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Where there are women, there is magic

Here is a copy of Marina Constas’s ‘Where there are women, there is magic’ speech, which she recently delivered at the NAMA Women’s Day brunch, hosted at Allan Gray on 11 August 2023:


“Look to the left of you, look to the right of you, look in front of you, look behind you, what do you see? Women.

Good morning, ladies

I am exceedingly honoured and privileged to stand before you and address you on a topic which is common to us all, that of women, that of us!

It would be remiss of me not to mention the reason why we are all gathered here today – to celebrate Women’s Day which was a public holiday officially celebrated on Wednesday. This day commemorates the 1956 march of approximately 20 000 women to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to petition against the country’s pass laws during apartheid that required black South Africans to carry a pass. Not only did they march, but they remained standing outside the Union Buildings in silence for 30 minutes in a non-violent and very powerful display of unity.

This day provides us with an opportunity to pay tribute to these strong and resilient women whose struggle contributed to our freedom and democracy but also, provides us with the opportunity to reflect on ourselves and consider how we can pave the way for progress in empowering women and achieving gender equality.

As a female managing agent or lawyer or whatever profession a woman practices in, there are undoubtedly many challenges which we face. As many of you will know, I am the founder of a platform called WIST which stands for Women in Sectional Title, wherein women can network, learn, share knowledge, collaborate with, and inspire each other, whilst gaining access to the resources they need to succeed in Sectional Title.

I host webinars on a monthly basis and two webinars which have really had a lasting impact on me related to burnout in the workplace and conflict in sectional title schemes. During the time allocated for questions from the participants, it became apparent that many women feel vulnerable in the workplace and oftentimes, find themselves in a position where they are unheard, swept aside, undervalued, and bullied. I have no doubt that all of us sitting here today have experienced these feelings in some way, shape or form.

As a lawyer who has been practicing for 26 years, it is to be expected that I draw inspiration from the likes of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an American lawyer and jurist who served as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1993 until her death in 2020, and to bring it closer to home, Professor Thuli Madonsela, a South African advocate and Professor of Law who served as our public protector from 2009 to 2016.

These women were not only formidable in the field of law, but their contribution to womanhood and the lessons which we can draw from their conduct, invaluable.

Ginsburg graduated first in her class from Columbia Law School. During her time at law school, she battled and overcame sexism due to the fact that she was an outstanding female student in the class. She became the second female law professor at Rutgers Law School and fought for equal pay. She co-founded the first law journal on woman’s rights. She was the first justice to officiate a same-sex marriage.

Madonsela graduated from the University of Swaziland and the Witwatersrand with her law degrees and has been awarded honorary doctorates from the University of Stellenbosch, Cape Town, Rhodes, and Fort Hare. She was a member of the team who drafted our Final Constitution in 1996. During her time as public protector, she carried out her duties with the utmost integrity and stood steadfast in her findings, notwithstanding the criticism she received even from those who had appointed her to the position.

Many parallels and lessons can be drawn from these two women. They were empowered to stand up for justice in the way they did through knowledge and education. They were educated in their fields. They were not afraid to go against the status quo, in pursuit of honouring their obligations in their professions with integrity. Their commitment was to serve the people impacted by the work they did in a way that benefitted not only the people but changed the perception of the roles which they occupied. They were both fearless in the pursuit of advancing justice and were not constrained by opposing opinions and those who attempted to halt their progress.

The question to be answered is how can we, as women in the sectional title space, learn from women such as Ginsburg and Madonsela who have paved the way for women such as us to continue the quest for women empowerment and gender equality?

As managing agents, you are faced with a multitude of responsibilities and have to fulfil numerous functions on the daily, which range from dealing with frustrated trustees, to managing owners who are not compliant with the conduct rules, to attending and chairing meetings at schemes, to putting up with an owner or trustee who floods your email account with a hundred complaints a day and tells you that you are not doing your job properly, and the list goes on and on.

The reality is, in my opinion, that the magic lies with you. So, I would like to rephrase the theme of today “Where there are women, there is magic” and rather say “Where there are women who know how to handle themselves, there is magic.”

