It can’t be easy being the political party that was voted in during the country’s euphoria and trying to change a country that has been segregated for centuries. But here we are getting ready for 2014 and wondering what voting for the ANC again would mean for women.
As the ruling party since 1994 it has an interesting track record when it comes to the role women have played in the party and the policies that have been made pertaining to women. On paper the ANC supports women wholeheartedly, it even created a ministry for Women, children and people with Disabilities (which it later referred to as the vulnerable group). The ANC is a perfect example of policy that does not always translate into real life changes for many in South Africa.
The manifesto for next year’s election will hopefully released later this year. The delay has to do with the “people-centred” manifesto election campaign which ran until mid-October. The ANC wishes to use this opportunity to keep in touch with communities and return to their belief the “the people shall govern”. Perhaps this indicates that the ANC is nervous about losing touch with “ordinary citizens” hence their focus on community meetings. If women are considered as “part of communities” they should be part of writing up this manifesto.
If we were to go by the previous manifesto, we can see that the ANC has always been invested in “women’s issues” and it would have no reason to change in 2014. The manifesto acknowledges that more needs to be done and I’m sure we’ll see the same sentiments for next year’s election:
“Unemployment is unacceptably high among our people. There is a special challenge amongst African women, rural persons and young people.”
This acknowledgment is as far as it goes for women, especially working class women. In addition, there is silence on the need of addressing the rights of the LGBTI community. It seems corrective rape and violence against gay and lesbian people is subsumed under and issue of safety and security.
If it were purely a matter of statistics and meeting quotas, no one could fault the ANC on their female representation in Parliament, or on the number of women who belong to the organisation. It is however not just the numbers which matter, women in the upper echelons of the ANC don’t seem to have much of a presence, or stand out as political leaders. The challenge with the ANC and the representation of women, where there have been female ministers in the party, we’ve seen corruption (Thanks Dina Pule, Bathabile Dlamini) and homophobia (remember Lulu Xingwana’s faux pas?).
National Executive Council
The top three most notable women who serve on the National Executive Council are Baleka Mbete, Jesse Duarte and Ruth Nozabelo Bhengu. (Baleka Mbete is currently being investigated on bribery and corruption charges.)
The ANC shares an election platform with the SACP and COSATU. It is also noteworthy that neither of these organisation, have women at the helm or in senior positions. The most senior women on both executives serve as treasurers, they are Fresa Osothuysen for COSATU and Joyce Moloi-Moropa for the SACP.
There are a number of women who serve as Portfolio Committee and Select Committee chairs, covering a range of issues.
- Mrs Elsie Coleman- Econnomic Development
- Ms Ruth Nozabelo Bhengu –Transport
- Mrs Beauty Dambuza- Human Settlements
- Ms Joanmariae- Trade and Industry
- Mrs Helen Malgas- Basic Education
- Mrs Margaret Maunye- Home Affairs
- Mrs Joyce Moloi-Moropa- Public Services and Administration
- Ms Goodness Nhlengethwa- Co-operative governance and traditional affairs
- Mrs Mapula Ramodibe- Women, children and people with disabilities
- Ms Thandile Sunduza- Arts and Culture
- Ms Mamosoeu Wendy Makgate – Education and recreation
- Ms Malesane Priscilla Themba – Labour and public enterprises
- Ms Agnes Noluthando Daphne Qikani – Land and environmental affairs
- Ms Rachel Nomonde Rasmeni – Social services
- Ms Bertha Peace Mabe – Women, children and people with disabilities
In her speech on heritage day, Hon. Ramodibe, Chairperson of the PC on Women, Children and People with Disabilities pointed to the ongoing struggle for equality between the sexes and the social and economic problems that continue to plague the country.
“Women continue to face the challenge of gender-based abuse, a practice which persists stubbornly despite numerous legislative and programmatic interventions by the ANC government. The people of South Africa must together refuse to allow this scourge to be a part of their heritage. We must, together use all the constitutional instruments at our disposal to fight gender based violence. A necessary part of the struggle against patriarchy and gender based violence is to continue engage in the struggle to bring about the national democratic society as envisioned by the ANC.”
