Jen Thorpe

Elections analysis: Agang

Jen Thorpe

Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

South Africa has more women in parliament than any other country in Africa, with the exception of Rwanda, and more women in cabinet than any other country in the world, again except Rwanda and Scandinavia. “Yet we have a pandemic of gender-based violence in this country,” Ramphele told the crowd. “Why? Because we didn’t do the work that enabled men to live with strong women and for strong women to bring up strong men and for women to stand up.” – Sourced from this article on the Daily Maverick 

Woman at the top, but woman for women?

Agang’s have never contested in elections before, so there is no way of telling who they will put in Government or Parliament if they win their seats this time around. We also can’t evaluate them on past behaviour. So all we have to go by is what’s on the surface. They are one of two parties with a female political leader at the head of the party (the other being the DA – analysis on them to follow), but thus far a female political leader has not necessarily meant a feminist political leader.

Could Mamphele Ramphele become South Africa’s first female President? She is no stranger to firsts – she was one of the first people to be detained under the Terrorism Act, the first South African to hold a managing director position at the World Bank and the first black female Vice Chancellor of any South African University (UCT). She has an extensive academic background and is a qualified medical doctor. She is certainly a leader, but is she a leader for women? She is currently one of only two women in leadership within her party.

Our country is at a crossroads – Agang and policy

Agang’s five political policy areas are economy, education, health, public service, safety and security. A dominant theme is ‘our country is at a crossroads’ suggesting that unless something drastic happens to change the status quo, we are heading for disaster. They have a further section titled ‘Zwakala – Be Heard’ where members of the public (that’s you feminists) can help them to formulate policy on other issues. Currently they are asking for input on black economic empowerment and affirmative action.

In terms of economy, the policy narrative explains that current measures of economic redress have resulted in the creation of political and economic elites rather than achieving the trickle down empowerment of all as hoped. They end the section with “To boost our economy and job creation, we must make decisions based on what’s best for the next generation and the future of South Africa, not short-term political gain.” If it were me, that best thing would be the empowerment of women tout suite.

Their solution is five fold: make government accountable, build infrastructure and create jobs, unleash small businesses, let business get to work, and invest in South Africans. These five targets don’t explicitly mention women, although they do mention other vulnerable groups such as the youth and informal traders – many of whom are women – and the need to economically empower them and provide further opportunities. Mamphele Ramphele also noted in her launch speech, that black women specifically face challenges in accessing their rights.

The April 28 Edition of the Sunday Times this year provided a table on the average monthly earnings of women in South Africa based on the 2011 census. 16 108 650 women provided information on their earnings and of them 8 591 823 (53.34%) did not have any monthly income, and a further 1 025 400 women earned between R1 and R400 per month. Any political party that does not address gender inequality in the labour sphere as a core and explicit part of its economic policy, will perpetuate existing labour conditions.

In terms of education Agang’s plan aims to make South Africa a top ten education system globablly, and to immediately make our pass rate 50%. Strategies to achieve this include: put students first, fill 15 000 teacher vacancies, upgrade infrastructure, set minimum standards and top-up social grants for education results (i.e. they’ll give additional social grant money to families for students who achieve a 70% pass in any year and for matriculation). The last idea is interesting, in that it recognises that a good education requires the support of a family. Whether this idea is financially viable however in terms of a our current economic climate where the 2013 Medium Term Budget Policy Statement introduced significant cost-cutting for departments is not clear. It is also not clear where they will get all the teachers they need to implement this strategy, but that’s a conversation for after elections I suppose (textbook suppliers, please be ready this year).

A major gap from their strategy is ensuring that schools are safe places for learners to go. In 2009 and 2010 alone, there were 81 918 learner pregnancies in SA schools. 1 666 of those learners were between grades 3 and 6 (i.e. between 9 and 12 years old). In terms of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Act 32 of 2007, sex with any child under the age of 12 is rape, and sex with any child under the age of 15 is statutory rape (unless the sex occurs consensually between two children between 12 and 15). Teen pregnancies should be a significant concern of any political party that wants to empower the youth through education, or achieve an economy that grows and is supportive of the people. Teen pregnancies affect girl learners far more significantly than they affect male learners, and it is thus imperative that Agang consider the issue of learner safety as central to their policy on education. Training on sexual health and safety for all teachers and learners is important. If these are not included in a political party’s education strategies, they will leave girl learners behind.

Health:Agang recognises that the health system is in crisis and is largely polarised into poorly equipped public health for the average South African, and well equipped and serviced private medical care for the wealthy few. Positively, Agang recognises child and maternal mortality as two issues that are highly problematic. Their plan to solve the crisis includes: increasing health professionals (including the re-opening of nursing colleges), expanding local control (strengthening district and provincial health care systems, making public hospitals non-profits and using the private sector to run supply chains), making performance transparent, increasing private sector access (by providing tax incentives for private providers to work in the public sector and letting the private sector run some public assets) and turning around health outcomes by tackling HIV, TB, maternal and child mortality.

Access to adequate health care is essential for women, and it is true that in some areas in South Africa this is simply not happening. The two leading causes of maternal mortality in SA are HIV/AIDS and high blood pressure. These deaths are preventable and something must change. However, Agang’s drive to privatise much of our health care makes me profoundly uncomfortable. I’m left with questions like: how will we ensure that medicines remain affordable for the average South African if the supply chain is privatised? How will we ensure that if public health facilities are transformed into non-profit entities they will not face the same funding challenges that other non-profits are facing as the government insufficiently funds them and international donors move elsewhere? How will we ensure that our National and Provincial health policies do not become problematically controlled by the interest of pharmaceutical giants and corporations?

