Let women lead, let them illuminate the way forward
SA has grown and gone through the dynamics of a maturing democracy. The country has been able to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of governance, economic policies, business, healthcare to claim its place in the sun since 1994. However, we have not been spared the challenges of promoting gender equality in the highest echelons of government.
In response to the events that led to the late Struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s downfall, feminists like Sisonke Msimang, a globally acclaimed author and activist who has written widely about Madikizela-Mandela, argued that she wasn’t granted the recognition she deserved simply because of her gender.
Msimang argued that because she challenged gender roles and expectations in a hostile political atmosphere dominated by men, her womanhood was weaponised against her, seeing her as an extension of her ex-husband.
SA women are making efforts to rewrite this part of our history in a way that is reflective, inclusive, and honest about the contributions made by women in our country.
Breaking the stereotype that men should lead are leaders like Mmamoloko Kubayi. Her remarkable leadership qualities have seen her rise through the ranks to earn her stripes as one of the female leaders to watch. Kubayi, 44, is minister of human settlements and an MP. She is co-chairperson of the economic sectors, employment and infrastructure development (ESEID) cluster, a member of the ANC national executive committee and economic transformation subcommittee chair.
She served a full term in 2019 as a member of the Global Artificial Intelligence Council established by the World Economic Forum’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where she and other global leaders provided strategic guidance to the international community on priorities for AI, machine learning governance, cooperation, and shaping global policy development.
Then there is Ruth First, an SA anti-apartheid activist and scholar killed by apartheid police in exile in the 1980s. There is also Wangari Maathai, a renowned Kenyan social, environmental, and political activist who in 2004 became the first African woman to win the Nobel prize for her leadership of the Green Belt Movement. Wambui Otieno, a Kenyan activist, writer and politician, joined the Mau Mau movement – a militant liberation movement that launched a guerrilla insurgency against British rule in the 1950s.
These women made incredible contributions to their countries, many without recognition. But a new generation of young radical politicians is claiming the space and changing the patriarchal and chauvinist narrative that dominates various sectors in society, including the political arena. These women are making strides to revive conversation around gender-based injustice.
Young and vibrant females like Kubayi are an indication that the status quo can indeed change. Women can no longer be viewed as spectators in defining moments that seek to change the world.
Kubayi’s contestation for a top six position in the ANC sees her leading the revolution from the front line – just as MadikizelaMandela did. This is a step in the right direction, to challenge how women activists are viewed. ■