Rise up, women, rise up!
The paucity of women in the ANC leadership is a blot on the party that should be put right in this year of Madiba and MaSisulu
What a great and exciting year this is, sad as it also is. MamaSisulu and Tata Mandela would have turned 100 this year, had they lived. May their beautiful souls rest in eternal peace.
A lot has been said and celebrated and we have been called upon to follow their legacy and emulate them. Both icons stand out for their lifelong struggles for freedom, equality, democracy and justice. Both always emphasised that there is no freedom without the freedom of women.
Freedom has to include the presence and representation of women in leadership structures. Arguments for this include parity and participation, fairness and justice. Women’s life experiences and perspectives differ from those of men, thus they must be heard in both the economic and developmental sense. There must be transformation of power relations across society.
It was interesting and revealing to do a gender-edit of the speeches at Madiba’s birthday celebrations this week, to gauge Madiba’s legacy in relation to gender equality.
Some referred to it in passing but most either forgot or perhaps did not even know about it. They never mentioned it.
We are very far from achieving Madiba’s vision of a truly democratic society. While for understandable reasons Madiba may have been conservative on gender issues before he was imprisoned, and while some of his actions after his release were not as gender-sensitive as they could have been, he became an ardent feminist once he understood the many faces of patriarchy as well as the fact that it is backward, unjust, dehumanises others and is dangerous.
Patriarchy undermined his statement that there can be no democracy without the freedom of women and that never, and never again, shall our country experience oppression of one person by another. Therefore an injustice will have been done if, during his centenary year, and that of MaSisulu, nothing is said and written about Madiba the feminist and MaSisulu the torchbearer for feminism.
In celebrating his legacy and in his name I take the liberty of again warning the ANC about some of its failures in terms of the representation of women in decision-making structures and at all levels. The ANC has to be continuously warned about the danger it is heading into if it does not immediately resolve this question, even if only in quantitative terms, while progressing to the qualitative levels.
The ANC has since 1997 accepted, albeit reluctantly, that it has to put mechanisms in its constitution to ensure that women are elected to leadership positions. Thus it made it a constitutional obligation that “at least 50%” of leadership and appointments must be women. At the last national conference two women were nominated for the presidency, two as secretary-general and one as treasurer-general. Only one woman won, Jessie Duarte, as deputy secretary-general. How, at a conference where more than 50% of voting delegates are female, do women lose out like this?
In its first century, the ANC leadership clock ticked from its first president, Langalibalele Dube, at one o’clock, to Jacob Zuma at 12 o’clock. These comrade brothers have now been joined on the clock by our brand-new president, comrade Cyril Ramaphosa, at one o’clock of the second century.
In 105 years the ANC is yet to place a woman at the topmost position of its structure. “It is in your hands,” as Madiba would have reminded Ramaphosa.
Happily, this year we celebrate and recognise MaSisulu — “a woman of fortitude” — and the legacy of Madiba. The ANC and its government have called on all of us to learn from them and emulate them. This tells us that in the name of these two icons, the ANC will be leading by example and will transform itself from being a patriarchal organisation to being a feminist one.
The first opportunities for quantitative representation are opened with the regional and provincial conferences which will hold leadership elections. There was an outcry after we emerged from our last conference with just one woman, the deputy secretary-general, in the top six, down from two in previous years when Baleka Mbete was chair.
The ANC and its membership cannot continue with this affront. Gender-sensitive or aware and feminist comrades of all shades, especially women, have to resolutely stand up against these manifestations of patriarchy.
Hopefully, having learnt from our shameful past, and heeding the call to take up Mandela and MaSisulu’s fallen spears, we shall henceforth be electing capable leaders. We shall also be following our own constitution and prescripts . . . electing no fewer than 50% women at all levels. In structures that have a “top five” leadership, this means there should be at least three women as, thankfully, there cannot be two-and-a-half women.
Already worrying signs of regression on gender matters by the party are emerging as some regions — Gauteng among them — either have no women, or one or two women, in leadership. Even in those places where women are in the top five, only one — in the West Rand — is a chairperson.
ANC members must bow their heads in shame and their actions must be roundly denounced. Results from other provinces are just as bad. Is this not flouting our constitution, the values and principles of equality that the ANC stands for? Are these actions not bordering on being counter-revolutionary as they work against our visions and agenda of real democracy, human rights, justice and equality?
Currently there are lists circulating on social media that show only men as contenders for the top five in Gauteng. This may well be fake news but it is interesting that even in fake news, only men and not women are “faked”.
Also, we know that most, if not all the time, the “officials/top six” at the national level and the top five at the provincial level act as a de facto structure. Up to now, 18 men in the provinces — nine provincial chairpersons (if we want to be politically correct, and “chairmen” if we reflect reality) and nine provincial secretaries — form the core of this top five.
The norm, with occasional exceptions, has been that the chairpersons are nominated as premiers. The ANC has increased its number of woman premiers to three, thanks to the male comrades who were elected to the national top six and had to relinquish their premierships — fortunately to women. The question arises whether women will still hold these positions after the next elections.
It is also important to remember that in the last elections we were told that there were no capable women at that time and women apparently were only capable of being speakers in parliament.
We should also not forget that the president of the ANC is usually nominated as the president of the country, as is the deputy. The party has strayed from this practice only during difficult times when people were redeployed and vacancies needed to be filled. Hopefully, the ANC will surprise itself and change this assumed norm.
Once again we come to the conclusion that continuous gender struggles have to be waged on all fronts within and outside the ANC. Let us not be party to the deliberate and consistent declaration of a vote of no confidence in ourselves by anyone, especially the men.
We should be confident and love ourselves enough to believe in our ability to lead our movement and country at the highest level. Women should not allow themselves to be used for or by patriarchy in whatever form.
There has been no special school for ANC top-six or top-five leaders, except the struggle for freedom. Most ANC men and women have gone through that furnace at different times, conditions and contexts, and many women comrades would, if given a chance, fulfil the imperatives of the ANC.
We have to strengthen our voice and might through our own structures like the ANC Women’s League. We have to unite and revive the women’s movement because it is not the ANC alone that faces this challenge of regression on the gender front. Our entire society is faced with this demon at different levels. Let us be courageous and learn from Madiba and MaSisulu about resilience, fortitude, justice and equality as well as fighting for what you believe in.
We were all cooked in the same political pot and all of us are tempered and steeled in the struggle. Let our generation leave a legacy of gender justice for future generations.
ANC members must bow their heads in shame and their actions must be denounced. Is this not flouting our constitution?