Picture: Tracy Adams/African News Agency (ANA) – Despite the huge numbers of women members of political parties, when the grand tale of leadership through the ages is told, women are likely to feature as little more than a footnote, the writer says.
By Kim Heller
Back in 2013, the President of the African National Congress Women’s League (ANCWL), Angie Motshekga, said that South Africa was not ready for a female president. “We know the ANC,” she said, “We understand the ANC, we understand the ANC processes, and no one wants to go into a futile battle. There are traditions, there are processes, and those processes have a long, long life.”
Motshekga said, “It’s not like in the ANC these men are ready to lose their power.”
Today, nine years on, it appears as if there is still a vote of no confidence in women leadership. Last weekend’s ANC KwaZulu Natal provincial conference was a showpiece of male domination, with testosterone loaded slates, and a dismal show of support in female leadership. In the end Nomagugu Simelane, emerged as the only women in the new provincial leadership.
It should not surprise one for the ANC does not have a single woman provincial chairperson. Simelane was elected as deputy provincial chairperson. In the patriarchal patterning of party politics, it is common practice that when women are elected or appointed to political positions, it is in a deputy role.
It is as if the natural order of things is for women to play second fiddle to men. As if in the Garden of Eden in biblical times, Eve was a deputy to Adam.
It is not only in the ANC , or in South Africa, that women leaders are second to men. The story is more or less the same across the world. When the grand tale of political leadership through the ages is told, women are likely to feature, unfairly so, as little more than a footnote. It is a faultline, created by men, that can only be corrected by women themselves.
In the ANC KZN’s provincial conference, a young seemingly capable female candidate, Nomusa Dube-Ncube was nominated from the floor but failed to muster the required 25 percent from delegates, despite the high number of women present and powered to vote at the conference. One cannot forget how when Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was nominated as deputy president, from the floor at the ANC’s 1997 electoral conference, she too was snubbed by women.
Is it perhaps that women are the biggest roadblock in their very own path?
In December 2014, Mmanaledi Mataboge, political editor of the Mail & Guardian wrote an article entitled, ‘The ANCWL is an Obstacle to Gender Equality’.
Mataboge writes, “The ANC Women’s League must die. Its purpose in the ruling party and the county has become worthless to its constituency, the women of South Africa.” Mataboge argues that “Women in the ANC have become cheerleaders for male leaders and do little to advance their own cause. The ANCWL is an obstacle to gender equality.”
In 2017 the ANCWL took a decision to support Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma for president but she did not win, in spite of being the most qualified of all candidates.
Just last week, at a memorial service to honour Jesse Duarte, former President Thabo Mbeki spoke of how the ANCWL has the potential to be the most powerful political group in South Africa but that it was failing to mobilise its numbers to bring social and political change.
That Jesse Duarte, ANC deputy secretary-general, was the only women in the ANC’s top 6 is a telling indictment of the party’s inability to translate gender policies into practice. Duarte was said to have been troubled by the lack of women representation in the party.
Despite the progressive paper policies of the ANC on gender equity in terms of actual political representation and participation, leadership remains a largely male preserve. This imbalance and under-representation is not unique to South Africa.
That women have yet to take centre-stage in politics is a global phenomenon. Just 24 countries in the world have woman as heads of state or government. Africa does not fare well. The 2021 Women’s Political Participation (WPP) Africa Barometer found that across fifty-four African countries, a mere 12 percent of top party leadership positions were held by women, and only seven of top political leadership positions; that of president, vice president, prime minister or deputy prime minister were occupied by women.
On Parliamentary representation, South Africa performs reasonably well. In mid-2021, the Inter-Parliamentary Union ranked South Africa 11th in the World for women’s representation at a parliamentary level, and the second highest in Africa, after Rwanda.
But the bar is low, with the exception of Rwanda which is way ahead of other African countries. With over 60 percent of Parliament and the cabinet made up of women, Rwanda is a shining example of gender representation.
Of all the parties in the South African Parliament, the ANC and EFF have the highest representation of women (49 percent and 48 percent respectively according to Parliamentary records for January 2 to February 1, 2019), while the DA stands at 32 percent, the UDM and IFP at just 20 percent.
Of all the political parties it is perhaps the women in the EFF that enjoy strongest political expression, due to party set quotas and the youth and exuberance of this young party. Of the EFF’s top six, three are women.
Every year on the eve of women’s month, a gluttony of gender issues bosom out of media columns.
It is a tired call, on repeat, annually. A ritual so ingrained in a cycle of roll call for gender parity that is spoken but never heard. It is a ruse. Media has been complicit in keeping women and women issues on the sidelines.
An example of this is found in research conducted by the Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) during the 2019 election, which found extremely limited political coverage of women and gender related issues. The MMA report was aptly entitled “So much choice, but not enough voice?”
But in the end, it is women themselves who will need to stop curtsying to patriarchy or waiting patiently in the wings for male permission or affirmation. An interesting report issued by UN Women reported that as of September 2021, there were 26 women serving as heads of states or govenements in 24 countries.
At the current rate the report stated “gender equality in the highest positions of power will not be reached for another 130 years”. It looks like women are not set to rule the world any time soon.
Former President Barack Obama said “If more women were put in charge, there would be less war, kids would be better taken care of and there would be a genera l improvement in living standards and outcomes.”
Research from One Earth Future Foundation Foundation found that more women into elected office often leads to more peaceful foreign policy and a more robust democracy at home. When women lead, women do benefit.
An example of this is how former president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet implemented several significant policies that advanced women’s rights including protection for victims of domestic violence, workplace discrimination, and better access to childcare.
Bachelet spoke of how her election was seen as a “cultural breaks with the past. ”Women say that my election represents a cultural break with the past — a past of sexism, of misogyny”.
As the ANC heads towards its policy conference this weekend one can only hope that women and women issues take centre stage. It is long overdue.
Heller is a political analyst and author of ‘No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa.’