Editorial: Where is the ANC women’s voice?

The ANC has been justly condemned for replacing almost all its woman premiers with men. This is especially a pity because the ANC has a decent record in appointing and electing women to its top positions, in accordance with its commitments to gender parity. Now, however, it seems to be regressing.

In the past, women have served as deputy president and speaker, and acted as president.
Four have been deputy secretary general; one is the organisation’s chairperson. Twelve women have served as ANC premiers: three each in the Free State and North West, two each in the Northern Cape and Eastern Cape, and one each in Gauteng and the Western Cape. Almost half the ministers and deputy ministers have been women, including several in key security portfolios such as home affairs, international relations, defence and intelligence. Half of the ANC’s national executive committee members are women.

There were pockets of resistance at its 1991 conference, but the ANC’s delegates have consistently pushed for wider representation of women in all party and government structures.

Yet there is a downside: gender equality becomes a numbers game and not a necessary action to empower and affirm women. Delegates have failed to consider women for the truly important posts. No woman has ever been elected president, deputy or secretary general, let alone treasurer general, of the party. Currently, not a single woman serves as chairperson or secretary in any of its nine provincial structures.

Often, in such cases, incompetent men are pushed into powerful positions at the expense of competent and capable women. Political expedience, the mentality of gentlemen’s deal-making, factional battles and sheer chauvinism trump a commitment to gender equality.

The ANC’s provincial structures in Gauteng, the Eastern Cape and North West relinquished their commitment to gender equity in favour of internal factional dynamics. They ditched their female premiers or ignored female candidates.

We can blame men for this, but the women in the ANC must also shoulder some blame. The ANC’s Women’s League fails to raise the question of the organisation’s commitment to gender equity when it matters most.

The league supported Jacob Zuma and Kgalema Motlanthe for president and deputy of the party in 2007; it again supported Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa for the same positions at the ANC’s 2012 electoral conference. The league was silent this week when the ANC backtracked on its commitment to affirm female premiers. Unless women in the party raise their voices, the ANC’s gender-equity programme could soon be erased from its agenda.

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