Woman ON THE EDGE OF TIME

Su­san Shabangu has been at the fore­front of the gen­der strug­gle for three decades and is ready for the chal­lenge of the coun­try’s brand-new min­istry

CityPress - - News - SU­SAN SHABANGU News­maker by Zinhle Ma­pumulo

When Su­san Shabangu was grow­ing up in the then dusty streets of Or­lando, Soweto, boys knew bet­ter than to mess with her.

She wouldn’t hes­i­tate to wrestle a boy to the ground if he dared to talk down to her or treat her badly.

But South Africa’s re­cently ap­pointed Min­is­ter of Women in the Pres­i­dency says those days are long gone. She has no time for phys­i­cal con­fronta­tion.

“With age and life ex­pe­ri­ence I have learnt that talk­ing and per­suad­ing peo­ple to un­der­stand your point works much bet­ter.

“If they refuse to be per­suaded, I ac­cept de­feat and un­der­stand that I can’t al­ways pre­vail.”

Speak­ing to City Press in her pala­tial cor­ner of­fice in the east wing of Pre­to­ria’s Union Build­ings, Shabangu says this lan­guage of de­bate and dis­cus­sion is com­mon­place now – but when she was a child, it was a for­eign con­cept.

She is her fam­ily’s el­dest child and grew up be­liev­ing it was her job to pro­tect and de­fend her sib­lings.

“Be­cause if you as the el­dest suc­cumbed, you got at­tacked by your peers and that meant your sib­lings would suf­fer all the time.”

In her late teens, when the lo­cal boys with ro­man­tic in­ter­ests be­came pushy, the now 58-year- old kicked them to the kerb.

“I never gave space to any boy to abuse or bully me,” she says.

“Boys knew that when they tried to twist my arm or slap me I would fight them. If they win they win, if I win that would be it.”

Her in­volve­ment in pol­i­tics dur­ing the tor­rid 1970s ce­mented her com­mit­ment to beat­ing sex­ism – as well as racism and any other form of dis­crim­i­na­tion, she says.

In 1976, she was in Grade 11 – right at the fore­front of the June 16 Soweto up­ris­ings. She knew her in­volve­ment in the protests was putting her life and her fam­ily’s in dan­ger, but says she could not “al­low the fu­ture of a black child to be de­stroyed”.

As the flames in Soweto and other town­ships died down, Shabangu’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer be­gan.

She joined the ANC’s un­der­ground struc­tures and, about three years later she and other ac­tivists were given the task of re­viv­ing the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s women’s move­ment.

The move­ment had to be sim­i­lar to the ANC Women’s League, which had been banned about two decades ear­lier.

She and her col­leagues, all women, trav­elled through­out South Africa speak­ing to ANC stal­warts like Al­bertina Sisulu. Un­til then, they had only ever read about the strug­gle vet­er­ans in news­pa­pers.

“We learnt a lot from them about ad­vanc­ing the in­ter­ests of women and en­sur­ing their rights are re­alised. Some of those lessons are still rel­e­vant in my cur­rent po­si­tion and I will con­tinue to use them.” In­deed they are. Shabangu’s man­date in her new post – it was cre­ated by Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma in May as he started his sec­ond term in of­fice – is to bring women’s em­pow­er­ment and gen­der equal­ity into the main­stream.

She has to do this by mon­i­tor­ing and eval­u­at­ing whether the pro­grammes govern­ment and the pri­vate sec­tor have set up are ac­tu­ally work­ing. It’s too early for a score­card, but the for­mer min­is­ter of min­eral re­sources and deputy min­is­ter of safety and se­cu­rity in­sists she’s more than ca­pa­ble of do­ing the job. With a back­ground in the male-dom­i­nated labour move­ment – she’s a for­mer as­sis­tant sec­re­tary for the Fed­er­a­tion of SA Women and the Fed­er­a­tion of Transvaal and na­tional women’s co­or­di­na­tor for the Trans­port and Gen­eral Work­ers Union and served on Cosatu’s na­tional women’s sub­com­mit­tee – she feels well equipped to cham­pion women’s in­ter­ests.

“Be­ing a woman in the labour move­ment was not easy those days. You had to work twice as hard to get the recog­ni­tion, and the fact that our peers had grown up in a pa­tri­ar­chal so­ci­ety was not help­ing.

“But we pushed for equal­ity and for men to un­der­stand that some­times there are women who are more ca­pa­ble than men. My ap­proach was that if we worked to­gether we would suc­ceed.”

She cred­its the gov­ern­ing party with teach­ing her about equal­ity.

“The party has al­ways been in­clu­sive and recog­nised that women played an im­por­tant role in the lib­er­a­tion of South Africans. When they looked at us they saw po­ten­tial.”

Po­ten­tial is one thing, but the ANC has never had a fe­male pres­i­dent, nor even in­cluded a woman’s name on its pres­i­den­tial can­di­date list.

The Min­is­ter of Women is op­ti­mistic that things are chang­ing fast.

“We are ready to have a woman for pres­i­dent. There are many women within the ANC who can lead the party and coun­try. They have been groomed to take this po­si­tion and I be­lieve the time has fi­nally come.”

PHOTO: LEON SADIKI

IN CHARGE Su­san Shabangu at her Union Build­ings of­fice in Pre­to­ria

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