Can a fe­male pres­i­dent cham­pion the rights of women?

Tsoaledi Thobe­jane looks at the role played by gen­der in South African politics

African Times - - Front Page - Tsoaledi Thobe­jane is cur­rently an As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor and Head of Depart­ment within the In­sti­tute for Gen­der and Youth Stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Venda.

THE cel­e­bra­tion of Women’s Month this year co­in­cided with a con­certed drive by the women’s league of the ANC to have the party elect its first woman pres­i­dent.

Pre­vi­ous win­ners of the party pres­i­dency have gone on to be­come heads of state. But, what will a woman pres­i­dent do for the ad­vance­ment of women’s strug­gle and their po­si­tion­al­ity in the coun­try? Who can be the best woman pres­i­dent? And, are the three woman ANC lead­ers cam­paign­ing for the top job – Nkosazana-Dlamini Zuma, Baleka Mbete, and Lindiwe Sisulu – what the coun­try needs to fight the scourge of vi­o­lence against women?

Granted, South Africa needs a leader that will help it over­come its myr­iad prob­lems that in­clude a de­clin­ing econ­omy and high un­em­ploy­ment as well as cor­rup­tion, mis­man­age­ment and poor de­liv­ery of ba­sic ser­vices. But, it also needs some­one to lead it in the fight against sex­ism and pa­tri­archy and the ush­er­ing in of eman­ci­pa­tory politics and an anti-sex­ist so­ci­ety de­void of racism, pa­tri­archy and hege­monic mas­culin­i­ties.

While the ef­forts of the three em­i­nent ANC stal­warts tak­ing a shot at the top job of the Pres­i­dency of the coun­try and/or the ANC, a po­lit­i­cal party gov­ern­ing South Africa was hailed as good for gen­der equal­ity, it is worth cau­tion­ing that these women are not nec­es­sar­ily fem­i­nists in the con­text of fem­i­nism es­poused by Hill-Collins (2003), Hooks (2004), Mo­hanty (2001), and Lather (1998) to men­tion just but a few fem­i­nist ac­tivists. They come from an ide­o­log­i­cal ground­ing of the ANC, which is not rad­i­cal enough in ad­vo­cat­ing against sex­ism and pa­tri­archy.

I rec­og­nize the par­tic­i­pa­tion of women in the strug­gle for lib­er­a­tion and also note that the strug­gle for eco­nomic and cul­tural eman­ci­pa­tion is as pro­tracted as the strug­gle against pa­tri­archy and mas­cu­line hege­monies. When we think of a woman as a likely can­di­date for the pres­i­dency of the coun­try one can­not help but bring to the fore, one of the USA’s first African-Amer­i­can woman who cam­paigned for the po­si­tion of pres­i­dent in 1972, Shirley Chisholm. This was at a time when hu­man rights abuses against African-Amer­i­cans were at their peak and when the Ku Klux Klan was run­ning amok.

Of course, it was also un­heard of at that time for a woman, let alone an African-Amer­i­can woman to be seen to be at the fore­front ei­ther as a CEO of a com­pany or any pri­vate or public sec­tor. Chisholm was the first AfricanAmer­i­can woman to be elected to the congress in 1968 and to seek for the party nom­i­na­tion for pres­i­dent of the United States in 1972 un­der the Demo­cratic Party.

As democ­racy ma­tures in South Africa; we will see more women who would like to lead. The strug­gle for gen­der eman­ci­pa­tion, which is in­ter­linked with the strug­gle for so­cio-eco­nomic and cul­tural lib­er­a­tion is not yet over. There­fore, those who would like to lead must have tran­scended the misog­y­nis­tic ten­den­cies and pa­tri­ar­chal bear­ings of their male coun­ter­parts and would like to ad­vo­cate for a more ad­vanced and anti-pa­tri­ar­chal so­ci­ety wherein all peo­ple of race, colour, creed or re­li­gion as well as gen­der, will live equally at peace with each other.

How­ever, for a fem­i­nist agenda to be pros­e­cuted, it should also em­body the idea that the strug­gle for gen­der eman­ci­pa­tion does not have to be in the hands of a woman as many have proven to be so re­ac­tionary and ac­com­mo­dat­ing of the pa­tri­ar­chal and misog­y­nis­tic so­cial or­der.

Fem­i­nism as a broad school of thought would not be con­tent just to see a woman (by way of us­ing bi­o­log­i­cal def­i­ni­tions) be­ing the Pres­i­dent of the coun­try. This woman Pres­i­den­tial hope­ful must in­ter­pret those his­tor­i­cal be­lief sys­tems that would like to rel­e­gate women to the pe­riph­ery of so­cio-eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, and then set her­self on the path to de­stroy these sys­tems. She should be seen not as tak­ing part in the po­lit­i­cal or­der that jus­ti­fies and es­sen­tial­izes male hege­monic dis­courses.

