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Gender is a premier issue for ANC

The debate on the dearth of women premiers raged in the ANC’s special national executive committee (NEC) meeting this week, with a compromise decision emerging to ensure that 60% of the executive in a province with a male premier should be female.

This was after the ANC had named seven premiers. Five of them are men.

A similar fight preceded the appointment of premiers after the 2014 elections. The group linked to former Free State premier and secretary general Ace Magashule, and led by the ANC Women’s League, pushed hard for women premiers.

It is understood that this time the women’s league, led by Bathabile Dlamini, accused the party of not wanting women to be leaders. This is despite women having overwhelmingly voted for the ANC in the 2019 elections and the fact that the majority of South Africa’s registered voters are women.

Dlamini and the women’s league were at the forefront of the unsuccessful campaign to have Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma installed as the first female president of the ANC, at Nasrec in 2017. But she was largely seen as a proxy for the faction aligned to former president Jacob Zuma.

A similar dynamic played out at this week’s NEC meeting, with die-hard Zuma supporters such as Mosebenzi Zwane, the state capture tainted former mineral resources minister, pushing for female premier candidates. He could not be reached for comment.

Other NEC members argued, once again, that the nine premiers did not constitute a structure and that gender parity applied only to structures. The provincial executive then would be the structure in which the gender parity rule applied.

For President Cyril Ramaphosa and his allies, it was crucial to appoint the chairpersons of the Eastern Cape, Limpopo, Gauteng and the Northern Cape as premiers because these provinces backed his campaign for the party presidency.

A province with strong ties to Zuma, KwaZulu-Natal, pleaded to allow its chairperson Sihle Zikalala to be sworn in as premier instead of a female candidate, provincial treasurer Nomusa Dube-Ncube, because of the fragile unity in the province after the former president’s departure from office.

The women’s league nationally expressed its displeasure in the appointment of only two female premiers. But the league in KwaZulu-Natal welcomed Zikalala’s appointment as premier and the compromise reached in the NEC, where 60% of the provincial executive had to be female.

Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal are the only provinces that have not yet had female premiers. The ANC appointed its Eastern Cape chairperson, Oscar Mabuyane, as its premier-elect for the province. The others are Stan Mathabatha for Limpopo, David Makhura for Gauteng, Zamani Saul for the Northern Cape, Sisi Ntombela in the Free State and Refilwe Mtsweni in Mpumalanga.

The NEC has tasked the party’s top six leaders with deciding on a premier candidate for the North West. The province was thrown into tumult last year after protests erupted and there were calls for the premier, Supra Mahumapelo, to step down. He was eventually forced to resign and ANC veteran leader Job Mokgoro was appointed to the post.

At the NEC this week, female candidates were put forward for the North West, but none were deemed suitable. Mokgoro would be the shoo-in candidate should the top six, in consultation with the women’s league, fail to find a suitable female replacement for him.

The NEC’s 60% female provincial executive decision is set to culminate in a hotly contested race for MEC posts.

MECs are appointed by the premier and generally drawn from the ANC’s provincial executive committee. In a province such as Gauteng — where there are strong contenders for MEC posts in the ANC’s provincial executive committee, who are also mostly male — the premier is set to face an uphill battle on who to appoint and who to leave out. Insiders said the situation is similar in Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal. The Commission for Gender Equality has criticised the ANC for failing to implement its own gender policy and called on the party to “reconsider” its decision on provincial premiers. The ANC, in its statement, also said that all speakers of legislatures, irrespective of the gender of the premier, should be women to compensate for appointing only two female premiers. The NEC meeting also mandated the president to put in place key performance measures for premiers.

It is understood that the meeting agreed that it could not be “business as usual” for premiers, given the ANC’s decline in electoral support.

Two sources confirmed that the meeting mandated Ramaphosa to “crack the whip” and remove premiers who failed to perform.

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Natasha Marrian
Natasha Marrian
Marrian has built a reputation as an astute political journalist, investigative reporter and commentator. Until recently she led the political team at Business Day where she also produced a widely read column that provided insight into the political spectacle of the week.

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