A beautifully lit stage welcomed delegates as they streamed into the Boma Banquet Hall at the Birchwood Hotel on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa. A day of deliberations marked by opening statements by His Excellency President Jacob Zuma marked the opening of the African Union’s first International Conference on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, in Africa. Speakers made points and counterpoints against the backdrop of the convening of the meeting at a critical time in deciding the future of the next generation on the African continent.
This evening would be no different and as delegates began to be seated and mingled, the timeless sounds of Miriam Makeba set the ambience for the occasion. This evening reception would see the launch of the Mama Afrika award. The launch and unveiling done by none other than Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chairperson of the AU. Among her remarks she mentioned:
“Individuals, organisations, communities, companies and governments who continue to make a remarkable effort to ensure that Africa’s mothers, newborns and children survive, and not only survive but thrive and realize their potential.”
Wrapped by an emerald sheer-fabric ribbon a tall Mama Afrika banner awaited the big reveal within the ceremony. Standing as tall and as proud as Miriam herself, it testified to the African heroine's work across the continent - earning her the moniker "Mama Afrika." Standing in the face of oppression and in particular her work in the struggle against apartheid set her apart. She remains the only artist invited to sing at the launch of the Organisation of African Unity which celebrates its semi centennial anniversary this year.
There to give remarks on behalf of the family and the Foundation was Nelson Lumumba Lee, Miriam Makeba's grandson. His sonorous words and full voice leaving many in the room including Dr. Ademola remarking that he had been gifted with a voice echoing his mother and grandmother. Deeper significance was to be found in this award as it the late had endured the pain of losing a child to maternal mortality.
Lee's words to commemorate the unveilling of the award appear below:
“As a family and foundation we are honoured and humbled – primarily for the cause itself, in collectively working together, to name this Award after her, our mother and grandmother. We extend our thanks to AUC and others…
With regards to our grandmother – she was very passionate about the wellbeing of children and mothers, women overall, and she believed that women are the ones that nurture a nation – if women are not taken care of or prioritized, the nation will fall. She created the Makeba centre, established for the last 12 years. Prior to that when in exile in Guinea, she was in a region called Dalaba (300 km from Conakry) – she established a clinic for women who were pregnant, and children. Unfortunately they closed it down after new regime took place…
I went in 2011, and met with people in Dalaba to reinitiate the clinic for women in that condition – and the ambassador for west Africa along with Guinean delegates will rekindle that – so it is really a coincidence and honour that this is all happening at the same time – alongside something she established in the 70s, over 30 years ago, herself.
We are grateful – beyond words, it is a real honour and we are very humbled, and we hope that this Award will encourage generations to come, and people will work and strive for it, because it is worth it, we have established this today – it is history that has been created. I am happy to have been alive and to have witnessed this historical moment and as we said for generations to come, it will speak for itself the award.
We thank you very much.”
Do you know someone who deserves this award? Nominate individuals, organisations, communities, companies and governments here.