Presently, the rul­ing party in South Africa is fac­ing tur­moil. It also faces the need for fresh po­lit­i­cal think­ing within its ranks. Many of its fe­male cadres – Nkosazana-Dlamini Zuma, Baleka Mbete and Lindiwe Sisulu – are now show­ing some in­ter­est to be­come the first (Black) African woman Pres­i­dent of the ANC and sub­se­quently, the coun­try.

While this is hailed as a good move by some fem­i­nist thinkers; it is also worth cau­tion­ing that these women are not nec­es­sar­ily fem­i­nist in out­look.

They come, as a col­lec­tive, from the ide­o­log­i­cal ground­ing of the ANC which has a track record of not cham­pi­oning women’s rights to the sat­is­fac­tion of fem­i­nism as a broad in­ter­na­tional move­ment. The goals of the ANC are not about the ush­er­ing in of a so­cio-po­lit­i­cal-eco­nomic or­der which ad­vo­cates for a so­cial­ist trans­for­ma­tion as a vi­sion of many fem­i­nist thinkers.

For in­stance, Marx­ist fem­i­nism sees Cap­i­tal­ism as be­ing in­tri­cately linked to pa­tri­archy. The­o­rists of pa­tri­archy such as Hart­mann (2006) ar­gued that men are in al­liance with cap­i­tal to ex­clude women from cer­tain jobs. The Neo-Lib­eral Pol­icy of the ANC which has made the or­ga­ni­za­tion the “dar­ling” of in­ter­na­tional mo­nop­oly cap­i­tal is what re­ally de­fines these women pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls.

They should there­fore be viewed as can­di­dates who would per­pet­u­ate the sta­tus quo as it stands to­day, rather than tack­ling head on; is­sues such as misog­yny, Hege­monic Mas­culin­i­ties, the Machismo of the South African pop­u­lace as well as a pa­tri­ar­chal cap­i­tal­ist world or­der which thrives un­der a cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion.

If we would like to view their el­i­gi­bil­ity for the po­si­tion of the Pres­i­dency in the nar­row de­fines of Neo-Lib­eral Politics, then all of them qual­ify for this race as their in­di­vid­ual track records have shown. for pres­i­dency; we would of course look at them in­di­vid­u­ally in terms of their con­tri­bu­tions to a demo­cratic or­der de­fined only in terms of where South Africa is or was in the pur­suit of a Neo-Colo­nial and/or neo -lib­eral (Pre-Apartheid and Post-Apartheid South African) or­der. In this con­text, we would un­doubt­edly say that all of them cham­pi­oned the anti-apartheid strug­gle very well (i.e. the strug­gle for equal rights, al­beit in dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories).

Many will re­mem­ber the role played by Nkosazana-Dlamini Zuma as the African Union chair­per­son and as a for­mer Min­is­ter of Health and then min­is­ter of for­eign af­fairs, not for­get­ting her strug­gle cre­den­tials. All these ti­tles set her apart from the oth­ers in terms of her ex­pe­ri­ences in lead­er­ship. Nkosazana-Dlamini Zuma is re­mem­bered for her role as a Min­is­ter of Health and then min­is­ter of for­eign af­fairs. This ex­pe­ri­ence set her apart from the oth­ers in terms of her qual­ity in lead­er­ship. She cham­pi­oned poli­cies that made health care free to chil­dren un­der the age of six and also poor women.

One would also say the same about Baleka Mbethe who is the Na­tional speaker and the Na­tional chair­per­son of the ANC, mem­ber of the Na­tional Assem­bly, for­mer deputy pres­i­dent (2008-2009) and mem­ber of the pres­i­dent panel un­der So­cial De­vel­op­ment and Com­mu­nity Ser­vices, as well as a strug­gle vet­eran.

Baleka Mbete, apart from her che­quered past record, in­clud­ing be­ing in­volved in the scan­dal about the mis­use of par­lia­men­tary air tickets, as well as ob­tain­ing her driver’s li­cence du­bi­ously, has proven to have good qual­i­ties.

Lindiwe Sisulu, an­other hu­man rights strug­gle stal­wart, has ex­pe­ri­ence as Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment since 1994 and served as min­is­ter of hous­ing from 2004 to 2009. She is cur­rently serv­ing as Min­is­ter of Hu­man Set­tle­ments. Lindiwe also worked as the in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer in Pres­i­dent Zuma’s cab­i­net. She has the added ad­van­tage in that, since she does not sub­scribe to any fac­tion within the ANC, it is be­lieved that she can help unite the party, and per­haps even man­age to stem the tide of cor­rup­tion.

