If the ANC is se­ri­ous about ad­dress­ing in so­ci­ety, per­haps it should un­link this from bi­o­log­i­cal iden­tity

CityPress - - Voices & Careers - Nom­bon­iso Gasa voices@city­

DHer­ressed in a starched ice-white, long gown, punc­tu­ated by a green sash around her waist and head wrap, the woman hes­i­tated to cross the street. daugh­ter, in a chil­dren’s ver­sion of the uni­form and neatly braided hair, held her mother’s hand firmly and looked at the driver as if seek­ing re­as­sur­ance that it was safe to cross. I sig­nalled with my hand for the pair to cross with­out fear, it was their right of way. At the spur of the mo­ment, I turned around and fol­lowed the wor­ship­pers to the Wein­berg Fam­ily Park in Savoy, Johannesburg, (named af­ter strug­gle vet­er­ans Eli, Vi­o­let and Sheila Wein­berg).

My ex­pe­ri­ence of in­de­pen­dent churches meet­ing in parks is that con­gre­gants of dif­fer­ent de­nom­i­na­tions over­lap. While wait­ing for their ser­vices or af­ter wor­ship, peo­ple share news of one an­other’s well­be­ing, hold women’s guild meet­ings and stokvels. My in­ten­tion was to try to hold in­for­mal con­ver­sa­tions about sex­ual vi­o­lence and vi­o­lence against women in gen­eral. How do peo­ple view news of on­go­ing vi­o­lence? What do they think must be done? Min­gling among groups of women, I caught snip­pets of con­ver­sa­tions. To my sur­prise, sev­eral groups were dis­cussing one or the other news item, so­cial grants, the Gup­tas and whether a fe­male pres­i­dent would serve South Africans bet­ter. A small group formed around one woman. When I heard sighs and gasps from the lis­ten­ers, I moved closer. I heard her say­ing: “They say Gup­tas have pa­pers of the whole coun­try. These pa­pers show air­ports of the army.”

“They say a fe­male pres­i­dent will change things, and put an end to all of this and money will be used to cre­ate jobs,” a younger woman said. There was a brief si­lence and then an older woman replied: “See those chil­dren [point­ing at boys and girls who were hang­ing out nearby], God blessed us with them. They are our duty, we must do right by them – us, their par­ents, not politi­cians. Those fe­male [politi­cians] are too far from us. From high up, we are like ants, not hu­man be­ings. How can they do these things they prom­ise when they do not know what we think, what we need?” Oth­ers ar­gued that a fe­male leader is bet­ter. But who? They looked at one an­other and tossed around names that have been in pub­lic de­bate.

Each name was con­sid­ered care­fully. At the core of this eval­u­a­tion was trust and in­ten­tion. “How can you trust peo­ple who do not talk to you? Peo­ple who do not lis­ten to your pain, anx­i­ety and hope?”

Driv­ing back home, I was struck by the dis­tance be­tween lead­ers and com­mu­ni­ties. It is not new re­al­i­sa­tion, but the ex­tent of the schism and trust deficit felt big­ger. Most of the women in that park were do­mes­tic work­ers, some work in shops in Nor­wood and fac­to­ries in the Wyn­berg area. These are women whom the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) claims as its pri­mary con­stituency, black, work­ing class women.

It was not al­ways like this, of course. The his­tory of the league is re­plete with women who took risks and were vi­sion­ar­ies. They were vi­sion­ar­ies, not only be­cause of their in­di­vid­ual tal­ents, but be­cause they lis­tened, shared per­spec­tives and broke bread with women in their com­mu­ni­ties and wher­ever they vis­ited. This en­abled them to speak from a po­si­tion of au­thor­ity, grounded in knowl­edge and close ties with women they rep­re­sented in con­fer­ences and congress de­bates.

