Lecturer leads fight for girls’ right to a future

Growing up during a time when pregnant young women were forced to drop out of school, while their boyfriends continued to thrive in life, was among the reasons Professor Mzikazi Nduna became an advocate for education, health and social development.

Mzikazi Nduna

Nduna, who is the head of school in the Human and Community Development faculty at University of Witwatersrand, is a finalist for the national Business Women’s Association awards to be held next week.

She will also be awarded the honorary Queen Mamjoli award at the Mpondoland Festival next weekend.

The Johannesburg-based lecturer said when she was a teacher in the 1990s, schoolgirls would fall pregnant, which was taboo at the time.

“I witnessed a phenomenon of school girls falling pregnant, on my watch … something which had become too familiar to me because I had watched my cousins and friends back in eBika (Butterworth) fall pregnant and drop out.

“There was something unsettling about my learners being expelled from school for being pregnant and I engaged the school principal – he was not fazed.

“I was happy though that he agreed to call a school governing body (SGB) meeting with all parents and nurses from the local clinic.”

Nduna saw this as an achievement and took the opportunity to present a case to argue that the SGB allow nurses to do school health and prescribe and dispense contraceptives on request to prevent unwanted pregnancies and to give pupils the chance to complete their studies.

“The conservative aura filled the classroom. No one agreed with me. My fellow teachers, the school principal, the parents, the SGB and to my surprise the nurses themselves; they all thought that was not possible.

“So my first attempt at fighting for reproductive and social justice was a spectacular failure.

“All I knew was that I was lucky to not have been pregnant while I was still studying because these girls did not do anything that I had not done as a teenager.”

Nduna said she got the platform to teach students about sexuality and the importance of education when she received an invitation to attend training on sexual education when life orientation was introduced at schools.

“I attended the training and used this as an instrument to advance the rights of women in the education sector.

“The government extended the free abortion services to black communities and restrictions around access to abortion were removed.

“This became more ammunition for me – the law was on my side. The new government policy stipulated that learners shall not be expelled from school on the basis of being pregnant.

“From then onwards legal reforms in South Africa proliferated. I used these to speak out on sexual rights, gay rights, and abortion rights, rights of people living with HIV-Aids.

Nduna currently co-hosts a regular weekly radio show on Khanya FM on Mondays from 10am to 11am discussing research findings of different studies.

She is a regular contributor to the Eastern Cape girls’ camp – an initiative of the office of the premier aimed at grooming girls in order to build leadership skills from an early age.

“This initiative is implemented by the Eastern Cape Aids Council and Khubuzwe Foundation and is very close to my heart,” she said. — mbalit@dispatch.co.za

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