The lobbying for female representation within the ANC is being used as a political tool as three male-led provinces are brought into the spotlight.
There is subtle, informal lobbying in the ANC to compel Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga to get a feminine touch in their testosterone-filled premiers’ offices. That is, if the ANC retains these provinces.
The three provinces have not been headed by women since their creation post-apartheid.
Actually, it has been the case since time immemorial, as the apartheid homelands and the so-called independent black states that were located in these particular provinces were never led by women.
But the push for female premiers in the three provinces is now part of a power struggle, as some premier candidates or chairpersons in the other five ANC-governed provinces want to retain their positions and not be affected by the party’s gender equity policies.
Though ANC communications head Lindiwe Zulu said she is not aware of any formal discussion to force the three provinces to have female premiers, she agreed that women in the party continue to be marginalised.
She said the ANC should intervene to ensure gender equity in the highest echelons of power.
"The fact that we keep reminding comrades about [gender parity] shows that, when it comes to opportunities for women [in the ANC], it is still a problem. It is just not happening," Zulu said, pointing out that women "are not elected to positions of responsibility".
Zulu said that the majority of ANC members are women who work hard to ensure that the party performs well, yet are often denied leadership positions.
"It is annoying sometimes. It says a lot about the patriarchal society we’re living in."
ANC branches in KwaZulu-Natal have nominated local government MEC Nomsa Dube as the leading candidate in the province, ahead of ANC provincial chairperson Senzo Mchunu.
Zulu expressed hope for Dube, but said "being nominated [as] number one does not mean you will become the premier".
"It is the intervention of the ANC leadership that makes it possible for women to hold key
positions in government. It has to be like that, otherwise it wouldn’t happen."
Some ANC leaders in KwaZulu-Natal believe that Dube’s ranking ahead of Senzo Mchunu, the premier and provincial chair, is an indication that the province is ready to have a woman premier.
But Mchunu’s supporters have warned that the move could divide the province.
Most importantly, Dube is seen to be part of a faction aligned to President Jacob Zuma.
She is regarded as a proxy for former KwaZulu-Natal premier Zweli Mkhize, who resigned last year to become ANC treasurer general and who is firmly in Zuma’s camp.
A female premier such as Dube would then be a counterbalance to the power of Mchunu’s faction.
Mchunu narrowly defeated Willis Mchunu, who was largely seen as Zuma’s preference for provincial chairperson, by the closest of margins – six votes.
Senzo Mchunu’s faction is perceived as anti-Zuma and therefore the use of the party’s gender
equity policies to push Dube as a woman premier is, according to her critics, a calculated move to strengthen the president’s faction in the province.
KwaZulu-Natal ANC provincial secretary Sihle Zikalala said the provincial structure has not discussed the issue of the appointment of premiers. He said the ANC in the province is happy with Mchunu’s performance.
"It does not mean, if you are number one, you will automatically become premier," he said.
KwaZulu-Natal’s political dynamics are similar to those in Gauteng, after Premier Nomvula Mokonyane’s name appeared on the provincial list but not on the national list.
Her power struggle with ANC Gauteng chairperson and Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile became so ugly that the province wanted her elevated to national government.
Mashatile’s appointment as minister in 2009 was made to avert what is known in party parlance as an unpleasant two centres of power.
A regional executive committee member in KwaZulu-Natal said the ANC’s deployment committee, which decides on who fills what position, wants four women premiers among the eight provinces likely to be controlled by the ANC.
This is why some in provinces that have female premiers want these three provinces to implement the party’s gender equity policy.
"There is a discussion that it [50/50 gender parity on premiers] must be rotational. It must be automatic that the three provinces get women as premiers. They can’t escape it," the regional leader said.
A Gauteng leader and an ANC national executive committee (NEC) member confirmed that informal talks are being held about forcing the male-led provinces to transform.
The NEC member said there are also attempts to lobby the ANC’s national leaders in this regard.
The provincial legislature lists in Limpopo and Mpumalanga are led by current premiers and ANC provincial chairs Stan Mathabatha and David Mabuza respectively, who happen to be men.
There is only one woman among Limpopo’s top 10 candidates, party veteran Joyce Mashamba, at number eight.
From 1994, the provincial chairperson of the ANC automatically became the party’s candidate for premier, but this practice ceased at the party’s 1997 conference following power struggles.
The conference decided that the party president, who happened to be the country’s president, would nominate premier candidates to be elected by ANC members of the provincial legislature.
But former President Thabo Mbeki was perceived to have used this power to tighten his grip on provinces – and it created a schism between premiers and provincial party chairpersons.
The 2007 party conference in Polokwane resolved that the ANC’s provincial executive committees would propose at least three names to the NEC for nomination as premier. A premier is elected by members of the provincial legislatures.
ANC provincial lists give an idea of where women are positioned in the other five ANC-controlled provinces and whether they are likely to become premiers:
Gauteng ANC secretary David Makhura is one of the leading contenders for the position of premier.
It is understood, however, that his gender and lack of experience in government could be used against him when Luthuli House has to choose between him and the female contenders: education MEC Barbara Creecy and the incumbent, Nomvula Mokonyane.
But Makhura’s defenders argue that he has monitored and "politically managed" three premiers for 14 years as provincial party secretary.
A provincial leader argued that gender equity is "a crucial ANC policy and should be used consistently and throughout the provinces, and not just to deal with rivals and factional issues in Gauteng".
This is a tacit reference to speculation that some in the province are lobbying Luthuli House to give Mokonyane a second term, allowing her to snatch the position from the Makhura faction.
The battle is likely to be between Premier Thandi Modise and ANC provincial chairperson Supra Mahumapelo, who is also speaker of the legislature.
Mahumapelo tops the provincial list, with Modise at number five. All indications are that Mahumapelo’s name will be submitted together with those of two women.
North West, which has had three female premiers since 1999, is one of the provinces lobbying for a gender-equity break.
At number five, Modise stands a slim chance of returning as premier, unless Luthuli House disregards the wishes of the North West ANC as it did in 2009, when it elected Maureen Modiselle ahead of the three names submitted for the premiership.
Topping the list is safety MEC Helen Sauls-August, followed by local government MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane, and finance MEC and provincial ANC chairperson Phumulo Masualle.
The current Eastern Cape premier, Noxolo Kiviet, the second woman to lead the province, is 23rd on the list. She has dropped from fourth position in 2009.
ANC sources in the province say that Kiviet would like to serve another term, and others have claimed that Qoboshiyane, a rising star in the party, is also a potential candidate for the province’s top office.
ANC provincial strongman Ace Magashule looks likely to have a second term as premier.
He tops his province’s list and has little opposition within his party. Second on the list is Sisi Mabe. She is on the ANC NEC and is also MEC for public works.
The list presents a fair spread of female representation, with every second candidate a woman. Though Magashule’s name tops the list, women such as Mabe and Selina Leeto are also likely to make the premiership list. The province has twice been led by women – Beatrice Marshoff and Winkie Direko.
The province has had two female premiers since 2009. But co-operative governance MEC Kenny Mmoiemang tops the list, followed by controversial provincial strongman and finance MEC John Block, who is facing criminal charges.
Current premier Sylvia Lucas, who made headlines for spending R50 000 on fast food on a government-issued credit card, is at number three.