Long be­fore the ANC was ready for a mul­tira­cial plat­form of women in the 1950s, the ANCWL took that ini­tia­tive with other congress-aligned or­gan­i­sa­tions – Congress of Democrats, SA In­dian Con­gresses, Coloured Peo­ple’s Congress and Black Sash – and they formed the Fed­er­a­tion of South African Women (FSAW). The ANC was anx­ious about this plat­form and feared that the ANCWL would be over­whelmed in the FSAW. We also know that the 1956 march to Pre­to­ria – the cel­e­brated women’s march – did not, in fact, have the sup­port of the or­gan­i­sa­tion, un­til shortly be­fore the march.

It is now al­most un­be­liev­able that the ANCWL forced the first ANC Con­fer­ence af­ter decades in ex­ile, to de­bate a 30% quota for women in ANC na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee – back in 1991. That de­bate went on for five hours. The ANCWL lost. But it was a mo­ment worth be­ing recorded in the his­tory of the league and the ANC. The gen­der par­ity bat­tle was picked up dur­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions; 50-50 par­tic­i­pa­tion was won, as well as gen­der equal­ity, non­sex­ism and nondis­crim­i­na­tion as part of in­di­vis­i­ble rights in the Con­sti­tu­tion. So, what went wrong? Much has been writ­ten about the com­plex­ity and at times con­tra­dic­tory po­si­tion of women and fem­i­nists in na­tional lib­er­a­tion strug­gles and na­tion­al­ism. This can be ex­plained in terms of po­lit­i­cal and fem­i­nist the­ory and the dilemma of iden­tity in the con­text of apartheid and colo­nial­ism. These con­tra­dic­tions and con­tes­ta­tions are dif­fer­ent from self­serv­ing pan­der­ing to the worst forms of pa­tri­ar­chal dom­i­na­tion dur­ing Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s ten­ure. Even the de­ci­sion to con­test the pres­i­den­tial po­si­tion was crafted else­where. Zuma an­nounced dur­ing an in­ter­view with Dali Tambo that “women have proven them­selves. They are now ready for the po­si­tion of pres­i­dency (sic)”. Overnight, the ANCWL changed its po­si­tion from “we are not ready” to “2017, fe­male pres­i­dent”. And it quickly en­dorsed Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as the ANCWL’s pre­ferred can­di­date. Two other can­di­dates have now emerged, Na­tional As­sem­bly Speaker Baleka Mbete and Hu­man Set­tle­ments Min­is­ter Lindiwe Sisulu. Be­sides rit­u­al­is­tic and es­sen­tial­ist ref­er­ences to women as good and em­pa­thetic lead­ers, none of the three women has ar­tic­u­lated a gen­der equal­i­ty­cen­tred agenda. This ab­sence of a clear po­si­tion, be­yond “it is women’s turn”, gives a sense that these women feel en­ti­tled to lead­er­ship and the pres­i­dency. That is not a prob­lem on its own. Men con­test with­out be­ing ex­pected to ar­tic­u­late a fem­i­nist agenda or any vi­sion, for that mat­ter. How­ever, us­ing a gen­der ticket opens up the con­ver­sa­tion about fem­i­nism, eth­i­cal pro-women poli­cies and prac­tices. On these grounds, there are un­com­fort­able ques­tions that we must pose to Dlamini-Zuma, Mbete and Sisulu. Space does not per­mit for a deeper anal­y­sis of po­si­tions of these three can­di­dates. Suf­fice to say, their ster­ling strug­gle cre­den­tials and track record not­with­stand­ing, it is doubt­ful that these women are likely to drive a mean­ing­ful gen­der-cen­tred ap­proach to power. As for fem­i­nism – that does not even ap­pear on their radar screen. If the ANC is se­ri­ous about ad­dress­ing pa­tri­ar­chal dom­i­na­tion in so­ci­ety, per­haps it will un­link this from bi­o­log­i­cal iden­tity. But I am not hold­ing my breath. Gasa is a re­searcher and an­a­lyst on gen­der, pol­i­tics and cul­tural is­sues, and a se­nior re­search as­so­ciate at the Fac­ulty of Law, Uni­ver­sity of Cape Town

Lindiwe Sisulu

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