew, and he stopped the bus and of course the adults started grumbling get get up, you know, you're making us late for work. And all I said, I'm not getting up. I'm sitting. Now my sister and brothers on the bus, that driver then gets out. gets out, you know, it opens that thing up, get up and he physically takes me out and puts me on the side of the road. Now, you know, we had clip cards. So you know, how the clip card worked. We had a clip just once a day. So of course I was stuck. There was no pocket money. And there was nothing I could do. There I stand on the side of the road near Brown's farm. And I'm standing there and I thought, What am I going to do? ...”
Talking in her sleep
"I suppose it was the reaction to the assassination, having found Comrade Joe, it was the arrest and everything that went with it. But you know, at that time, with me 21, who's going to tell you that you're not I mean, you think you infallible man, you think you know it all...“
Becoming known as Commandeer
“... I first went to the Soviet Union to Moscow, we were trained there, and then came back to Africa. So Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe. And I worked from Zimbabwe with internal-structures and worked with the building of internal structures. So there some people will bump into me in Cape Town and call me commandeer who knows… “
Having a sense of humour is essential
"In spite of Zapiro’s cartoons, and I must say, I love them .... I think you need to have a sense of humor as well, or else the life will be miserable..."
A President to be, an AK47 and the sad news
“... The minister [now president of Zimbabwe Emmerson Mnangagwa] drove with me alone with an AK47 in his Mercedes Benz to Ashdown Park. When we got to Ashdown Park, we parked in the driveway, and He then said to me, sit in the car. And he walked down the driveway to the car. He looked around the house, he first cocked his weapon, his AK, and then he came back to the car… well, as he was walking back, I got out and walked to him I said to him, how’s Comrade Joe [Gqabi]?" She retorted “How do you decide he’s dead? you're not a doctor” to which he responded; “I've seen enough people die to know this..'.'
Chikurubi prison was less scary than police cells
“... They moved me from Chikurubi prison, I didn't know why. And they moved me to the cells at the central police station. At the time, I thought it was probably closer for them to continue interrogation when they wanted to. I must tell you, I felt more vulnerable at the central police cells than a Chikurubi because Chikurubi prison was structured you know and much as I was in solitary confinement, there were women wardens. I mean, it's a maximum security prison, but it was different at the cells in at the central police station, you know, you had policemen there, with police women, but the weekends were problem and I managed to convince the police women during the day when the cells were filled with people were in for petty theft to get them to put the women with me, because I was worried about the wardens who went sobre at night, the police and and I was most scared about my physical harm than anything. thing else I mean it scared me terribly. I think also solitary does weird things to you, you know, it's to be alone. It's not a nice thing and not to see light..."
Respectfully disagreeing with Winnie
" I love you Winnie Mandela, but on this, I respectfully disagree". When she was a minister, she once made a public statement disagreeing with Winnie Madela over her letter calling into question the capabilities of the females serving in President Thabo Mbeki’s cabinet. “You know you should never be silent when you feel there's a need to speak out. And I regrettably felt it was a moment where the allegations that were made suggested or could have been interpreted, that the women who were serving, weren’t serving on the basis of their capability. And I thought there was a need to set the record straight, there was nothing else that informed it. And I think that I would do that at any other point, if I indeed believed that it was unfounded allegation or inference, so that was nothing more. And mind you when you look at Mum Winnie, she's one of the leaders of our struggle. And I think someone we will always recognize for the selfless contribution she's made. And like everyone, we know that we all have difficult moments at different times. But I think at any point in time, we should also be able to engage and say on this one, respectfully, we disagree whilst recognizing the role that you've played...“
Arrested for murder on her 21st birthday
"I go to the ANC office. And when I'm in the office, we all in the office. There's a knock at the door. And of course the doors were opened and incomes the Zimbabwean Special Branch it was someone called Detective Varkevisser and Inspector MacCallum I think it was, and they come in together with a woman, Special Branch officer because they thought I was going to resist. So they brought her in and then they came in and they said they’re there to arrest me. And I looked around and there were two leaders of the ANC there, Florence Mophosho and Peter Polla, I looked at them and I said, are you aware of it? So I said, Yes. So they said, yeah, we arresting you for the assassination of Joe Gqabi. So I said, Well, if the ANC leadership is here, and they aware of it, then I go. Now, he had brought this woman because I thought I was going to resist the arrest. I didn't know why, they thought I was going to jump through the first-floor window and jump down or do what I don't know. So they arrested me and they took me to Chikurubi prison, the maximum-security prison in Zimbabwe....”
Her first visitor, a president to be
“I was then brought up from the cells again and told there are visitors, and it was actually the first visit I had. And of course, to my absolute surprise in the office, again was inspector MacCallum, Detective Varkevisser. But was Alfred Nzo, the Secretary-General of the ANC, John Motsabi, a member of what was called PMC, the Political Military Council of the ANC and Thabo Mbeki was also part of the larger political military council, I think it was called the revolutionary council at the time. But he was the person that I had known because he together with comrade Joe had actually built relations with the Zimbabwean government and Zanu PF. So of course, they were there and so that was, you know, so the ANC doesn't know me. And yet, three senior leaders of the ANC, have come to Zimbabwe and Kabelo was there as well with two bags of chocolates and groceries, they just bought things. I think all of them had experience in prison. So they all knew what you bring when you come in, at the time. And of course, Farkafisa and McCallum were very impatient that they should cross-examine me. And they said to them, aren't you going to ask her questions? And they said, No when she's released, we'll have all the time to find out what happened...."
Becoming African Woman of the Year
She was awarded the New African Magazine Woman of the Year title in 2016. “I think that award, as far as I'm concerned, was essentially for women of the continent. I got that award because I've been working for the past three years plus, on the whole area of financial inclusion more or less broadly speaking...”
Servant Leaders must never be silent
"You know you should never be silent when you feel there's a need to speak out ... and like everyone, we know that we all have difficult moments at different times. But I think at any point in time, we should also be able to engage and say on this one, respectfully, we disagree whilst recognizing the role that you've played.”
Daniel in conversation with
We can make a difference.
Never forget gender!