Senior ANC leader and Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi has criticised the party for allegedly excluding women from top leadership positions.
Maswanganyi is credited with having mobilised a significant portion of the Limpopo province to vote for Jacob Zuma at the ANC’s Mangaung elective conference in 2012 and the Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma faction is hoping he will deliver the province for them in December.
The ANC’s national executive committee is required to comprise 50% women, but women are underrepresented in senior executive positions — chairs, secretaries, deputy chairs at national, regional and provincial levels — a subject expected to feature prominently at the December conference.
Complicating the debate is how, in the current race, gender has become a proxy for factional politics, with those supporting Dlamini-Zuma saying the ANC is “ready for a woman president”, whereas those who back Cyril Ramaphosa insist on the “tradition” that the deputy president always succeeds the outgoing president.
For the first time, factional groupings in the party are under pressure to choose a woman as a candidate for the position of either president, deputy president or secretary general.
In an interview with the Mail & Guardian this week, Maswanganyi, who is also a member of the ANC provincial executive committee in Limpopo, challenged members of the party to address their patriarchal views, which he says have continued to exclude women from chairperson positions. He dismissed the idea of the automatic succession of an ANC president by its deputy, saying leaders were “not anointed” in the party.
He added that it was insulting that people still questioned whether the party was ready to be led by a woman.
“It’s because of the patriarchal system that we continue to experience even in the organisation that women are not given those responsibilities to be chairpersons of regions and so on,” Maswanganyi said.
“It is us as men who constitute lobbies that exclude women, let’s be honest. Women and youth constitute the majority in South Africa. So does it mean we only want their votes but we don’t want them to lead us? We go to women when it’s time to vote and say ‘vote for us but don’t lead us’. What society are we raising?”
In the past few months, Maswanganyi has been spotted with Dlamini-Zuma on multiple occasions during her campaigning trips in Limpopo.
A former provincial secretary of the ANC in Limpopo, Maswanganyi still has the influence and constituency that could deliver support for Dlamini-Zuma.
In 2012, he took a different stance to that of his long-time comrade and former ANC chairperson in Limpopo, Cassel Mathale, when he supported Zuma to be re-elected ANC president. Mathale’s faction, which included former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, backed former deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe.
But Maswanganyi was tight-lipped about whether he would support Dlamini-Zuma.
“I can’t anoint anybody. She has shown interest in the position like the other six. Remember, there are not only two contestants for the position, so the branch where we come from will decide if they want her or any other candidate,” he said.
There has been no conclusion to the debate about whether the ANC indeed has a tradition of the deputy succeeding the president.
In a tweet published in September, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said the party would be in crisis if Ramaphosa was not allowed to assume the top position. He suggested that a woman rather be considered for deputy president.
But Maswanganyi disagreed with Mantashe’s views. “You can’t prescribe leadership like you prescribe textbooks or a curriculum that ‘thou shall follow the following’. We also don’t anoint leaders in the ANC like in churches.”
He added that “contest for leadership does not constitute disunity and we must encourage contest for leaders so the ANC itself should be seen to be living up to democratic principles”.
In Maswanganyi’s view, the differences of opinion being expressed ahead of conference were indicative of “vibrancy”, not disunity.
In the 2016 municipal elections the ANC saw a 8.04% dip in its national support, losing key metros such as Tshwane, Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay to Democratic Alliance-led coalitions.
In his diagnostic organisational report delivered at the ANC’s national policy conference in June, Mantashe outlined that the declining public support for the ANC was mostly linked to leadership problems.
But Maswanganyi believes the cause of the ANC’s difficulties is “foreign forces” that want to control South Africa’s economy. His rhetoric matches that of Zuma and his sympathisers such as Cabinet ministers Nomvula Mokonyane and David Mahlobo and deputy minister Kebby Maphatsoe, who have denounced criticism of the ANC as a sign of moves towards regime change.
“Big forces are the ones creating problems for the ANC. They are the ones causing some of the disunity that people are talking about. The ANC is being contested even from outside [South Africa’s borders], hence all sorts of challenges that we’re facing,” Maswanganyi said.
“But that does not mean the ANC is going to die. We are going to win the 2019 elections and beyond.”