The last time the ANC Women’s League held an elective congress was in 2008 and five postponements later – the last one being this week – the league still cannot say when it will eventually hold the long-awaited gathering.
The league’s treasurer general, Hlengiwe Mkhize, spoke to the Mail & Guardian about what she describes as electioneering at the cost of the women’s league, the R40-million she claims she raised for the league and the need to have a woman president for the ruling party.
What’s behind the endless postponements of the women’s league congress?
There were a number of factors, including the status of [the league in] provinces. First, we were supposed to have the conference in 2012, but the ANC centenary celebrations and the national conference of the ANC distracted us. You will appreciate that members of the [women’s league] are first and foremost members of the ANC.
Why do you need the women’s league if the ANC serves all its members equally?
I think we need the [women’s league] more than in 1912 when the ANC was formed. Patriarchy has deeper roots and the worst form of it is found in democracy. Gender equality is still undermined.
Why is the women’s league failing to attract young professional women and other senior ANC women into its ranks?
When we introduced the idea of a women’s desk there was a lot of interest from young women, but the question has been how to sustain their interest. We lost a lot of young people in the past who were saying: “Our interests are not being met.” We are learning.
Why is it difficult for the league to raise its own funds?
We raise our own funds. The women’s league has its own investments. We have our own travel agency. The ANC used to be responsible for our travelling costs, but we are now doing that ourselves.
What have you done as treasurer to raise funds for the league since you were elected?
I raised more than R40-million for the league. This is before investments.
What is the value of those investments?
It’s a top secret. Future leaders of the women’s league will take over when some of the investments are maturing.
The ANC has raised concerns about the women’s league’s financial position. Why is that the case if your finances are in order?
Why would people after seven years say there is no money in the women’s league? We have been paying for our people. It’s cheap electioneering. It’s raised by people who are aspiring to be in leadership positions, but are not grounded in gender issues. I find it ridiculous.
President Jacob Zuma raised serious concerns about the women’s league during the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) meeting in March. Is this not an indictment on the current leadership?
No. That was triggered by the delays in convening the conference. It did not come from him; he was just trying to facilitate. He was talking to all of us. The women’s league has held the organisation [the ANC] together. Take the 60 days of electioneering campaign [ahead of the 2011 local government elections], for example – nobody can take that away. When it comes to ANC branches, everybody agrees that women are effective on the ground. There have been political challenges in the sense that some provinces, such as the Eastern Cape and Limpopo, have not held their conferences. But on the whole there has been good work.
Do you feel that there are women in the ANC NEC who are ganging up on the women’s league?
It’s difficult to tell what’s going on behind the scenes, but I [would] be naive to think the women’s league is immune to the new tendencies [of ganging up].
The women’s league appears indecisive about the leadership in the ANC. What do you propose for 2017 when Zuma completes his second term?
We have been consistent in saying we are ready for a woman president. If women at branch level don’t mobilise and ensure there is a woman candidate, then there is a problem. We hope and believe in our women’s league that now is the time for strategic positions for women in the ANC, starting with the position of president and secretary general. But it calls for hard work.
Who do you think is a suitable candidate for the position of president?
I have not thought through names because it distracts the course. We have [a] sufficient number of [competent] women, including Baleka Mbete and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
What is the league doing to push for better representation in municipalities come next year’s local government elections?
We believe women should not be less than 50% at all levels, including premiers’ and mayors’ positions. This is the last leg of the freedom struggle. It has to be realised at all levels. Otherwise young people will see no reason for joining us. We can’t lower the bar.
Does the women’s league support a resolution by your KwaZulu-Natal structure to back the continuation of virginity testing?
We said during the policy conference … that they must debate issues like the Traditional Courts Bill, uku-thwala [abduction for marriage purposes] and ukuhlolwa [virginity testing]. We said people must debate this against the culture of human rights. This has created serious tension, but we must find each other. We all have to test our position against the culture of human rights. I think we have to provide leadership on this one.