Gender Links (Johannesburg)

Southern Africa - I knew I would overcome!

analysis

Susan Swart took the mic with the confidence of an experienced and award winning solo opera singer and told her story, in not so many words. By the time she was done relating her story, the whole marquee was on its feet applauding the will and drive of this woman. Swart graced the 2014 SADC Protocol@Work summit, presenting in the emerging entrepreneurs category.

She told her story with passion and every carefully chosen word as she related how she 'promoted' herself from survivor to businesswoman. Swart is one of the six children who were born and grew up in abject poverty in a village in the Western Cape.

Her father was a struggling fisherman and her mother a housewife. Amidst a struggling family, Swart never lost hope. She relates how she always knew at the back of her mind that someday she would overcome the life she was living.

Her earliest memory is when she and her siblings would go to school and see other children from well-off families with jam and peanut butter on their bread. All her family could afford was bread sprinkled with sugar and water on it just to make it moist and edible.

At a mere 18 years old when she was in grade ten, she was forced to leave school and search for employment because her parents could no longer pay her school fees.

She married at 21 and her husband later left her for his mistress of ten years. She had known about the mistress all these years and yet kept quiet, pretending to be okay, when in reality she was dying inside.

The emotional anguish resulting from the years of emotional trauma and abuse finally surfaced after her husband decided she was not good enough anymore and left her and her two kids to fend for themselves.

Her first job was in a shop, where she earned R8 (less than US$1) a week. She worked there until her sister opened a restaurant and employed her. She worked for her sister for years, all the while dreaming of the better life she always knew she would have some day.

She relates that one day she woke up and decided enough was enough. She thought long and hard about the business ventures she could pursue. She identified the product she wanted to sell, she identified her market and took it from there. She registered a catering business and started with a donated chips making machine.

She says the business did not kick off perfectly from day one, but she knew, just as she had always known, that she would overcome. This was in 2010.

Swart says she first heard about Gender Links' programmes from the Cape Aghulas Municipality of Western Cape, which is a Centre Of Excellence (COE) in Gender Mainstreaming in Local Government. The municipality was asked to identify GBV survivors in the area and Swart was one of the 20 survivors who were identified by the municipality. She started attending the meetings, summits and trainings regularly and got the empowerment and motivation she needed.

Since then, she has never looked back. Jokingly, she says that it feels good to be able to provide jam and peanut butter for her children when she could not have any growing up. She has even started saving up money.

In her words, Swart said, "Gender links taught me how to fly. I was encouraged to encourage others and was empowered to empower myself. I want to tell everyone that they can overcome, just like I have. My business is still growing and I know it will keep growing. Gender links has provided me with the platform and the freedom to be the best that I can. The summits and trainings provided got me where I am today.

"I overcame, so can you," she ended.

Zinhle Mkhari is a student at the University of Swaziland This article is part of the GL News Service special coverage of the SADC Gender Protocol Summit underway at Kopanong Hotel and Conference Centre in Johanesburg, South Africa, offering fresh views on everday news.

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