‘I make people very uncomfortable, but fortunately I got into the Economic Freedom Fighters as an adult and I had already fought many battles,” says EFF Gauteng chairperson Mandisa Mashego.
Amid preparations for the party’s second elective and policy conference this weekend, Mashego took some time to speak to the Mail & Guardian about the possible formation of a women’s wing.
She starts by putting us on hold to wrap up another call.
Mashego’s no-nonsense attitude earned her the reputation of being a “shit-stirrer” long before she joined the EFF soon after it launched in 2013, she says.
Having been in her role as the only woman provincial leader in the EFF for just over a year, Mashego touches on her experience in South Africa’s third-largest political party.
“When you fight you must know that you are going to be a casualty,” she says on the phone, adding that in fighting for certain issues, you tend to become a “bogeyman or bogeywoman”.
“This is a generational fight. You fight for women and, if you benefit … you’re the shit-stirrer.”
Ahead of the conference, a party insider said Mashego will be contesting the position of secretary general, a role currently held by Godrich Gardee.
Mashego will likely go head-to-head with the favoured EFF MP Marshall Dlamini, who is said to be closely linked to party leader Julius Malema.
Numerous slates have been touted on social media, with Malema on all of them.
The rest of the top six positions are also up for grabs, with Mashego being on a slate that includes current party chairperson Dali Mpofu.
Although Mashego confirms there have been “healthy discussions” within the party about the upcoming leadership battle, she declines to comment on whether she would be available to take up a position in the leadership.
Such discussions tend to “polarise members and create unnecessary divisions”, she says.
Mashego is going into the EFF’s four-day conference backing calls for a women’s wing. The possibility of this was raised by Malema last month, when he bemoaned the party’s failure to attract more women voters over the past six years.
Of the party’s leader, Mashego says: “He’s the only president of a political party who genuinely addresses gender issues. And who will not have any discussions without raising a gender issue and who has confronted gender issues within his own party.”
In its discussion documents, the EFF envisions a “fully functional” women’s command, youth and student’s command and a “young pioneers movement” as part of its ideal organisational structure.
The party has identified its failure to establish these various structures in its formative years as one of its weaknesses.
Mashego says that in the 2014 general elections — where the EFF garnered just above 6% of the national vote — only 40% of their voters were women. But she believes that the party’s support base among women has grown since then.
“If you look at Gauteng, where 250 000 more people voted for the EFF in 2019 than in 2014, it’s completely logical to conclude that our support has grown from that 40%.”
Although she supports the establishment of a women’s wing, Mashego says it should not be formed for the sole purpose of attracting more votes, but should rather focus on issues that affect women — issues such as unemployment, poverty and gender-based violence.
“What we need is an organisation that is going to come out with a programme that will be innovative, but also genuine,” Mashego says.
Mashego is also sceptical of moves by men to spearhead women’s issues.
“When we expect men to defend women it’s like expecting wolves to save sheep,” she says.
“Men have nothing to benefit from feminism. They have everything to lose, because patriarchy provides them with undue privileges.”