It’s women of val­our we need

CityPress - - Voices - Mondli Makhanya voices@city­press.co.za

Afew weeks ago, this lowly news­pa­per­man found him­self in the com­pany of re­ally dy­namic women from across a range of dis­ci­plines and in­ter­ests. The oc­ca­sion was a func­tion of the Busi­ness­women’s As­so­ci­a­tion of SA, which acts as a lobby group for the role women play in the econ­omy. The women were in­volved in a di­verse set of ac­tiv­i­ties, from cor­po­rate lead­er­ship to en­trepreneur­ship.

This week, I was at a sim­i­lar gath­er­ing. This time, it was the launch of the Pre­cious Lit­tle Black Book by the Mot­sepe Foun­da­tion, as part of its var­i­ous phil­an­thropic projects. The book is a kind of tool­kit for women as it con­tains use­ful in­for­ma­tion about all mat­ters le­gal, fi­nan­cial, ed­u­ca­tional and health-re­lated.

The range of women at this gath­er­ing was much more di­verse and in­cluded ac­tivists, com­mu­nity work­ers and cre­ative types. The age range was also more var­ied, with el­derly women min­gling with sprightly young­sters. It was an in­spir­ing morn­ing – even more in­spir­ing, I re­luc­tantly con­fess, than the ex­cit­ing re­vival that is un­der way at the mighty Or­lando Pi­rates.

This was no rev­e­la­tion. You find th­ese women in many other spa­ces, par­tic­u­larly in pro­fes­sional busi­ness as­so­ci­a­tions and busi­ness move­ments. You find them in sports or­gan­i­sa­tions and the arts. In th­ese en­vi­ron­ments they ex­er­cise lead­er­ship and make their voices heard.

They are equals, hav­ing made it to lead­er­ship po­si­tions on their own terms.

On both oc­ca­sions, one could not help ask­ing th­ese ques­tions that reg­u­larly pop into the head: Con­sid­er­ing that there is this rich­ness of fe­male lead­er­ship in broader South Africa, why is there such a dearth of it in pol­i­tics? Why are some of the most cru­cial roles in our na­tional life in the hands of women – and men – who could not hold a can­dle to the in­di­vid­u­als I had en­coun­tered?

In my mind were the de­press­ing and in­fu­ri­at­ing tele­vi­sion images of the min­is­ter of so­cial de­vel­op­ment, who has made it her sa­cred mis­sion to de­liver to us the first fe­male pres­i­dent of South Africa and the ANC. I thought back to the im­age of Batha­bile Dlamini on the day that last year’s mu­nic­i­pal poll re­sults were an­nounced. She was be­hav­ing like she had come straight out of the TV se­ries Shame­less, a com­edy drama about flawed and dys­func­tional peo­ple.

Scenes of her re­mon­strat­ing with op­po­si­tion MPs in Par­lia­ment flashed through my mind. I re­mem­bered her loony press con­fer­ence last Sun­day and the even loonier pub­lic rally on Mon­day evening, when she was cheered like a hero by a gullible rent-a-crowd.

And then, of course, came her even­tual ap­pear­ance this week at the stand­ing com­mit­tee on pub­lic ac­counts, where the shame­less one tried to dodge ques­tion­ing and give a one-sided pre­sen­ta­tion.

Then there was the im­age of the singing and sway­ing Dlamini at the gath­er­ings where she has been chap­er­on­ing Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the per­son she be­lieves will be best placed to take this coun­try into the next era.

At the gath­er­ing in Khut­song on Gaut­eng’s West Rand, she boasted about how her can­di­date – “a leader with two ears” – was a tough task mas­ter who made sure that all those who re­ported to her were up to scratch in the ex­e­cu­tion of their tasks.

Hope­fully, the “leader with two ears” has been lis­ten­ing very care­fully to the so­ci­etal anger di­rected at her chief spon­sor.

Hav­ing led the charge for South Africa to have a fe­male pres­i­dent, Dlamini has shown her­self to be the worst ad­vo­cate for any leader of any gen­der. Through her own de­fi­cien­cies she has dis­qual­i­fied her­self from telling South Africa what kind of leader it needs. What are th­ese de­fi­cien­cies? Well, where do we start: sloth, clum­si­ness, lack of car­ing, ar­ro­gance, id­iocy, disin­gen­u­ous­ness, crag­gi­ness, self­ish­ness, un­re­li­a­bil­ity, lack of so­phis­ti­ca­tion and empty ear-pierc­ing rhetoric.

The con­ver­sa­tion about fe­male lead­er­ship is long over­due in the pri­vate sec­tor and the po­lit­i­cal space. In the for­mer, the prover­bial glass ceil­ing is cited as a rea­son so few women rise to oc­cupy the very top posts. Po­lit­i­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions – in par­tic­u­lar, the gov­ern­ing party – have done much bet­ter than the pri­vate sec­tor in hav­ing fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion in de­ci­sion-mak­ing po­si­tions. The ANC’s adop­tion of the 50-50 pol­icy changed the po­lit­i­cal land­scape. But it has also been pa­tro­n­is­ing and con­de­scend­ing. The cream has not al­ways risen to the top.

Which takes us back to the dy­namism in lead­er­ship. In talk­ing about ad­vanc­ing gen­der eq­uity in par­ties and in­sti­tu­tions of gover­nance, we should be ask­ing what it is that makes po­lit­i­cal life unattrac­tive to tal­ented women. We will prob­a­bly find that pa­tri­archy reigns supreme in the lower and up­per struc­tures of po­lit­i­cal par­ties and that gate-keep­ing in party struc­tures keeps women “in their place”.

There is also the re­al­ity of a dis­re­gard for fe­male voices, even if they do make it into lead­er­ship. The gen­eral, if un­ac­knowl­edged, at­ti­tude among men is that many of th­ese women should be grate­ful that they were al­lowed at the main ta­ble in the first place.

The woman – or women – who will be com­pet­ing for high of­fice this year and in 2019 will have to match up to the in­tel­lec­tual and dy­namic stan­dards of those women suc­ceed­ing out­side of pol­i­tics. Their achieve­ments are what we should be as­pir­ing to.

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