It’s women of valour we need
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.