Magazine article New African

Gerry Elsdon "You Strike a Woman, You Strike a Rock"

Magazine article New African

Gerry Elsdon "You Strike a Woman, You Strike a Rock"

Article excerpt

Gerry Elsdon, like anyone else, has had her knocks. However, nothing keeps this bubbly South African celebrity beauty permanently down. When she was diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB), she not only fought and survived it, but today she is using her public profile to champion awareness of this illness, as the spokesperson for the World Health Organisation's South African Stop TB campaign. On a recent official visit to Paris, Regina Jere-Malanda interviewed this formidable African woman and was left with no doubts as to why Gerry is also dubbed a popular motivational speaker despite her youth.

NAW: Welcome to New African Woman, Gerry, and thank you for agreeing to speak to us. Give us a little background about yourself; we know you have roots in the South African liberation struggle. Bearing in mind the current political situation in your country, where do you stand politically?

Gerry: I was born in Cape Town, South Africa, known as the Mother City. I am the youngest of five children, Mom was a single mother for the most part, she had no formal education and brought us up working three jobs. Due to political unrest in South Africa in the early '80s, my middle sister was forced to leave the country under a veil of secrecy; it was not until I got involved in politics a few years later that I discovered why she had "moved" to London. She was, in fact, in exile. I was determined to make a better life for myself than the government of the time was prepared to give our people. After high school and college, I started work with the African National Congress. I called people like President Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma "uncle". We were more than comrades in a political movement, we were family, so, considering what has transpired in the last few months, I feel like a child whose parents are going through a divorce, but no one has bothered to consult or even speak to them.


Q: Do you think the current political climate in South Africa and Africa at large is favourable to women and youth? Why is that women still bear the brunt of the continent's hardship and yet they remain the most resilient?

A: Interesting question! Until recently, South Africa had a woman in the role of deputy president, she was not a token placement. Phumzile Mlambo Ncquka was a great role model and a powerhouse within government, and [the now-former] President Thabo Mbeki had one of the most representative cabinets on the continent-it made a significant difference to how and with whom we did business, and set up social structures in South Africa. I believe it was a strong motivator for change on our continent. But these were only the first few steps, I certainly would not call it strides, considering the oppression women had faced on the continent of Africa.

As Africans, we are all familiar with the saying "You strike a woman, you strike a rock". It is as true today as it was when our women marched to our political capital of Pretoria in August 1954 to protest against the use of passbooks (basically a permit to move around our towns and cities), and their second-class-citizen status. Women are the lifeblood of the African family and in many cases the sole provider for their offspring. In order for the African family to be sustained, women are not allowed to drop the ball; it's a matter of survival. I was personally brought up not to rely on a man to improve my life or provide for me, but to work hard, be self-sufficient and proud of my personal achievements first, and then of those achieved by my husband and me. I asked my mother later in life why she taught her daughters to be so ... "harsh". Her response was, "it brings fewer tears". In South Africa, the majority of small- and medium-size businesses being registered are by women.

Q: In terms of work, what are you concentrating on at the moment, and which organisations are you involved with?

A: I have a few projects on the go. …

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