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The ANC Women’s League says SA isn’t ready for a woman president. Elaine Salo and Nomfanelo Kota debate the issue.
The ANCWL seems bedevilled by a lack of confidence in the ability of its own members, says Elaine Salo.
I have a dream of a woman president who will make South Africa prosper – but why won’t the ANCWL support it? On May 24, 1994 Nelson Mandela said: “Freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression. All of us take this on board, that the objectives of the Reconstruction and Development Programme will not have been realised unless we see in visible practical terms that the conditions of women in our country have radically changed for the better, and that they have been empowered to intervene in all aspects of life as equals with any other member of society.”
During the 1990s, as we were caught up in the glow of the Mandela presidency and the peaceful transition to a democratic era, we South African women imagined ourselves as leaders in all walks of life.
Mandela himself regarded women in that light – he should know, given that his leadership was inspired by, sustained and supported on the shoulders of women leaders all his life.
Women reminded the world of his existence during the hellish times of the 1960s-1980s. He was inspired by Lilian Ngoyi, Ruth Mompati, Ingrid Jonker, Amina Cachalia, Ruth First, Helen Joseph, Mamphela Ramphele, Albertina Sisulu, Leah Tutu, Helen Suzman, Pregs Govender, Emma Mashinini, Cheryl Carolus; he married three independent women leaders in his lifetime – women who led and sustained national struggles for liberation, who occupied power in the public sphere as men languished in jails, in exile, were assassinated or were on the run.
Madiba’s intimate knowledge of women’s invaluable strength, courageous challenge to power and their unrelenting commitment to realise democracy without reward, inspired him with their stellar calibre of leadership. This knowledge prompted him to state unequivocally that women’s empowerment is an imperative for the country’s development.
Since 1994, our cabinet been lauded for consistently electing the highest representation of women cabinet ministers in the world. Many of these women are senior ministers who have made remarkable achievements during their ministerial tenure. Nkosasana Dlamini Zuma turned around a dysfunctional Home Affairs and fast-tracked applications for identity documents and refugee asylum papers before she was elected as the chairwoman of the African Union. Naledi Pandor set in place draft legislation for schools’ requisite norms and standard in the ministry of education, led the bid for SKA whilst she was minister of science and technology and continues to ensure that Home Affairs remains efficient.
Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge called attention to the heinous increase in infant mortality rates and supported the call for ARVs to treat HIV/Aids during her tenure as deputy minister of health. This resulted in her dismissal. Minister of Public Administration Lindiwe Sisulu is bent on improving the public service.
The ranks of the political opposition include sterling women. The leadership of women such as Lindwe Mazibuko and Helen Zille in the DA, and the primary role of Mamphela Ramphele in founding the new political party Agang, suggests that the traditional gender norm of political leadership in broader society has been transformed and seems to be growing.
The public recognition and acceptance of women leaders in the ruling party and in the opposition suggests that society has accepted a shift in the notion that political leadership is the preserve of men only. This transformation alone is a significant indicator of our readiness to accept a woman president.
And yet, 20 years on, the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) remains blind to the calibre of women’s leadership that it draws upon historically and that exists in their very own ranks.
This week, the ANCWL supported Clara Ndlovu’s 2012 statement as ANCWL general secretary, that: “We do not have capable leaders.”
The ANCWL seems bedevilled by a lack of confidence in the leadership ability of its own members, despite the overwhelming evidence that women in their ranks are eminently capable of occupying the highest seat of public office in the country.
So what exactly informs the ANCWL’s fear of its members’ own power to lead? They seem to shy from the highest office of power, in a stereotypical mode of disempowered femininity. This suggests an awareness that the existing arrangements within the ruling party itself, which determines how women are elected on to the party list, acts as a powerful constraint to the nomination of a woman as party leader and therefore as presidential candidate.
Their position also suggests a shift in the ANCWL understanding of women’s representation in government for the realisation of substantive economic empowerment of ordinary women, and other vulnerable people, to that of mere individual career survival. Furthermore it suggests that women’s leadership and women’s pathways to leadership in the ruling party have become compromised by a growing reliance upon increasingly conservative male patronage from the top.
And it suggests that the ANCWL is willing to reduce its dreams of a woman in the presidency for paltry political gains of survival in the short term. The question is why this is so. History is key here.
The initial demand for the representation of women in government in the 1990s came on the wave of a strong, broad-based women’s movement, galvanised by the National Women’s Coalition to demand women’s representation at the national negotiations table and in government.
The ANCWL was a beneficiary of this powerful collective demand. The organisation has delinked from its support of that broad-based women’s movement.
In addition, the women’s movement has weakened since those heady days, as its leadership cohort was sucked up into new, more powerful directions and as ordinary women re-channel their support behind broader social issues such as rights to health, land, housing and education and lesbian rights to bodily integrity.
This has meant that women within the ANCWL have become more dependent upon male patronage at a time when the male leadership’s support for women’s empowerment seems to have waned.
Also, the league’s interpretation of women’s political representation seems to be superficial. Political scientists Shireen Hassim and Anne Marie Goetz suggest that we need to turn our focus from a fixation on the numbers of women represented in Parliament and the cabinet to look more closely at the institutional arrangements in our political system that impinge upon the support and greater empowerment of women in the cabinet.
Women’s reliance upon male patronage within the ruling party is ultimately disempowering in the long term.
The transformation of women’s political rights into more substantive rights to bodily integrity and economic independence cannot be left to the women in Parliament. We ordinary women who constitute the demographic majority in this country will be left isolated from power, if we are not prepared to re-galvanise the women’s movement, across our differences, and hold women in politics accountable.
