/ 2 December 2007

The Women’s League soils its legacy

To say that the ANC Women’s League’s choice of presidential candidate leaves much to be desired would be a significant understatement. When the country’s most powerful women’s collective decides to back a man who has expressed some of the most irresponsible and retrograde views on women and sexuality, the rest of South Africa needs to ask some ­difficult questions.

Even if we humour Jacob Zuma’s strongest supporters and ignore the previous and possible trials, we cannot get around the violent misogyny and homophobia he has expressed in public. What, then, are we to make of the Women’s League’s backing of this man for president of the ruling party — and therefore most likely as the next president of the country?

No one really expects the league to take the lead on gender transformation any longer, despite the fact that many ANC women, within and outside the league, are courageous individuals whom we have to thank for our Constitution.

This week the Women’s League spat on that proud legacy.

This must be said because it is our usual foot-shuffling when it comes to conservative women that has led us to this point. The league today is clearly dominated by individuals who make a mockery of the women’s rights ideals that it previously advanced.

We can no longer hide our heads in the sand about how little gender matters to many people in the ANC. The league would rather close ranks and genuflect at the altar of misogynists in the organisation than pay attention to the high price women continue to pay for gender-based violence and oppression.

The league’s claimed support for a woman in the Presidency rings hollow, since we already have one: Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. What we need is a woman president.

When the league backs a misogynist who will probably be at the top of our next ballot papers, it behoves the rest of us to vote differently than we have in the past. Perhaps less smugness about a real viable opposition will shake the ANC and its conservative women out of complacency. None of us needs an opposition to spoil the next ballot paper, and this may be the only way to cast our voice against a crude misogynist and homophobe in the presidency, and to remind his phallic women in the league that they do not speak for the rest of us.

Pumla Dineo Gqola is a writer and associate professor at the University of the Witwatersrand school of literature and language studies