Sadly, their voices have largely been miss­ing on the se­ri­ous prob­lem of vi­o­lence against women in the coun­try. This, de­spite South Africa hav­ing one of the high­est in­ci­dences of vi­o­lence against women in the world. Ac­cord­ing to Sta­tis­tics South Africa ( 2016), on av­er­age, one in five South African women older than 18 has ex­pe­ri­enced phys­i­cal vi­o­lence. Four in 10 di­vorced or sep­a­rated women re­ported phys­i­cal vi­o­lence, as has one in three women in the poor­est house­holds.

De­spite their po­si­tions, they are not known for their in­ter­est in do­mes­tic and gen­der based vi­o­lence. This is ex­em­pli­fied by their si­lence when Mdu Manana was ac­cused of bat­ter­ing women. In­stead the ANC Women’s League, to which they all be­long has made ex­cuses for Manana. Their ex­pe­ri­ence in politics war­rants that they be con­sid­ered for such a po­si­tion but, fall short on their vi­sion for an an­ti­sex­ist and anti-pa­tri­ar­chal South Africa.

The three can­di­dates, de­spite the strong strug­gle cre­den­tials, are more likely to per­pet­u­ate the sta­tus quo of male dom­i­nance, rather than tack­ling misog­yny and pa­tri­archy. If we would like to view their el­i­gi­bil­ity for the po­si­tion of pres­i­dent in the nar­row con­fines of neo-lib­eral politics , they un­doubt­edly qual­ify. As South Africa’s democ­racy ma­tures, women will be seen join­ing the band wagon of those who would like to lead. Each of the three ANC stal­warts are mak­ing names for them­selves as the first prospec­tive woman pres­i­dent of both the ANC and the coun­try. But, they will have to do more in or­der to win the hearts and minds of the marginal­ized women.

On a daily ba­sis, women ex­pe­ri­ence an emo­tional and psy­cho­log­i­cal scar­ring such that many are con­vinced that they are in­deed se­cond-class cit­i­zens. They ac­tu­ally be­lieve that such be­lit­tle­ment and den­i­gra­tion de­scribes who they are.

This men­tal op­pres­sion and self-loath is ex­em­pli­fied by the way they bleach their skins to look white, and the way they are ob­sessed with wear­ing for­eign or Cau­casian hair on their heads as they only see beauty in the con­text of white­ness. This they do be­cause colo­nial­ism and apartheid has taught them that ev­ery­thing black should be loathed, and that ev­ery­thing white should be val­orized. It re­mains to be seen whether the three fe­male Pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls are ready to un­ravel this form of cul­tural im­pe­ri­al­ism on women, and cham­pion an agenda that is prob­lack and lib­er­a­tory to the coun­try and the Black woman in par­tic­u­lar.

There is no need to have a woman who will just serve as a to­ken in the of­fice of the pres­i­dency. The ANC is at a cross-roads. The name “African Na­tional Congress” is presently syn­ony­mous with cor­rup­tion. The grow­ing voice of dis­sent no longer sees the ANC as a ded­i­cated voice of the toil­ing masses, the marginal­ized, voice­less and the de­hu­man­ized women.

How­ever, a woman might bring a fresh per­spec­tive into what lead­er­ship ought to rep­re­sent. Their lead­er­ship qual­i­ties might lead this coun­try out of her po­lit­i­cal quag­mire. Per­haps the voice of a woman Pres­i­dent will rekin­dle that spark which was ig­nited by the Mam­phele Ram­phele’s of this world, the Lil­ian Ngoyis and the Mme Sobukwe’s anti-pass cam­paigns, the Im­beleko women’s or­ga­ni­za­tion un­der its fe­male leader, Ma­gauta Molefe, a woman who said that there is no clear or true so­cial revo­lu­tion with­out the lib­er­a­tion of women.

This sort of woman Pres­i­dent if elected, will have to urge women to rise and take back their power. She will have to fight against ex­ploita­tion of women, child labour and sex trad­ing of in­no­cent girls, hege­monic mas­culin­i­ties, misog­yny and a pa­tri­ar­chal so­cial or­der that con­tin­ues to eat away at the moral fi­bre of this beau­ti­ful coun­try.

Baleka Mbethe Pic­ture: Vis­ual Buzz SA

Lindiwe Sisulu Pic­ture: Den­vor de Wee/ Vis­ual Buzz SA

Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma Pic­ture: Vis­ual Buzz SA

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