On 17 July Jessie lost her battle with cancer. A lot has been said about her. Accolades and heart-warming messages poured out toward the family and to the many of her comrades and associates.

By Baby Penny Tyawa

The period of activism following the 1976 unrests that spread from Soweto to the rest of the country was filled with danger and life threats that most of activists were exposed to by the special branch – a unit of policemen trained to deal with political activities – were all over our townships and in our homes at any time they deemed fit.
It is during this period that most of us, young women, emerged to organise and resuscitate the women structures that were dormant as most of the liberation movement structures were banned and declared communist movements by the apartheid system.
Duarte became one of those young women who championed the rebuilding of cells and underground networks of comrades we would not have known across races. It was time to reorganise and rebuild women structures, an assignment that became critical.
She emerged with the energy, conviction, vigour, and commitment that most have spoken about.
She was actively involved, reaching out to women stalwarts who were banned and restricted to their homes. These were women who, if found visiting you, would be arrested and put away for a long time under the state of emergency. These are matriarchs who anchored our struggle for a democratic South Africa.
Under the tutelage of stalwarts such as Albertina Sisulu, Sister Bernard Ncube, June Mlangeni, Francis Baard, Helen Joseph, Winnie Mandela, Maniben Sita, Ma Rita Ndzanga and Jesse Duarte, many young women were able to extend their work beyond the Transvaal.
They worked with more women in the various provinces, some of whom were banned but still strong and resolved to re-establish women formations in their respective provinces.
It is these virtues of selflessness that we need today, first from ourselves and from the younger women. We should become the beacon of hope for young women. We should drive and sustain Duarte’s spirit of no-surrender to consolidate our democratic gains that we are at risk of squandering.
Duarte acknowledged the challenges faced by young women today, that includes the older generation. The current challenges facing the women of South Africa of all races are femicide, violence and poverty.
The reality of our current situation is that women are still subjected to limited access to spaces of decision making. They still experience the glass ceiling that restricts them from advancing further.
The Women’s Charter and the rights of women enshrined in the Constitution provide the foreground from which to pursue the implementation of programmes that are meant to improve the lives of women. If women do not use these rights and the many passed legislations, they will forever stay underdeveloped.
To honour her memory, there is a need for heightened activism, the type that brings together women from various sectors of society.
The current legislations must work for young women; assist them to raise pertinent issues of development for women and girls.
In the same way that women were mobilised in the 70s and 80s, it is possible to activate sectors that will measure the impact of democratic legislations on women emancipation and development today.
It is defeatist to just memorialise her in name only. All the women who care to keep Duarte’s legacy alive need to rebuild community and multi-sector relationships that include women across race and class, fight tribalistic behaviour that trivialises women’s needs.
We need to mobilise and rebuild networks in the fight against femicide, stop calling out for government instead of intervening and stepping in where there are needs in our communities. Reverse the helplessness nature of responses in the face of crisis. Honouring her requires scrutinising the impact of the current laws designed to improve women’s ascendance to positions of leadership and power. Women are also beneficiaries of this constitutional democracy. The foundation is already there and legislations are in place. It is time to assess what impact these have had on the majority of women to date.
It is time once more for women to wake up. Tsogang Basadi!

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