Gender parity plan in trouble

An attempt to get the principle of gender parity elevated to the top structures of the ANC was trounced on Monday night, the Mail & Guardian has learned.

The policy, also known as the 50/50 principle, is a steep change in empowerment in the ANC and requires that every alternative position available for leadership be reserved for a female candidate.

The policy is closely associated with President Thabo Mbeki and a motion to have it applied to the top six positions of the ruling party was defeated in a heated debate.

The mercury rose in the plenary at the ANC conference during a heated debate about the interpretation of the constitutional amendment proposing gender parity in all structures of the party. The amendment was eventually accepted, but the decision was taken to make it applicable to the national executive committee (NEC) as a whole and not to insist that three of the top six officials have to be women.

The interpretation of the clause was what lost Thabo Mbeki’s supporters the debate, because there is nothing in the ANC constitution that separates the top six from the rest of the NEC.

“There is no separation, there is only one power and that is the power of the NEC. It is not like Cabinet and Parliament.
The officials cannot act outside the NEC,” Gauteng provincial executive committee member Nat Kekana said.

When Gauteng housing minister Nomvula Mokonyane spoke for the women’s league—also in favour of the interpretation that only half the entire NEC be women—the die was cast.

Delegates from KwaZulu-Natal who are Zuma supporters said on Tuesday that the Mbeki group’s commitment to gender parity is fuelled by the desire to get Mbeki re-elected as party president.

“When you talk about gender parity, it has to be genuine. It is no use if you only seek to empower the empowered.

“It is not supposed to be just for the elites, it must go straight through. What about rural women in KZN and in Limpopo? How will they benefit from this?”

All provinces but the Eastern Cape and North West supported the decision. Both are Mbeki strongholds.

It was a heated debate but in the end it was a consensus decision because there was no need to take a vote.

Some senior women in the Mbeki camp, including former speaker of Parliament Frene Ginwala and Public Service and Administration Minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, argued strongly for the top six officials of the ANC to be evenly balanced between men and women.

The top six currently has one woman—deputy secretary Sankie Mthembi-Mahanyele—and the feminist lobby in the ANC wants a woman in the party’s presidency. The Mbeki template for the top six included three women: Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as chairperson, Thoko Didiza as deputy secretary-general and deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka as treasurer.

The Zuma camp has two parliamentary speakers on its list: national speaker Baleka Mbete and North-West speaker Thandi Modise.

If the decision to constitute the top six with three women had been adopted, the Zuma camp would have been forced to change their line-up.

Other women who spoke for the proposition not to separate the top six were Thandi Tobias of the Youth League and league veteran Febe Potgieter-Gcubule.

They pointed out that the current top six included only one woman, yet the standing policy requirement is that women should constitute at least a third of representation in party structures.

Zuma’s supporters accused Mbeki of using the gender parity clause as a way of ensuring more support from women, while Mbekites accused Zuma supporters of not being true supporters of gender parity.

A key Zuma supporter, Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of Cosatu, accused some Mbeki supporters of being “legendary womanisers” despite their public appeal for gender parity.

Frene Ginwala recently hit back by saying “womanisers” are common in the Zuma camp as well”.

After the election for the NEC has taken place, the electoral commission is allowed to replace the men with the least votes with women who were lower on the list of results.

One of the unofficial reasons for expanding the NEC to 86 members was to counter the effect that the new gender parity constitutional amendment will have on the male component of the highest decision-making body of the party.

The M&G was told that instead of “losing” men due to gender parity, the committee retains its “strong male component” by being enlarged.

Rapule Tabane

Rapule Tabane

Rapule Tabane is the Mail & Guardian's politics editor. He sometimes worries that he is a sports fanatic, but is in fact just crazy about Orlando Pirates. While he used to love reading only fiction, he is now gradually starting to enjoy political biographies. He was a big fan of Barack Obama, but now accepts that even he is only mortal.
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