Gender trouble in ANC's succession race

Contenders: Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (left) and Cyril Ramaphosa (right) are touted as front-runners to replace ANC president Jacob Zuma (centre). (Lefty Shivambu/Gallo)

Contenders: Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (left) and Cyril Ramaphosa (right) are touted as front-runners to replace ANC president Jacob Zuma (centre). (Lefty Shivambu/Gallo)

The race for the next ANC president – and probably of South Africa – is on. Will Nkosozana Dlamini-Zuma, outgoing chairperson of the African Union Commission, become South Africa’s first woman president? Or will Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa finally get his chance, after Thabo Mbeki trumped him to take over from Nelson Mandela in 1999?

South African author and former Mail & Guardian editor Ferial Haffajee once observed that we can call Dlamini-Zuma “brilliant or boring” but not the ex-wife of President Jacob Zuma. A liberation fighter and negotiator, a medical doctor and former minister of the departments of health, foreign affairs and home affairs before she took over at the AU, Dlamini-Zuma certainly does not need her ex-husband to establish her bona fides.
If anything, Jacob might benefit from being called the ex-husband of Nkosazana.

But there is something unnerving going on when the ANC Women’s League openly declares its support for Dlamini-Zuma ahead of the December 2017 congress that will decide on Zuma’s successor. The league did so in the name of the ANC’s 50/50 gender parity policy, despite disapproval from the party leadership for upsetting party unity by declaring favourites for the leadership.

Remember how the tussle between Mbeki and Zuma, then deputy president, in 2008 became a case of “two bulls in a ring”, with the women’s league supporting Zuma, who had been acquitted of rape but found sadly wanting in his treatment of women. At the time, South Africa had its only female deputy president, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who might logically have been put forward as an option.

Yet it was left to a few dissident voices, such as former ANC secretary general Thenjiwe Mtintso, to write an opinion piece in the M&G suggesting that a woman candidate might present a “third way”. In 2012 and 2013, the women’s league caused a storm of protest from women’s rights organisations when it suggested that South Africa was not ready for a woman leader.

So why the league’s support for a woman president now? The penny dropped when, last weekend, despite Luthuli House admonishing the league for backing Dlamini-Zuma, the president as much as endorsed her in an SABC interview beamed to 10-million listeners.

First he poured cold water on the idea that the deputy president should automatically succeed the president. Next he endorsed the women’s league’s position – that “it’s time for a woman leader”. Then it got personal when he told a caller that if the ANC backed Dlamini-Zuma, the Zuma family would have no problem with that.

It’s not for us to speculate about Dlamini-Zuma’s relationship with the Zuma family nearly two decades since her divorce from Zuma. What we should be concerned about is the perpetuation of family dynasties, nepotism and cronyism in our new democracy – in whatever shape or form. As former public protector Thuli Madonsela told the Cape Town Press Club this week, she would welcome a woman for president but that woman must not be a “proxy”.

The family relations of a leader running for office are not a problem if that person has the credentials, integrity and independence to lead. But we need to subject all would-be leaders to issue and performance tests.

Former United States first lady and secretary of state Hillary Clinton ran for office twice after her husband Bill Clinton bowed out as president. But the gruelling US presidential campaign system put her views on the table and scrutinised every aspect of her performance. She was chosen as the Democratic candidate at a party convention but public opinion played a crucial role in her final nomination.

Women candidates deserve to be treated fairly and equally. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that gender biases in the public psyche affect women candidates disproportionately. Look, for example, at the response by American voters to the Clinton email saga, which played a role in her losing to Donald Trump; compare that with the response to Trump’s philandering and misogyny, which were dismissed or excused.

We should not fall into the trap of judging Dlamini-Zuma’s fitness for office through stereotypical lenses. Nor should we praise her because she belongs to South Africa’s new royal family. We should judge her, Ramaphosa and any other presidential hopefuls on their record, including their demonstrated commitment to women’s rights – arguably the biggest piece of unfinished business 20 years after the adoption of the new Constitution.

Let’s start with Dlamini-Zuma. As minister of health, she made a mark by pioneering anti-smoking legislation and leading the South African delegation to the landmark Fourth World Conference of Women in Beijing. She oversaw the adoption of the Choice of Termination of Pregnancy Act, a key strategic gain for the sexual and reproductive health and rights of South African women.

  But in that role and in other ministerial posts in the Mbeki administration, she did little to counter the Aids denialism that resulted in millions of preventable deaths, especially among young women. And, as Zimbabwean feminist Everjoice Win wrote in an article titled “ Sisters, you let us down” in the M&G, after the botched elections in Zimbabwe in 2008, Dlamini-Zuma, then South Africa’s foreign minister, failed to stand up to President Robert Mugabe at a watershed moment for South Africa’s beleaguered neighbour.

In her international role at the AU, Dlamini-Zuma has faced similar criticism. Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, former chair of the Nigeria National Human Rights Commission, wrote in Pambazuka News that, “whether it was the Ebola outbreak, drowning of African refugees in the Mediterranean, famines, the return of the god-president, the International Criminal Court or popular uprisings by young people demanding revolutionary change, the outgoing chairperson of the African Union Commission failed Africa”.

As the first woman leader of the AU, Dlamini-Zuma has played an important symbolic role in scuppering its old-boys’ country club image. There is a new feel about the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa: this year, for example, the summit will be preceded by a gender summit at which Dlamini-Zuma will be heaped with praise for opening new avenues for African women.

Yet scratch beneath the surface and it’s business as usual. Africa’s Agenda 2063, Dlamini-Zuma’s signature piece, is glaringly gender-blind. When regions put forward their positions for the global sustainable development goals, Africa is the only region that has failed to propose a standalone goal on gender in its common position, despite also being the only region led by a woman.

As chief architect of South Africa’s glistening rights-based Constitution, Ramaphosa also has an impressive CV but with blemishes from his period building a business empire after he lost out on the deputy presidency in 1994. He came under heavy criticism for failing to stop the massacre of 34 striking mineworkers at Marikana in 2012 at the Lonmin mine in which his Shanduka company has a stake. (Ramaphosa is no longer a Lonmin director and has also quit Shanduka.) The widows and children of these slain mineworkers have borne the brunt of the massacre’s aftermath with little
or no compensation.

Try googling Ramaphosa and gender. The mining mogul may have overseen one of the most progressive Constitutions on gender in the world, but there is little in his record to show that he would declare himself a feminist president as Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has done.

A bit like billionaire Trump being voted for by blue-collar workers in the US, Ramaphosa has the support of labour federation Cosatu in his bid for the presidency. On the plus side, because he has made his money elsewhere, he may be less inclined to get involved in the corrupt practices that have dogged the Zuma presidency. But what has he done to stop them?

The bottom line is that neither Ramaphosa nor Dlamini-Zuma has spoken out on issues such as Zuma’s rape trial, the Nklandla scandal or the public protector’s report on state capture. A pertinent question to put to both is what they would have to say to the four young women who mounted a highly publicised silent protest to remind us of Khwezi, Zuma’s rape accuser, who went into exile after the court case and recently died.

Could the ANC have the courage and the confidence to let its would-be leaders campaign openly for the job and allow the public to grill them, instead of making decisions about our future behind the veil of party unity (for which we may as well read Zuma loyalty)?

A woman and/or feminist president? Yes!

A proxy for Jacob Zuma? No!

See “Africa must integrate in age of Trump

Colleen Lowe Morna is the chief executive of Gender Links. Lucia Makamure is the advocacy and campaigns co-ordinator for the Southern Africa Gender Protocol Alliance (hosted by Gender Links)

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