About forty years ago, Gandlanani in the former homeland of Gazankulu was a village where the girl child was not allowed to go to school. Instead, they are married off at the tender age of thirteen and subjected to extreme poverty throughout their lives. This would have been the story of Nana Makhubele if fate had not taken its turn in her life.
Nana Makhubele was an exception to the early marriage trend of her time and just last year, she became the first black African woman to chair a society of advocates in South Africa.
This was a woman who had her own share of poverty but through the help of her mother and the twist of fate, she was able to find herself on a better path that led her to a very successful career.
Nana Makhubele throws more light on the challenges she faced growing up
“Being a girl and depending on how soon you reached puberty, you will undergo a compulsory female ritual. We call it uKomba. It’s like a female version of the male circumcision. We don’t go to the mountains, [uKomba] happens in the families”.
“When you’ve finished that, what can you do next? Because you’re not going to school, you get married”.
“I would have gotten married around the age of 12 or 13 but my mother said: ‘No, you’re going to school’.”
“My parents could not afford to pay for my secondary education. What compounded their financial woes is the fact that I caught up with my elder brother after being promoted [at primary school]. As a result, we both passed standard six in the same year”.
Nana Makhubele had to leave school at the age of 12 and work as a maid in the home of the village school’s principal. She also worked in local tomato fields whenever she had the chance to sneak into a farmer’s truck with the regular workers.
After Nana Makhubele’s eldest brother matriculated and started working, he relocated her to Giyani town and put her through school.
While going to school, Nana Makhubele had to put up with relatives who only provided a roof over her head.
“For meals I had to walk three times a day – [breakfast], lunch and supper – to where my brother was staying to share a meal with him,” she said.
She continued like this until a bursary from the South African Council of Churches gave her the opportunity to live at her school’s boarding house.
Her interest in law was born out of the urge to be different. When their teacher introduced a subject (Latin) which she said would be needed for a career in law, the other students saw it as irrelevant. But Nana Makhubele decided on the spot to pursue a career in Law not because she knew anything about it but because she wanted to be different from others.
“You don’t want to do what everybody else is doing [when] everyone else is thinking about going to be a teacher or a nurse,” she chuckles.
Nana Makhubele gives all the credits of her transition from rural girl to senior counsel to her mother who insisted on educating her and the power of education to transform.
“People always ask me who my role-model is – and we always think of these glamorous women we’ve never met – but for me it is my mother. She never went to school but somehow she knew the importance of education.”
Makhubele holds degrees in social work and law from the university of the North presently known as the university of Limpopo and the university of Witwatersrand. She started her career as a prosecutor at the Giyani Magistrate’s Court in Limpopo.
With preparations to step down at the end of February after serving as chairperson of the Pretoria Bar for a year, Makhubele said transformation has been her biggest challenge in the position.