Another critical issue that seems to have been left out is the expansion of access to health care through mobile clinics which are able to reach areas where there are simply no health facilities, and the building of more health care facilities in general, though this is mentioned briefly in their ‘vision’ section. If it were me writing the policies here I would also include something on the increased access to contraception and termination of pregnancy facilities so that all women are able to make choices related to their fertility and sexual health. At the moment, it is simply not clear what they think about those issues.

Public service is really the policy section where Agang comes out swinging, and if you monitored any of the initial statements made back when they were just a ‘political party platform’ you will realise that they are a party that is sick and tired of corruption. They site the fact that only 22% of Government Departments received clean audits in 2012, as well as the presence of politicians who have already been found to be corrupt within government (many have just moved to another department e.g. Bathabile Dlamini, the Minister of Social Development, a vital department in securing support and empowerment for women). Their solution includes the introduction of new legislation to ban government officials and their families from conducting business with government as well as legislation to protect whistleblowers. It also includes the allocation of better budgets to the auditor general and public protector, and the ban of officials found guilty of corruption from running for office, holding government positions, or receiving government contracts for five years. Finally it includes training all government officials and employees in anti-corruption requirements.

These suggestions sound promising – especially given the fact that a number of Departments, including the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, have experienced corruption in the past. Thankfully the Department of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities undertook to root out corruption, however it is certain that those resources could surely have been better used to support the rights of women. Perhaps an additional policy should be the cancellation of all events that do not have a measurable impact in terms of the lives of the population they are meant to serve. See Helen Moffett’s take on this here.

In terms of Safety and Security Agang sites a lack of South African Police Service capacitation, high crime levels, and a lack of convictions as major problems. Their solutions include hiring more police, investing in the police financial and other resources, de-militarising the police, training police, ensuring that police work more closely with communities and private security companies, and improving and investing in the national database that manages and tracks crime.

Through the articulation of the problem in this way, Agang situates the essence of the problem of violence and crime with the police, rather than the largely dysfunctional justice system as a whole. To my mind, it seems imperative that police are equipped both in terms of human and financial resources (and please god, with debriefing so they are all not traumatised by the thousands of scary situations they are placed in daily). However, it also requires that that the Department of Justice and the Department of Correctional Services are equally equipped to convict perpetrators of crime, and to ensure that when they are incarcerated they are able to develop and reform respectively. If not, they are either not arrested, not prosecuted, or released whilst still a danger to society.

In addition, their problem statement and solution does not mention violence against women specifically as part of the problem, despite the scary prevalence of this in South Africa. They also don’t discuss how much of the violence that is perpetrated in South Africa occurs in the home – an area that makes policing incredibly difficult. A stronger and clearer focus on this would do much to strengthen Agang’s policy in this regard. However, it is clear that the fact that violence against women is a complex issue is understood by Ramphele, as her statement in her piece on Women’s Day suggests:

From our family behaviour, to the violent anger of some men, to the police handling of victims and the ability of the judicial system to successfully prosecute rape and abuse cases, the distortion of patriarchal traditional societal norms and the numbed reaction to stories of horrible acts, we are in danger of sending the message to victims that it is something normal, something that women just have to deal with.

The fact is that violence against women is an extreme symptom of the failure of our democracy to provide opportunities for all South Africans. It is a manifest failure of government to address the humiliation of men, especially black men at the hands of apartheid.  The disempowerment that men feel is taken out against women closest to them.

Women’s role

Agang’s Interim Constitution provides for the establishment of a Women’s Forum. As yet, it’s not clear whether this has been established. This year, Agang released a statement on Women’s Day that was in line with most political party’s rhetoric on the celebration of women past, the praise for women present, and the hope for women future (somehow this is reminiscent of Scrooge). I have mentioned some of the other statements that came out of that speech, but one statement (about the praise of women present and past) caught my attention:

Women have power that remains under-utilized in our society.  Women in my life understood the power that is women – their essential role as bearers and nurturers of future generations of both men and women, their capacity to be connectors of the extended family, their ability to empathize with the vulnerable, their organizational abilities to collaborate to tackle complex problems and their capacity for joy. 

I think the picture that this paints of women and their role is extremely tied to patriarchal gender-norms that imply that women are nice and caring and want to make babies so that the population can thrive, and go on to become the economy that we need. But, this implicit essentialising of women’s empathy and men’s anger doesn’t really do much to challenge gender norms. It seems to suggest that we can all keep the gender roles that fitted in well in the old system, get rich, and be happy. I don’t think so. I think something more fundamental needs to shift in our perception of women’s strengths and men’s weaknesses. Gender inequality is bad for everyone because it limits our ideas of what men and women can be, and are in their essence.

Gaps: A clear section on furthering the rights of women, LGBTI people, the disabled, and children could add some pinache and would indicate the strategic thinking that is required to make real change. I also think that a section on their energy and environmental commitments is important given the fact that climate change and our carbon intensive energy commitments will have a negative impact on the environment and will result in further scarcity which negatively impacts women most profoundly.

Overall, there is potential, especially for feminists like you to get involved and contribute to policy. I recommend that you do. If you do, let us know how it goes. 

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