Earlier in the month, I had the honour of presenting the keynote at PAFSA’s IYOTSA Conference in South Africa.
As Global Brand Ambassador for International Year of the Secretary and Assistant, I have visited many countries this year, explaining to Assistants how the role has changed and encouraging them to think of themselves as strategic business partners. PAFSA gave me the opportunity to share my experiences.
This was my first trip to Africa and for me it was life-changing. As a teenager, approaching adulthood, I had been involved with Amnesty International through a group at school and many of my letters had been to the South African government, campaigning for the release of Nelson Mandela.
There was a very satisfactory closing of the circle when I was able to visit the Apartheid Museum, Constitution Hill and Soweto – including Mandela’s House, Bishop Tutu’s House & the Hector Pieterson Memorial. This is a memorial to a 13-year-old boy who was shot dead when he got caught up in a student protest against apartheid. It’s a dreadful story but one that is well worth looking up and reading.
I spoke at three events in South Africa. Aside from the IYOTSA event, I was proud to speak in Cape Town at the launch of the Cape Town PAFSA chapter. The Assistants of South Africa and the committees of both the Associations – PAFSA and OPSA – couldn’t have been more welcoming or more committed to elevating the role of Assistant to what it deserves to be. They work tirelessly to share the message that PAs deserve better, need training, need investment and need to believe in their own abilities – it’s what I am travelling the world shouting about.
And that is where I got stuck. With the average annual wage for a black South African still only £3,500 a year, how can we hope to spread the word via the magazine throughout Africa and give them the personal development that we offer at a price they can afford? It seems to me as a global publication that we need to step back and look again. It’s no good being committed to our particular brand of training and inspiration but then only offering it to those who can afford to pay a Western price for it. I don’t have an answer yet but we are working with the Associations across Africa to find one. As a believer in fairness and learning for all, how can we do anything else?
We already support a project in South African which educates those who can’t afford it but want to train to be Assistants. It only costs £500 a year to take the trainee from zero to suited and booted, qualified Assistant. And think of the impact not just on them but on their families and communities. This year all our fundraising will be for them.
The third event in South Africa, which I hosted, featured the extraordinary Zelda La Grange, Nelson Mandela’s secretary, gatekeeper and constant companion for the best part of 20 years. Her book has caused a furore in South Africa and divided opinion, but having read it from cover to cover, I found it to be a story of true redemption and enlightenment. One of the things that comes through strongly in the book is how passionately Mandela believed in and worked towards “education for all”. We as a magazine need to work this out – and we are committed to doing so.
We are delighted that Zelda will be joining us in London in March for Executive Secretary LIVE as our headline speaker. Hers is a story worth listening to. Our charity raffle this year will be in aid of the Johannesburg PA education project. We hope to see you there.