Or will we too stand on the sidelines clapping? We have had a taste of gendered freedom under Madiba, we cannot go back now.
* Elaine Salo is the director of the Institute for Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Pretoria.
Debate creates an impression that the league wants to act outside ANC resolutions, says Nomfanelo Kota.
Addressing a conference of the ANC women’s section in 1981 in Angola, former president Oliver Reginald Tambo stated that women in the ANC should not treat themselves as “second-class citizens”, and that they had a responsibility to ensure that society believed that women were as capable as any man of holding critical leadership roles.
True to his statement he later appointed Lindiwe Mabuza as an ANC chief representative during the days when this was a rare occurrence within the party. Mabuza went on to become South Africa’s first democratic representative to Germany and served as our high commissioner to the UK.
She often tells the story of how she almost collapsed when Tambo appointed her, and how she cried, believing she was not worthy.
Similarly, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma often shares the story of when former president Thabo Mbeki called her to let her know she would serve as the minister of foreign affairs, she replied, “But Mr President, I am just a medical doctor, how will I run foreign affairs?” Mbeki said he needed exactly the skills she possessed to turn around our diplomatic corps.
It is now on record that during her tenure as minister of foreign affairs, Dlamini-Zuma ensured that we deployed the crème de la crème of our competent women as ambassadors, high commissioners and consul generals all over the world. It’s a record that current Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane continues to uphold.
Our diplomatic representatives have their fair share of young, intelligent and able representatives.
When Nelson Mandela became our first democratic president in 1994, his office was managed by very capable women.
The late Mary Mxadana, Ambassador Barbara Masekela who served in our Washington DC office, as well as Cheryl Carolus and Jessie Duarte, who both occupy senior positions in business and in the ANC.
So, our history of women empowerment within the ANC is awash with many examples of women who have played leading roles in institutions of governance in our country.
Gill Marcus, who once served at the Department of Information and Publicity at Shell House, is now handling our monetary and fiscal policy at the Reserve Bank with ease and finesse.
This undisputed track record shines when compared with the advances women have made in the internal ANC structures and, as we reach the 20-year mark, we need to reflect on what we can do to influence these structures to think about and deploy women to positions of influence, such as the presidency.
Ideally, the debate should gain momentum in the 2017 national conference to prepare the ground for 2019.
As gender activists we have made strides since the 1991 national conference in KwaZulu-Natal.
However, the struggle for gender equality is more protracted and strenuous than the struggle for racial equality. This is so because it deals with structural and societal values. Even opposition parties battle with this phenomenon. Yes, they may have women as leaders of the organisations, but often the executive members that surround them are men.
A case in point is the DA led by Helen Zille. Agang is led by Mamphela Ramphele, but I am not aware of any major strides they have made in deploying their women at senior levels.
Similarly Zanele kaMgawaza-Msibi’s National Freedom Party outfit. I do not even want to attempt a headcount of women leaders within the PAC or Azapo, the Freedom Front Plus and other like-minded parties.
ANC members are a microcosm of our society. There is a silent backlash against the radical measures we have taken towards equal representation within the ANC and government.
Sexists at all levels of society within and outside the ANC are not happy with gender equality and attempt daily to frustrate it.
Yes, the world is changing. Sierra Leone has Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as president, and Zimbabwe’s vice-president Joyce Mujuru has been at the helm for many years. In Malawi, President Joyce Banda has been in power since last year. In all these cases, the women had to fight to occupy these positions – they were not handed to them on a silver platter.
When we demanded gender equality at the World Trade Centre in Kempton Park during the negotiations about our democratic dispensation, women fought very hard but were told that they were not ready. This was in 1991 at the Groote Schuur Minute archival material. You can only see Cheryl Carolus and Mme Ruth Mompati in some of the photographs in a sea of men.
At the Durban ANC national conference women proposed 30 percent representation, and were old they needed to be empowered first. When women later demanded 50 percent, some of the women who are now beneficiaries of the quota were the very same ones who cast doubt on the idea and said it was unattainable. Today, we have 50 percent representation as reinforced in both the Polokwane and Mangaung resolutions.
This once more demonstrates that women are more than ready to lead the ANC both inside and outside government including the presidency.
What is the reality though?
The recent Mangaung ANC conference in December 2012 elected men to occupy the office of the presidency in the ANC.
That this disregards the wishes of women puts a dampener on realising this objective. It basically means that the face of the ANC elections campaign is President Zuma – this is the resolution of a conference that we were party to and we cannot alter this historic fact.
The timing of the debate is rather unsettling at this point as it creates an impression that the ANC Women’s League wants to act outside of conference resolutions. So, bound by ANC discipline, although sympathetic to the vision of a woman occupying the presidency one day, we cannot act outside of this.
Realistically, what women in the ANC need to do is influence both branch, regional and provincial conferences to appoint women as branch chairpersons, secretaries, as well as regional and provincial tiers of the movement.
Gradually their critical mass will fill up the echelons of power so that their upward mobility is seen as organic and not a charitable cause. To set the record straight, the ANC Women’s League is not opposed to the idea of a woman occupying the presidency. We have had women before in the positions of deputy president – Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (2005 to 2008) and Baleka Mbete (2008 to 2009). They served their terms well and with distinction.
However, we need to work much harder to ensure that organisational practices, cultures and traditions that stifle women’s development and progress within the ANC are addressed at all levels of the organisation without being seen to destabilise it.
If we fail to do this, we would have failed the women of 1956 who marched to realise gender equality.
* Nomfanelo Kota is former deputy secretary general of the ANCYL.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.