The first way to ensure that you are equipped to deal with any obstacle – be it an insulting owner or trustee or challenging situation in a scheme is to empower yourself with as much knowledge and education in the field as possible. Enrol for that accredited sectional title course, attend conferences and webinars which equip you with the most recent updates in the field, get your hands on relevant reading material and surround yourself with those who can assist in providing you with accurate information and growing your knowledge base.

Once you are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge, you will be in a position to stand up for yourself, when necessary, advance your viewpoints and contributions within the industry and challenge other viewpoints and practices which you believe do not serve the industry or its members. For example, if a trustee sends you an aggressive email questioning why you haven’t fined an owner who has transgressed the conduct rules, if you are aware of the directive released by the CSOS, you would be in a position to inform the trustee that there is a definitive process which has to be followed in the form of issuing written transgression notices before issuing the fine and that the quantum of the fine cannot exceed the monthly levy for the owner in question. This knowledge empowers you with the ability to stand up for yourself and to illustrate to the Trustees that they have a managing agent who knows their work.

Knowledge does not only empower you to stand up for yourself and advance and challenge viewpoints, but it empowers you to feel confident in what you bring to the table as a managing agent and your pivotal role within the scheme. This feeling will enable you to set boundaries for yourself, which are critical for your wellbeing and success in the industry. You cannot control the cards you are dealt, but you can control how you play them. That’s why I say that magic lies in women who know how to handle themselves. If an owner or trustee sends you a hundred emails, WhatsApps or phones you incessantly and threatens you if you do not reply urgently, you need to control that. You can simply send a short reply indicating that you are busy and that you will reply when available. Working hard, being available and approachable, being dedicated to what you do and meeting deadlines are part of your job description and what you should be doing on the daily. However, striking a balance as a managing agent, as hard as it may be, can be done if you make it a priority which you should do. Allocate some time to yourself and to take care of your well-being each day, whether it be in the form of taking a walk or doing a yoga class or meeting a friend for a quick lunch or doing a few of these things or other things that you enjoy. Believe it or not, the owner or trustee who was badgering you to urgently reply will still be there a few hours later or even the next morning.

Knowledge and boundary setting and the way you handle yourself are all very important contributors to your success in the industry, but they can take you so far. The real magic lies not in going far alone but in going further together. As I said in the beginning, this room has one thing in common and that is of woman who represent confidence, grace, productivity, optimism, fear tacklers, go-getters, not being afraid to stand up for what we believe in and being true to ourselves.

In my opinion, the truest and fastest way in which we, as women, can achieve empowerment and gender equality, is by supporting each other and being there for each other to impart knowledge, exchange ideas and be a source of support, encouragement, and wisdom for each other. It is for this reason that I created WIST. Building each other up instead of being in competition with each other and in turn, breaking each other down can lead us to places and heights which we never imagined. Just like the 20 000 women who marched in solidarity to the Union Buildings to stand up for injustice, which is why we are celebrating today, so too can we make a concerted effort to unite as women and be the crafters and game changers of our industry.

But it takes effort and a will to do it. We should be having more days like today where we can gather and meet new women and brainstorm and exchange dialogue on what we do, how we can collaborate in contributing to the industry, the challenges we experience and how to overcome these. We should be meeting on women-based platforms and creating them so that we have a safe space to unite, share our views, ideas, successes, and challenges and to listen to other women. We should be collectively voicing our opinions about aspects in our industry which we believe need refining and attention and should do it in a way that illustrates our knowledge and passion for our industry. In the words of Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

And so, ladies, I ask that you now look around again and find a woman in this room who you have never met before and go and have a conversation with her during the course of today. It is through this process of engagement and uniting as women that we will be able to reach heights in our industry and contribute to it like never before. Know your work, know your worth, know what you bring to the table, know that it is necessary to set boundaries in what you do and in your interactions with people, and most importantly, know the women who surround you on the daily and get to know the ones who don’t.

It is herein that the real magic lies. “