ANC Manifesto: Unsurprisingly unfeminist


Shehnaz Cassim-Moosa
Shehnaz Cassim-Moosa
Athambile Masola
Athambile Masola

By Shehnaz Cassim-Moosa and Athambile Masola

The ANC manifesto was launched in January 2014. There is nothing in the 2014 manifesto that is remarkably different to what has come before. The ANC has recommitted itself to implementing the National Development Plan and as can be expected in such an unequal country, the economy and job creation is at the heart of the manifesto.

Gender equality gets a neat paragraph in the manifesto but again there is nothing new or startling:

In democratic South Africa, women’s voices are heard and women’s issues are seriously addressed. Institutional mechanisms have been established to protect women’s rights and dignity. Progress has been made in freeing women from customs and practices that undermine their rights. Progress in meeting basic needs such as housing and access to water has especially benefited women, redressing past inequalities. More girls are in school and tertiary institutions than ever before and more women are in employment. Women continue to benefit from economic empowerment programmes and they are the major recipients of social security programmes.

Without this paragraph in the manifesto we would have had to concede that the ANC is not interested in women. It would seem that the ANC has adopted an approach of gender mainstreaming, and as such do not address the women as a constituency directly. Gender mainstreaming thus has had the strange effect of making the party gender-blind.

Jobs are an issue for women as much as they are for men yet women are not clearly identified as a category that warrants particular attention. This is despite the fact that unemployment levels are higher for women than they are for men according to the Quarterly Labour Force Surveys over the last four quarters. Skills development is central to women’s lives therefore one can argue that the ANC is concerned about women’s lives by making jobs central to its manifesto. Though South Africa has very progressive legislation on equal pay, a report by the world economic forum, gender gap, reveals that women earn less than men in South Africa. In fact, stats released on FeministsSA this month point to the fact that the average female-headed household in 2011 earned only slightly more than the average male-headed household did in 2001.

This is one among a number of issues that are of concern to women. Gender based violence, is another issue which is addressed by a mention of domestic violence in their section on fighting crime. They suggest that the ANC will

“continue to prioritise incidents of domestic violence and crimes against women and children by further strengthening the Sexual Offences and Community Affairs Unit and pursuing a multi-disciplinary approach in our fight against violence against women and children.”

The suggestion that an ANC-led government has prioritized domestic violence is debatable given the fact that incidents of non-compliance with the Domestic Violence Act are rarely addressed, that no statistics on domestic violence are reported on by the SAPS despite the requirement that each incident is recorded in a domestic violence register, and despite the fact that the state has continued to dis-invest in domestic violence shelters with the result that many women who leave violent relationships have nowhere else to go.

The ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) marched in Pretoria to commemorate the death of Reeva Steenkamp a few months ago. This was a rare public event for the ANCWL. Even skeptics would be forgiven for labeling the march as nothing more than a publicity stunt during an election year. The ANCWL did not take to the streets when the teenager Anene Booysen was brutally raped and murdered, though they did launch a campaign in her name. The ANCWL joining forces with the National Youth Development Agency on the ‘corrective rape’ of lesbians  was one way to mark this challenge. Another, more effective way might have been placing pressure on the Department of Justice to push forward with the National Task Team on LGBTI  violence, or pinpointing the failings in the judicial system. An even more effective one would have been lobbying for better budgeting for women-orientated services. Marching to commemorate the death of celebrity, doesn’t seem genuine given what the crime means in the broader context.

Before the candidate list was revealed there was a briefing flagging the deployment of women in the party and that the list would have 50/50 gender parity. This is expected because as we revealed in our previous analysis, you cannot fault the ANC on paper when it comes to the gender parity issue. Upon release of the list in March, there was little mention about the gender question in the party but rather a focus on the factions in the ANC. The list became about “who of the Zuma-camp have remained?”. The power struggle within the ANC dominated the candidate list of the party.

There were certain women in the party who declined nomination (for example Dr Nkosazana Zuma because of her post with the AU) and placed on the reserve list. While listening to Jesse Duarte on SAfm on the day the list was released it was clear that the process of choosing the list is a complex one that goes through various levels of the party structures (regional, provincial and national) and because of the politics involved at all these levels, it seems that the most important point of contention is factionalism rather than gender parity on the list.

The idea of representation and inclusion is central to the life a democracy. Women make up an estimated 51% of the population, and although women are divided along class and racial lines, the opinions and concerns of women should reverberate at different levels of government, business and civil society. In fact, as of 2013, more women than men were registered to vote.

An important question to unpack is, “are women’s voices really heard within the ruling party.” If we look at the face of the ANC it manages to escape looking like a boys club because people like Naledi Pandor, Bathabile Dlamini, Lindiwe Sisulu, Angie Motshekga, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Ngqakula, Thoko Didiza and Baleka Mbete form the top twenty of the list and Jesse Duarte often speaks on behalf of the ANC. But if one looks closely at the content of what is said, Gwede Mantashe and Cyril Ramaphosa dominate discussion on “issues that matter”. Yes, their positions grant them the honour of being the “face of the ANC” but if the voice of the party is represented in a male body every time it engages with the public on policy issues, should we not be concerned about the women in the party?

There are only three women in the top ten of the ANC list. Naledi Pandor, Bathabile Dlamini, and Lindiwe Sisulu.

When the ANCWL said the ANC was not ready for a female president, women in the party were defensive. There were no dissenting voices, either from the ANC or the ANCWL. This speaks volumes about the future of women in the party. The discourse in the ANC remains masculine and a benevolent patriarchy runs the show; a patriarchy that can say it takes the leadership of women seriously but remains to have men leading the conversation on behalf of the party. This is not a manifesto issue but rather an issue of the culture of the ANC that we should bear in mind when dealing with the ANC.

Men have quite often dominated liberation movements throughout the world, in part because at the time many of these movements came into being, traditional gender roles inhibited women from participating in politics and secondly because of the nature of resistance which at times were violent, men were often more involved in the overthrow of colonial regimes. This has spilled over into a democratic era, where men continue to dominate the political landscape. This is certainly the case with the ANC and it will take a collective and coordinated effort to address this within the ruling party.


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