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Patriarchy still at centre of woman president debate

The writer believesthat South Africa has long been ready to be led by a woman as has been demonstrated by the number of smart, tough women and their fierce loyalty to the cause and South Africa.

The writer believesthat South Africa has long been ready to be led by a woman as has been demonstrated by the number of smart, tough women and their fierce loyalty to the cause and South Africa.

Published Sep 3, 2017


Thami ka Plaatjie in his article in The Sunday Independent of the July 30 asserts: “The reality is a dawn for South Africa where the candidacy of women for the highest office may be too compelling to shrug off.”

I for one believe that South Africa has long been ready to be led by a woman as has been demonstrated by the number of smart, tough women and their fierce loyalty to the cause and South Africa.

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The ANC declares 50/50 gender representation at all party levels, meaning for the first time a woman can be elected as president. This quota broadened access routes and increased the pool of women who were eligible.

But a woman could not be nominated and elected as president of the ANC because of the internal dynamics. For a woman in the ANC to ultimately find a seat at the table, they first have to pass the ANC test. That test is found in the decision-making procedures of the ANC, consisting of formal rules, informal practices and customs.

Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga, the former president of the ANC Women’s League, aptly puts it: “The environment we operate in as women has made it difficult even for the ANC itself to recognise the best it has in women and give them their rightful place.”

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The environment she is referring to is the one steeped in patriarchy, sexism and machismo, where women have been following rather than leading. The unwritten rule is that only men are capable leaders and women must follow and, in fact, be complicit in the election of men to key leadership positions at the expense of women.

Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa could not have argued better when she said: “Challenging and dismantling patriarchal attitudes within party structures that result in men being elected over women time and again will not follow a straight line.”

This statement is telling as it explains why for 23 years the ANCWL and the ANC failed to elect a woman as president, the straight line has always dictated and demanded that women defer their political ambitions for the sake of party loyalty and solidarity and that if they were to challenge patriarchy then they would be seen to be destructive - and therefore silenced.

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However, in 2014 we woke up to a new reality when the current ANC president, Jacob Zuma, promised that South Africa might have a woman president sooner than expected.

The chief had spoken and it shall be done.

Testament to this is the ANCWL, who praised the president for championing the women’s cause.

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The country is gripped with presidential election fever, with three women who have indicated their readiness and willingness to lead South Africa, namely Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Baleka Mbete and Lindiwe Sisulu.

The decision to make themselves available for the position of the ANC presidency was thanks to President Jacob Zuma, who single-handedly decided on the ANCWL’s behalf that now the ANC could elect a woman to lead it.

Surely we would have expected the ANCWL to lead the charge to elect a woman as president but I guess they could not do so until the president opened the door for them.

Mmanaledi Mataboge’s analysis of the ANCWL suggests that the mainstreaming of gender in our national politics has not been because of the efforts of the ANCWL (among others), but in spite of them. It is only after Zuma had opened the door that the ANCWL at its 2014 policy conference started adopting a matching pro-woman president stance.

Let us then ask the question, why has this 105-year-old organisation never elected a woman president or deputy president? And why is it that the ANC now punts a woman candidacy? And why is it that the ANCWL couldn’t over the years since the unbanning of the ANC put forth a woman as a candidate for the ANC presidency and shatter the fortified glass ceiling?

My answer is that masculinity and patriarchy are at the centre of where we find ourselves in the raging debate about a woman president for the ANC and the country.

Men in the ANC have abrogated to themselves to decide on what is good for women in the ANC and the country at large. They determine when women are ready to lead, which woman should lead and which position is suitable for that woman.

Gwede Mantashe did not disappoint, not so long ago, when the party was faced with the motion of no confidence in Zuma, when he boldly commented that the motion could not be allowed to succeed as there would not be any successor.

Can we read from the statement that if that motion had succeeded, Speaker of Parliament Balela Mbete would have been the logical choice to succeed Zuma until elections were held? In Mantashe’s mind, Mbete is not fit to lead, but the ANC branches hold a different view and might just elect her at the ANC elective conference in December.

The women who are co-opted into serving the interests of the capitalist patriarchy make the situation complex. However, since then we have heard arguments from certain ANC quarters that anyone in the ANC can lead, irrespective of gender.

I believe that a woman should be elected as president of the ANC not only because other nations have shown it is possible but also we as a country have been strong proponents of equality.

When Hilary Clinton was asked what it meant to be a woman running for president, she said she was proud to be running as a woman, “but I was running because I thought I would be the best president”.

If we are to stay true to our constitutional values, there should not be a debate about whether South Africa is ready for a woman president. Mindsets have changed and there is an acceptance towards women in leadership positions. We are not focusing on personalities but rather on distinct political platforms.

Would it be a feast if all political parties field women candidates for president in 2019? That would be a clear demonstration from the male-centred political parties that sexism has no place in our body politic.

The importance of electing a woman president cannot be taken for granted. The struggle for women’s emancipation has been a long, painful and arduous one. It is just to expect that any woman in this country can lead it into prosperity and it is not men only who are anointed to lead nations and countries.

Twenty thousand women marched in protest at the pass laws in 1956 and risked their lives to bring an end to discrimination. Their sacrifices cannot be in vain.

Many women who protest against inequality, taxation on sanitary pads, violence against women and rape, their voices cannot be in vain. I do not subscribe to the notion that we cannot elect a woman president.

It looks like that will be a reality in December. But we expect that the woman candidate who will finally clinch the party’s coveted presidential crown will not be intimidated by the position and become perceived by the party or other powerful political players as lacking confidence.

We might disagree on who those candidates are but we cannot use their gender to exclude anyone from running for office because the system is stacked against them.

* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Sunday Independent

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