What would it take for the ANCWL to choose a woman president?

The ANC Women's League's failure to campaign for a woman president of the ANC has stalked it for a while, especially as a known advocate of President Jacob Zuma, having supported him during two previous runs for the ANC presidency.

On Monday, the women's league stuck to a line it has spun since the run-up to Polokwane after its failure to nominate a woman for the position in spite of the seeming availability of its former leader, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma: the ANC Women's League will not break rank with the ANC, nor will it put its gender transformation imperatives above the ANC's needs.

In essence, the ANC's "processes" are holding the league back from nominating a woman candidate to lead the party, it said.

At a press conference in Johannesburg on Monday, women's league secretary general Sisi Tolashe said women presidents within the ANC would happen "in time", but that time had not yet arrived.

"As a liberation movement, we'll celebrate one day to say that time has come and nobody will ever say no when that time comes … I think we are almost there now." 

ANC Women's League president Angie Motshekga went on to explain that it would have been a "futile battle" to push for a woman president because of ANC "traditions".

A lost battle
For example, fighting for a woman president to take the reigns at the ANC's national elective conference at Mangaung last year would have been a lost battle, she said.

"We understand ANC processes … there are traditions, there are processes and those processes have a long, long life," said Motshekga.

ANC Women's League acting spokesperson Khusela Sangoni-Khawe said this was because the league could not forgo consulting branches on the issue.

She said this meant that asking whether the ANC Youth League wanted a woman candidate for president or not was "the wrong question". This would amount to announcing its support for a candidate and "making it about an individual".

"You don’t win this by announcing it – you have to go to the branches and motivate for it. You have to work within the organisation," she said.

It is a position that the ANC Women's League has found itself trying to defend before – most recently in the run-up to Mangaung, when suitable female candidates, the likes of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, were overlooked for the party's top job.

At the time, former spokesperson Troy Martens said: "It must not be misinterpreted that the ANC Women’s Leauge does not want a woman president at the helm of the ANC. This is not the case. However, the league is a strategic political organisation, with a deep understanding of the organisation we form part of. We are supporting comrade Jacob Zuma for president, comrade Kgalema Motlanthe for deputy president and comrade Gwede Mantashe for secretary general to promote continuity and to unify our organisation. We say the time is not right currently, not because we don't have the capable leaders, and we believe South African society is maturing to a point where being led by a women is acceptable, however the women's league currently needs to assist in healing and unifying the organisation and we believe at this point continuity will assist in achieving this goal, rather than bringing another candidate to the fore and creating further rifts in our organisation."

Martens said the organisation was "battling patriarchy from the branch up".

While most ANC members were women, conference delegates were overwhelmingly male, she said.

On Monday, the women's league was quick to point to the ANC's track-record of gender transformation to counter criticism. Motshekga reminded reporters that the country has a 50% gender representation quota. She also said the ANC has "spear-headed" the fight against gender inequality, and said the league was convinced that women "are just as capable of leading the organisation".

But Sangoni-Khawe said the women's league could not declare its support for a woman candidate, yet.

"As soon as you do that, it becomes about who you've nominated … We can't have that," she said.

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Sarah Evans
Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans interned at the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley for three years before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane). She went on to work as a Mail & Guardian news reporter with areas of interest including crime, law, governance and the nexus between business and politics. 

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