The gender press briefing at the ANC national general council was scheduled for 11am on Wednesday.
Angie Motshekga, the party’s women’s league president, only started speaking at about 11.30am. She had to wait for President Jacob Zuma to finish his high-profile visit to the business networking lounge, where people such the Gupta family and their company Sahara paid R24 000 for the honour of rubbing shoulders with ruling party members.
A few journalists tapped out short stories about her report-back from the gender document presented to delegates by the ANC Women’s League. Their demands made for good sound bites: fast-tracking the Gender Equity Bill into law; compulsory 50% representation of women in all sectors; and possibly getting the Independent Electoral Commission to reject political party lists that did not meet the 50/50 representation.
It was almost overshadowed by the subsequent leadership renewal briefing which, try as it might, ended up being about succession—an issue that has gripped the popular imagination, if not, as it insists, the ruling party.
Charismatic men Fikile Mbalula and Tony Yengeni ran the show on that one, while their female colleague Febe Potgieter-Gqubule seemed to stay almost entirely on script.
“The ANC has made a lot of strides and put a lot on the table,” Gender Links executive director Colleen Lowe Morna told the Mail & Guardian. “But the culture remains an overarchingly patriarchal one and that has yet to be broken.”
An influential woman, Motshekga knows the ins and outs of sexism and can quote feminist theories along with the best of them. Motshekga, as the Basic Education Minister, spoke with conviction about patriarchal mindsets and their devastating effect on women in South Africa.
Justice system designed by men, for men
“We had a case where a man did not get a long sentence for rape because the court said there were no injuries and that the victim was not a virgin,” she said, after noting the justice system was designed by men, for men. Much of her speech was spent demanding that the rest of South African society share the task of gender equality with the ANC—from private companies to other political parties. “It can’t just be the ANC that does 50/50,” she said, referring to the party’s celebrated quota for women.
Indeed, South Africa’s ruling party is “probably the only political party in the world to implement a 50/50 quota,” said Morna. However it was the attitude of the ANC’s most senior men that sent out the wrong message, she added, calling the polygamous and promiscuous lifestyle of Zuma “self-evidently sexist and patriarchal”.
“There is no other word for it.”
Motshekga however steered clear of this political minefield when quizzed by journalists—saying only that polygamy was legal and never arose in the league’s discussions.
However she was vocal about sexism within the party itself.
She described the problem of men in the ANC recounting unacceptable sexist jokes. “I have not heard members of the ANC insult other male politicians they way they insult women in the ANC,” she said.
ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu, seated next to Motshekga, turned serious as he contemplated the problem. “This gender committee will assist all of us as men,” he said about plans to revive a sub-committee on gender to combat sexist tendencies in the party.
It is debatable how much of a difference any number of committees, Bills and quotas will make to the culture of the ANC—or the attitude of its senior male leaders.
A case in point was the reported violent domestic abuse of former spy chief Manala Manzini’s disabled wife. Mavivi Myakayaka-Manzini told the Sunday Times how she had been forced to obtain a court order against Manzini after he beat her up in front of their eight-year-old daughter. Senior members of the ANC were involved in the matter, but there is no record of Manzini ever having been disciplined.
‘We don’t do quotas systems’
While the mother body preaches quotas to the rest of the country, it has yet to get its youth league to toe the line.
“We don’t do quotas systems,” the league’s secretary general Vuyiswa Tulelo told the M&G. “We ensure that young women get an opportunity to be developed in their own capacity, taking cognisance what their shortcomings, needs and special circumstances are.”
The argument can be disingenuous considering that the league backs racial quotas. Tulelo is the league’s most powerful woman and an organised and talented individual in her own right—but she is something of an abnormality. The top leadership of the league—a training ground for the ANC—is almost entirely dominated by men.
Tulelo brushed off the criticism, firing off a series of statistics to show the league had gender parity in nearly every other area—from membership, to their national executive committee.
Thanks to her advocacy, the league became increasingly gender aware with an annual “women’s assembly” to support and coach women in the league.
“We have women we have groomed that have come from the youth league who are leading the ANC today,” she said, referring to people such as Dorothy Mahlangu, Dipuo Peters and Potgieter-Gqubule. Clearly passionate about the topic, she went on to describe other talented female leaders in the league who were starting to distinguish themselves.
“The problem we have is the media tends to focus on the male species,” she said in an oft-repeated theme of our interview: the media’s fascination with people such as Julius Malema at the expense of women in the league.
However Tulelo, who at age 34 is on her way out of the league, always had her work cut out for her—without the media’s help.
If the ANC is patriarchal, the culture of its more radical youth league is downright sexist.
The comments of its controversial leader Malema in defence of Zuma during the latter’s rape trial landed him in the equality court.
“When a woman didn’t enjoy it, she leaves early in the morning,” he told Cape Peninsula University of Technology students. “Those who had a nice time will wait until the sun comes out, request breakfast and ask for taxi money ... You can’t ask for money from somebody who raped you.”
Like Motshekga, Tulelo, when pushed, acknowledged the sexist attitudes of men in her party.
“Because we are a training ground they’re still getting there. Sometimes they like to push their luck and push their boundaries from time to time,” she said—perhaps euphemistically—of the men in the youth league. “But I fight with the young women. I say to them, ‘for you to be assertive you don’t need to be as rowdy as I am. You can be assertive in your own quiet way’. But you must be able to say to a person ‘this is where it stops, you don’t push me around’.”
It’s a gradual process for a party that has put men first for nearly a century.
As Morna says: “Numbers alone are not enough. What we’ve realised about the ANC is that jobs for the girls are one thing, but gender equality for the nation is a much bigger issue.”