A speech delivered by The Duchess of Sussex at the Creative Industries and Business Reception, Johannesburg

Published 2 October 2019

At our visit this earlier this morning I was struck by a small sign that was posted on the wall for the female entrepreneurs – and it said: “visualize your highest self, and show up as her”. This is the spirit of the women I have met on this trip.

The Duchess of Sussex

Good afternoon. Thank you for yet another wonderful welcome, I can’t believe it’s almost time to say goodbye to this country. 

From the moment we arrived we were greeted by the rhythm and energy of the Mbokodo girls in Nyanga - and I knew that this trip was going to be something incredibly special. So, just begin by saying thank you to all of the people we’ve met - on behalf of both of us, and of course Archie - we are so grateful. This trip has meant so much to us as a family, but also to me personally.

As you know, reading about the death of Uyinene, and hearing about the protests weighed heavily on my mind. Gender based violence is a harrowing reality for many women around the world. And for some, like the beautiful and talented Uyinene, this violence has taken women from us who have - who had - a life full of hope and dreams ahead of them. Yet if there is any possible hope in this situation, if there is some sliver of light, it is that people are paying attention like never before. 

The recent crisis has sparked a much-needed conversation in South Africa, and the world is listening. I met a group of young girls yesterday who wanted to talk to me about their experience. Some of which was harrowing. 

Yet despite everything they had been through, they said the saddest thing was to watch the continued degradation of women, and that they wanted to be part of a movement where both women and men play a role in turning that around.

As someone who has been a long-time advocate of women's and girls’ rights, I worried about what was happening and my intention on this tour was to meet with women across South Africa to listen and to learn.

So from students to politicians, from apartheid campaigners of the 50s to teenagers on a beach, from the mothers with HIV providing health care to their community, and to the entrepreneurs who are driving the businesses of the future - they all showed me a power and a solidarity that, in this moment, in this time, all women, and all people, can take strength and inspiration from. Because these amazing African women have discovered self-belief and found their worth. 

At our visit this earlier this morning I was struck by a small sign that was posted on the wall for the female entrepreneurs – and it said: “visualize your highest self, and show up as her”. This is the spirit of the women and girls I have met on this trip.

They are not defining themselves by how they compare to others, or making their success and marking it against historical expectations. They are simply paving their own path, they have their own voice, and they are being listened to.

And as I’ve said before, I firmly believe that all women have a voice, they just need to feel empowered to use it, and people need to feel encouraged to listen. There is a role for all of us here. As women we can listen to one another, and lift each other up, we can raise our boys to be men who value women. And for men and boys, you can lead by example and not let your mothers, daughters, sisters, wives and girlfriends ever feel that they are lesser than you.

I remember being a young girl watching TV and seeing what was happening in the world, and frankly, often feeling despair. Because when you continue and constantly see and hear negativity, it can be overwhelming; you can feel powerless, and lost, you can feel different, confused, or like you don’t belong.

And I’m sure there is a young girl or boy watching this and thinking the maybe exact same thing. So, this is for you.

In a world that that can seem so aggressive, confrontational, and dangerous, you should know that you have the power to change it.

Because whether you’re here in South Africa, at home in the UK or the US, or around the world, you actually have the power within you to change things, and that begins with how you connect to others.

I have learned from the people I’ve met here, that whether it’s about society’s expectations of masculinity or femininity, or how we divide ourselves by race or faith or class or status- everyone has value, and everyone deserves to be heard and respected. 

And if you live your life in that way, your generation will start to value each other in ways the rest of us have not yet been able to do so.

Over the past 10 days our family has had emotional moments, we’ve has poignant moments, we’ve had spiritual moments; we’ve met inspirational leaders in every walk of life, and we’ve been treated to incredible food, music, and dancing, but above all, we have been able to meet the people that are the rocks behind the sort of work that really means a so much to us. It has been affirming to learn that we’re not alone in the things that we believe in, and the principles we hold so dear.

No matter how different our lives may seem - Africa, you have made us feel part of your community, of our shared community.

On our visit to the Mosque in Bo Kapp, one of the women told us that the way we change the world is to honour the dignity of difference. And in this we can find strength. When we can bridge divides, and meet, as human beings with different experiences, we can all find connection – and in that connection we become more aware of one another, more aware of our place in the world. We find hope, and self-worth, we can find optimism and courage, and ultimately, we can find joy.

So whether for Harry, Archie and me in South Africa, or for my husband as he was travelling Botswana, Angola and Malawi, please know that you have all given us so much inspiration, so much hope - and above all, you have given us joy.

Thank you.