MPs in Parliament should be based on the experiences of their constituents. Questions posed to the Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities in Parliament are rarely about programmes instituted by the Ministry or about discussions around solving issues facing women in the country. Many of the questions focus on staffing and the budget including questions on relating to money spent on cars and events. As the Department that is tasked with furthering women’s rights, it is disappointing that oversight is not about issues.
Legislation – the good, the bad, the ugly
The ANC has always maintained that it is a party based on non-racialism and non-sexism. Indeed, the ANC has supported progressive legislation during its time as the ruling party. The South African Constitution is the envy of every law professor. The Constitution serves as the guiding light to our law-makers and very few could ever fault the human rights based legislation of the land. The ANC was at the forefront of much of this legislation, and though these laws are very important as they form the backbone of our nation, our political leaders and public servants need to make the legislation come to life by making these laws relevant to the population, and by conducting thorough oversight of the Departments tasked with implementing them.
A few examples of legislation that further women’s right to be free from violence include the Sexual Offences Act (2007) which established statutory sexual offices, special protection for children and those with mental disabilities; the Domestic Violence Act (1998) which makes for provision for victims of domestic abuse to seek protection orders and the Protection from Harassment Act (2011) which provides legal resource for those who are victims of direct and even indirect harassment via the internet and social media platforms like Facebook and Mxit. In addition, the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act (1996) enabled women to have access to abortion – something that was incredibly progressive for a largely conservative society.
However, it hasn’t been all good. Recently, legislation such as the Traditional Courts Bill has begun to reverse progress made. The Bill has been under the spotlight as a law that is doing women no favours, alienating women from political power structures, and entrenching the patriarchal system of Traditional Courts in rural areas. A substantial amount has been written about the flaws with this piece of legislation, but in essence it is a clear example of choosing political power over women’s rights. The Bill was sent back to the Provinces late this year despite very little support for it.
The Women’s League
The ANC Women’s league (ANCWL) is by far one of the most infamous organisations for women in South Africa. Until President Zuma’s rape trial in 2006 the organisation had largely been quiet and associated with Women’s Day celebrations. A quick scan of the website images evokes nostalgia with images of organisation stalwarts such as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Helen Joseph, Ray Alexander, Lillian Ngoyi, Dorothy Nyembe.
The Women’s League defines its objectives as follows:
“to defend and advance the rights of women, both inside and outside the ANC, against all forms of national, social and gender oppression and to ensure that women play a full role in the life of the organisation, in the people’s struggle and in national life.”
The press statements on the website are focused on current issues related to “women’s issues”. The most interesting section on the website has the title “The ANCWL is calling for…” This is an interesting list that one could consider as the standpoint of the ANCWL and first on the list is “an all out eradication of drugs in society” and only third on the list women’s issues are raised.
The ANCWL’s list on the website speaks to the “politics of respectability”. The refers to the idea that in order for women to deserve their rights they ought to behave in a certain way. Prescriptions of how women should act are worrying at the best of times. Perhaps this is a suggestion that the ANCWL knows that it is safer for their member to be mere commentators on issues rather than being renegades and making real demands for government to address gender equality. Indeed, the silences from the ANCWL are more interesting than when the league chooses to speak. As an example, the league was silent in the face of Zwelinzima Vavi’s rape scandal. Their silence on the complexity of the experience of being a woman in South Africa suggests that the ANCWL is only interested in women’s issues insofar as they are within the “politics of respectability”. The politics of respectability speak to the idea that in order to be valued citizens women must endure certain representation in order for their voices to be heard.*
Until the gang rape of the young girl in Dobsonville in 2012 where the ANCWL made a statement voicing their outrage on the issue, the ANCWL could have been described as Zuma’s cheerleaders, or the back up singers to the masculine discourse of the ANC and the tripartite alliance. In 2007 the ANCWL nominated Jacob Zuma as the presidential candidate, dismissing the rape charges against him. At the time many commentators expressed concern at this kind of support from the ANCWL as it was seen as being hostile and in denial that rape is a fundamental matter of equality even when the president-to-be of a country is involved. The ANCWL showed solidarity with an alleged rapist instead of the woman who was involved in the case.
