/ 21 February 2022

Bathabile Dlamini resists calls to step aside as ANC Women’s League president

Bathabile Dlamini's spokesperson
ANCWL president Bathabile Dlamini. (Oupa Nkosi/M&G)

A call for ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini to step aside was fiercely rejected by her allies in the structure during a national working committee (NWC) meeting on Friday. 

Dlamini is facing a charge of perjury having been accused of having lied under oath while giving testimony during an inquiry instituted by the constitutional court in 2018 to investigate the social grant payments scandal involving the South African Social Security Agency. Retired Judge Bernard Ngoepe presided over this inquiry. The case against her will continue in March.

The NWC sources say that the majority in the committee came to her defence, with its president taking a hard stance against those who made the call. 

There were also calls for the women’s league to be disbanded to install a task team until it holds its conference later this year. Some suggested that the matter should be taken to its national executive committee for deliberations. 

The Mail & Guardian understands that the charge for Dlamini to step aside was led by NWC member and Deputy Minister in the Presidency Pinky Kekana. 

“It should be us, leading by example and upholding the constitution of the ANC and making sure we give the president [Dlamini] time to look into this matter and step aside,” she said. 

Those who attended the meeting said that at least four members spoke against Kekana’s call, arguing that Dlamini must only step aside if she is found guilty. One NWC member and KwaZulu-Natal league secretary Makhosi Ntuli is said to have found Kekana’s suggestion opportunistic as the party prepares to go to its conference. 

Insiders added that Ntuli questioned why the call was coming now when Dlamini had been in the courts for more than a year. “The president [Dlamini] is the enemy of patriarchy … The law must take its course. We will not dump her,” insiders say Ntuli said during the meeting. 

Kekana came under attack as soon as she made that call, an insider said, adding that instead the NWC banded together making claims that Dlamini was a target of patriarchy. 

Kekana is said to have argued that other women in the ANC have adhered to the party’s 2017 step aside resolution. 

“She made mention of  Florence Radzilani, who stepped aside as deputy chair,” one party insider said. 

Radzilani stepped aside from her position as Limpopo deputy chairperson in 2018 after a damning report by advocate Terry Motau, which lifted the lid on wide scale looting to the tune of R2-billion in the VBS Mutual Bank saga. 

When it came time for Dlamini to respond, the insider said the league’s president described those calling for her to step aside as being used by patriarchy. “She made it clear that she has no intention to step aside.” the insider said. 

The ANC’s guidelines for the resolution say that party members should step aside following indictment on criminal charges. The resolution has been criticised by those affected by it, including suspended ANC secretary general Ace Magashule who challenged the rule in court and failed. Magashule argued that the rule was not constitutional. 

Meanwhile, another call for the women’s league to be disbanded was heard during its NWC meeting last week. 

This came after women’s league secretary general Meokgo Matuba delivered a damning report revealing that the structure had no functioning branches, regions and provincial structures in most provinces. 

Matuba is said to have highlighted that another problem was that five of their provincial secretaries were not working full-time and had instead been deployed to the government. Insiders said the NWC heard how branch audits on the structures’ readiness for a conference were moving at a snail’s pace because of the dysfunction of the branches. 

Matuba said that the mandates of the league’s structures had expired, that there was very slow intake of new members and many of its branches failed to reach quorum when they met.

“We don’t have an organisation throughout the country. Comrades are working but the problem is the good standing, the branches, the strength and vibrancy of the organisation. That mandate we want from the PEC [provincial executive committees] and RTT [regional task teams],” she said. “There is no organisation in Northern Cape, we need to pull out and find comrades there. In Mpumalanga, there don’t have structures in good standing; we don’t even have structures that are acting. In KwaZulu-Natal we have extended their mandate and the secretary continues to work.” 

The insiders said Kekana was among those who suggested that the women’s league’s NEC be disbanded and a national task team put in its place, with the help of the top five in the ANC. 

“She [Kekana] said that structures have reached their sell-by date and the [women’s league’s] NEC’s term had also expired. She made a point that the NEC must be proactive, given the state of provinces. It would open itself up to challenges on any decision it makes in any structure if it is not a legitimate structure.” 

The insider said that those who were against this call made a counter suggestion that the party must hold an early conference. 

“There was a language that instead of disbanding the league, the national officials can approach regions and provinces to say that ‘we are aware that our term of office has ended and we ask that you allow us to finish audits and the roadmap to conference, so that we don’t stand a chance of being possibly litigated or our decisions which have far reaching implications on the structures be dissolved’. I imagine that this will be a discussion which will be taken to the NEC at the end of the week,” the party leader said.