SA’s first female president will inherit a of problems that a candidate outside the women’s league is better suited to handle
hen she arrives, it might be best that South Africa’s first female president does not emerge from the ANC Women’s League.
Don’t get me wrong. I know the league’s role in our liberation; in mine. Those brave women who marched to the Union Buildings in 1956 to petition against the pass laws – with the rallying cry that those who struck a woman struck a rock – laid the foundation for a sea change in the lives of many women.
The struggle they led strengthened the foundations of a women’s movement that would ensure that gender equality was enshrined in our Constitution.
From it, the employment equity and empowerment laws unfurled, all of which have given a new generation undreamed-of opportunities. Untrammelled honour belongs to the women in green and black.
But this week’s league conference revealed that the organisation’s role is now largely historical.
League president Angie Motshekga was vocal this week, decrying the patriarchy in the ANC and warning that the party’s cowboys were using the women as voting fodder.
By her account, women have become marionettes of men in power.
This is why the societal assumption that a female president will come from, and be endorsed by, the women’s league is not a prospect that fills me with joy.
If, for example, a female candidate emerges only to add gender fuel to a faction that wants to stay in power when the ANC chooses its next leader in 2017, then what is the use?
It matters nothing for women and matters all for the group, which may be using her candidature to seal their positions and access to resources.
The ANC is Africa’s oldest liberation movement and it gave birth to the democratic era, but it is now saddled with corrosive cronyism where the lucrative public procurement system and all-powerful state have become the organising impetus in the party. Corruption has eaten at its soul and the party’s progressive agenda has been consumed by gluttony and the heartburn brought on by overconsumption.
Take this example. The fallout of Nkandla – the R246 million spent on upgrading the president’s residence in northern KwaZulu-Natal – has overshadowed all aspects of state.
The presidency, the department of public works, the police ministry and Parliament have spent months engaging on a series of reports in various committees as the ANC desperately tries to end the scandal.
This time could have been focused on implementing policy and engaging a jobs and economic crisis that is socially disastrous and politically risky.
Like Brazil’s governing Workers’ Party, the ANC spends more time defending itself against corruption and scandal than it does governing.
Though I would love an inaugural female president, it will be a tough inheritance for her. In Brazil, President Dilma Rousseff carries a rocky inheritance as she battles a graft scandal that not only predates her, but far eclipses Nkandla.
Politics in the governing ANC does not allow the cream to rise to the top. Electoral battles are Byzantine and Machiavellian – exercises in power play usually built around a significant resource base. Allegations of vote-buying at all levels of party conferences are common, but difficult to prove. Unless this system is cleaned up, South Africa will not get the woman it needs and deserves. And our first female president will not survive.
The first prescription to allow her to rise is to change the voting system. A mixed model with a direct presidential election will turn up different leadership candidates.
It would be good if the country had a say in electing its president, although the proviso is that such a system also allows populists to rise.
I think our country needs a mixture of political sass and technocratic expertise in its leader. A globalist will be good, but somebody has to be able to be good at politics. A platform that revolves around constitutional values will ensure a progressive candidate. A modernist after 10 years of traditionalism will be a propelling force – and it will be nice if she only had a single spouse.
Our confused economic policy and declining economy point to a 21st-century requirement for leadership – you have to be able to negotiate through shifting sands, and technical skill is important or you will be pulled in different directions like President Zuma.
In the ANC, this is neither Motshekga nor Bathabile Dlamini (this was written before the women’s league elections). Her performance at Parliament this year surely disqualifies the ANC’s poet, chairperson and parliamentary Speaker, Baleka Mbete. Living under her will feel like being back in school.
There is nothing that says the league president will be the candidate, so the ANC can fish in deeper waters. It looks like it is doing so, because every time you turn around, African Union chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is in town. There is now more than a whisper that she will be persuaded to run in 2017.
A global diplomat who speaks French and does not countenance fools gladly, her no-nonsense style is perhaps what our rudderless country needs now. I am dead scared of her, but maybe a little fear is a good thing. We need fixing and the fear of doing wrong has been lost in our society.
Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor has run a security department (home affairs) and knows her way around a telescope. Science and technology skills are vital to the future now that mining is reaching the end of its life.
My ANC favourite is Minister of Human Settlements Lindiwe Sisulu, who is unendingly stylish, has served in defence and public service and comes from a lineage that guarantees political smarts.
The ANC has cornered the political market. The women in Economic Freedom Fighters doeks are not as politically impressive as their male honourables and the DA managed to lose the brilliant Lindiwe Mazibuko, so pickings are slim outside the governing party. I’ve always thought businesswoman Wendy Luhabe is underutilised in public life.
Public Protector Thuli Madonsela is going to get the biggest private sector post you can imagine or any chair at any university she wants when her term comes to an end. If she chose politics, she would be a popular candidate. Why is this? I think she coheres around a strong set of principles and beliefs that resonate with ordinary South Africans. Most of the daily grind of her work is at the grass roots – although she is a media darling only for her big-ticket findings. Madonsela is a lawyer (which is always a good qualification for the number one spot – look at US President Barack Obama) and she counts pennies very well – perhaps the defining quality we need in any president right now.
South Africa has able women galore – but the way in which we choose presidents needs tweaking so that the best can rise.
PRESIDENTIAL MATERIAL From top: Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Naledi Pandor and Thuli Madonsela