Their reaction was situated within a deep-seated cultural discourse that entrenched the idea that a man has a right to a woman’s body. Their responses entrenched dangerous rape myths that suggest that women frequently lie about rape, and they defended Zuma’s remarks that the complainant’s dress code had something to do with the incident. The ANCWL did not support the woman in this case. They supported the powerful man.
The current leader of the ANCWL is Angie Motshekga. Is it fair to judge her leadership in education as a symptom of why the ANCWL has a questionable voice in South Africa’s political discourse? If so, she’s in trouble. The nature of the political game suggests that Minister Motshekga was given the position (and was not removed in the re-shuffle in July) because the ANCWL supported President Zuma in Polokwane.
A number of questions remain. Can the women’s league be considered as a real voice for women in the ANC? Is it an entity of its own that the ANC should be threatened by? It seems that the ANC needs the ANCWL as a crutch rather than a threat. And being the only political party with an active and visible women’s league, the ANC is going to use this to capture as many women’s votes as possible. Yet, the decision to maintain a women’s league does not seem to be motivated by the need to give women’s issues a voice in the political game, rather women and their support are a means to an end in the political game.
In 2012 the ANC celebrated their centenary. It is interesting to note that in the 100 years that the organisation has been around, it has never once elected a woman as its President. In recent weeks the leader of the ANC Women’s league caused quite a stir when she mentioned that the ANC isn’t ready for a female president. Her comment, though disappointing, is not wholly unexpected due to patronage and factions within the ANC. Sisonke Msimang penned an opinion piece on Motshekga’s comments. In her piece she also makes reference to internal structures and the different camps within the ANC. She is of the belief that the ANCWL made the right choice by backing President Zuma. In her article in the Daily Maverick, she says,
“Women’s League made the right call and that the organisation continues to carefully balance internal party politics with its mandate of promoting gender equality in wider society.”
This raises interesting questions about the position of women in the organisation and whether the supposed influence and leadership of the women’s league is just for show.
Social security for ‘the vulnerable groups’
One of the major issues for the poor and the marginalised (often black women and youth in South Africa) has been the issue of social security. Black women (often grandmothers) are the greatest beneficiaries to the social grant system which government seeks to improve and the ANC has used this as an example of their success of addressing poverty and in meeting the needs of the vulnerable.
Is this a sufficient measure of ensuring that those who depend on social grants can escape the cycle of poverty in light of the burgeoning middle class whose taxes support the livelihood of the poor? This is not to suggest that there’s anything wrong with being a welfare state as redress needs to happen, but if it is happening in a climate where the only way to support poor people is by offering them grants rather than improving the quality of education, then the ANC is failing.
Teen pregnancy is an issue that should concern the ANC. The alarmist response to this issue is one we need to pay close attention to as it both a gendered and classist issue. The ANC’s response has been giving schools carte blanche over the decisions of whether the girls should be allowed to stay in schools. These issues tend to be mired by conservative debate about whether a social grant is encouraging young girls to get pregnant. This is a gendered issue that has been handed over to Minister Angie Motsekga’s office. She we be worried?
Is there hope?
Although there are some strong female leaders within the ANC, it seems like for the most part women within the ANC are quiet and men take the lead and set the agenda for both the ANC and the country at large. It is worrying that the Women’s league chooses not to harness their power to promote a female candidate, after 100 years it really is unfathomable that a woman has never been elected to lead the organization.
It seems that party politics and the aftermath of Mangaung mean that the ANC is more concerned with internal politics and staying afloat while gearing up for the elections next year rather than shifting the discourse in the party for a change of leadership, particularly a woman as a the leader of the ANC.
EDITORS NOTE: At the time of publishing this piece the ANC Women’s League Website appeared to be down.
* The idea has been revisited by Melissa Harris-Perry in her book Sister-Citizen: shame, stereotype and Black women in America