/ 14 December 2022

It’s time for the ANC to let the women lead

Anc Laumnched Its Political Manifesto In Durban, Photo Delwyn Verasamy
Woman alone: Jessie Duarte was elected and re-elected the ANC’s deputy secretary general in 2012 and 2017. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

The ANC prides itself as a liberation movement of the people and its key objective is to have a united, nonracial, nonsexist and democratic society. 

This is questionable, especially in light of the nominations for the ANC’s top six leaders. Kgalema Motlanthe, in his capacity as ANC electoral committee chairperson, recently announced the list of contenders based on the calculation and consolidation of the nominations made by the ANC’s branches. 

The 55th national conference of the ANC from 16 to 20 December will adopt resolutions on the party’s governance and policy positions and, more importantly, elect the party’s 80+ members of the national executive committee (NEC)and its top six leaders, the president, deputy president, national chairperson, secretary general, deputy secretary general and treasurer general. 

The presidential candidates are Cyril Ramaphosa and Zweli Mkhize, the candidates for deputy president are Paul Mashatile, Ronald Lamola and Oscar Mabunyane. The national chair position is being contested by Stanley Mathabatha, Gwede Mantashe and David Masondo. The secretary general candidates are Mdumiseni Ntuli, Phumulo Masualle and Fikile Mbalula. The deputy secretary general candidates are Nomvula Mokonyane and Febe Potgieter and the treasurer general candidates are Benjani Chauke, Pule Mabe and Mzwandile Masina.

Our biggest concern is the gender representation in the top six. One position, that of the deputy secretary, is being contested by two women — Mokonyane and Potgieter. 

It is worth noting that the ANC’s gender policy states: “The liberation of women is a fundamental necessity for the revolution, the guarantee of its continuity and the precondition for its victory.” 

The ANC has made progress in gender representation and inclusion. For example, it has a 50% quota for the representation of women in all decision-making structures, which has contributed to the increase of women in parliament and the executive.

But, since South Africa became a democracy, the ANC’s liberation of women in the NEC has been limited to non-top six executive positions except for the deputy secretary post. 

This is to the exclusion of acting women executives and those who become one of the top six by replacing someone who has died, been suspended or is removed.

On the attainment of democracy, in 1994, Cheryl Carolus was the only woman in the top six, occupying the deputy secretary general position. This was repeated in 1997, when Thenjiwe Mtintso became the deputy secretary general, and in 2002 when Sankie Mthembi-Mahanyele was appointed deputy secretary general. 

It was only during the 2007 and 2012 elective conferences that two top six positions were occupied by women — Baleka Mbete as national chairperson in both years, and the deputy secretary general post was occupied by Thandi Modise in 2007 and Jessie Duarte in 2012.

Just when South Africans thought there was progress, the ANC takes a step back in 2022. In light of this, one ought to question the effectiveness of the ANC’s 50% quota in ensuring equitable representation of women in decision-making structures. 

The danger of a blanket quota is that it does not always achieve equitable representation. Gender representation is bigger than just getting women into positions, it is also about their being able to make big decisions or influence those high-level decisions, particularly in the top six.

Mokonyane and Potgieter are contesting the position of deputy secretary general, not secretary general or any of the other positions of higher value. Constantly giving women deputy roles reinforces and perpetuates patriarchy. 

This perhaps unconscious bias seems to have become ingrained in the culture of the ANC.

Why not take steps to encourage the election of women to the president, deputy president or treasurer general positions?

It is quite disheartening to see an organisation that is supposed to lead, liberate and shape the narrative in the country hold on to regressive behaviour. The struggle and liberation of women has been the core of many socioeconomic and political issues. 

It is evident that the ANC has relegated the struggle for gender equality to the ANC Women’s League, whose voice is mainly taken into consideration on issues of gender-based violence and gender scandals in the party. 

At the launch of the ANC’s Progressive Women’s Movement on 8 August 2006 in Mangaung, Free State, the organisation declared: “The patriarchal system in ideology, beliefs, values and practices continue to impact the structure of society — resulting in unequal power relations between women and men and the subordination of women in all spheres of life.” 

This diagnosis of society was and continues to be sufficient enough to propel the party to be a panacea in providing solutions to this problematic issue.

The ANC is a microcosm of society; it is a reflection of the realities of the people. But there is a moral and organisational obligation for the ANC to unlearn these patriarchal tendencies and learn to embrace a gender-inclusive modus operandi as a means of propelling people forward.

It may be argued that it is not true that women in the ANC have declined nominations or refused to support other women who have been nominated, but rather it is the patriarchal sociological positioning of the organisation that creates a belief that top six leadership is synonymous with men. 

For instance, at the 54th ANC conference, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma contested the position of president alongside Cyril Ramaphosa. The discontent was more about her being associated with former president Jacob Zuma than about her leadership abilities. 

Lindiwe Sisulu has been reduced to being called a “slay queen” or deemed erratic in her political decisions on the basis that she decided to contest in the top six without a male-dominated slate. 

The ANC needs to embody what the former president of Mozambique, Samora Machel, outlined: “The mobilisation of women is the task, not only of women alone, or of men alone, but of all of us, men and women alike, comrades in the struggle … There is no way in which women, in general, can liberate themselves without fighting to end the exploitation of man by man, both as a concept and as a social system.” 

The men in the ANC need to be pushing for women’s effective inclusion in the top six, not just in the general party or executive.

When journalists and members of the public entertained the question: “Is South Africa ready for a woman president?”, it reflected the silence and inaction of the ANC and other political organisations to support women taking on the role of president. 

It is propelling the myths that women are unable to lead, despite the fact that women are taking action to bring social, political and economic change in society. Thus, the ANC must create an enabling space for women to contest in the top six positions and win. 

The organisation ought to leverage its existing structures and membership to ensure the meaningful inclusion of women in leadership positions. For example, they could start in institutions of higher learning with the ANC Youth League, South African Student Congress and the Young Communist League to ensure that women are effectively represented. These structures must ensure that areas in which they have branches liberate women to contest political spaces. 

This should be the mandate of the organisations — to reboot and normalise women leading societies.

Subsequently, it is important that the ANC limit the role of finances in contesting and winning elections. 

If money is the centre in winning elections, it is disadvantageous to the majority of women because many are still economically underprivileged.

Last, the ANC should stop hiding behind that quota system, which is mostly used to relegate women to the least significant positions of power, including in the executive governing structures. 

An effective consideration would be a quota system accompanied by the zebra system, whereby if the president is a man then the deputy minister must be a woman and vice versa. The ANC must start unlearning patriarchy because its gatekeeping is preventing women from becoming leaders.

Karabo Mokgonyana is a legal and development practitioner and programme director at the Sesi Fellowship and Skill Hub.

Yolokazi Mfuto is a youth development practitioner with the United Nations Population Fund Agency.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.