To celebrate Cell C Take a Girl Child to Work Day’s 10th birthday, Cell C hosted a high tea at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Rosebank, on 31 May. Originator and custodian of the project, Zeona Jacobs said it had grown from a baby to an empowered woman, who had touched the lives of 600 000 girls. According to Jacobs the project was initiated around the time when the rape of infants was rife and there was a need for something that would impact the girl child’s life positively.
But on the day of the 10-year celebration, the headline on the front-page of the Times newspaper read Pregnant in Grade 3, making it painfully clear that the plight of the girl child still needs to be addressed.
Many have criticised the initiative saying that by concentrating on girls, it was alienating boys. Jacobs was unapologetic. “Boy children still have an advantage. And I think there’s enough work out here for all of us. Someone else can pick up the baton and work with boys,” she said.
Although Take a Girl Child to Work Day represents the biggest act of volunteerism since Red Nose Day, it isn’t very labour intensive. “All it takes is an e-mail and a phone call now and then. Technology makes it easy,” says Jacobs.
However, it’s clear that Jacobs has put a lot more into her mentoring relationship with Zaza Motha in the last 10 years. Motha wrote an emotional letter to her mentor, which she read aloud at the celebration.
Now 28 years of age, Motha said she had met Jacobs when she was just 18. One of six children brought up by a single father, in addition to mentoring, she needed a mother figure. Jacobs opened her heart to her. “She took me to work, to a board meeting and introduced me to everyone. When the meeting was over, she asked everyone for an opinion, even me. It made me feel important,” Motha said.
The teen had always wanted to be a journalist because she felt the story of her mother’s death though widely published, was not told well.
“My mother was killed in front of us. I was seven at the time,” Motha said. Her father was at work and had telephoned the house. When her mother went to take the call, a stray bullet came through the window and hit her. She died instantly. That was in 1991 during the ANC versus Inkhatha Freedom Party conflict. “I saw the story on TV and thought, that is not what happened. Ever since then I wanted to be a journalist,” Motha said.
Jacobs saw Motha through her tertiary studies and even recalled how she helped her fire a friend from a business Motha was running at university. “I can’t believe Zeona remembers that,” she said. “My friend wasn’t delivering and I was so driven. I had to fire her.”
She credits Jacobs for exposing her own potential, teaching her the value of life-long learning and networking, and giving her the confidence to spot opportunities. As assistant editor at Soul magazine, she spotted an opportunity to become an editorial consultant. That was in February and since then she has added a few more clients to her portfolio.
“I have always been enterprising,” she says. Her parents used to sell imported clothes from the house. When her mother passed on and things were tough, her father bought them things to sell. “When things picked up, he told us to stop. I didn’t, I couldn’t. I sold throughout school and at varsity I sold ideas.”
Some of which Jacobs had to veto. Looking back, Motha realises how unviable some of them were, but Jacobs never told her so. “She responded to every e-mail and suggested I research this or that part of it. She was amazing.”