Clock ticks for ANC gender equality
The time is nigh for the ANC to have a woman president
My proud possession is a commemorative ANC centenary clock with the faces of all the ANC presidents hanging on my office wall.
It depicts the faces of the 12 presidents of the ANC in its first century and ticks from the first president John Langalibalele Dube at one o’clock to the current President Jacob Zuma at 12.
The comrade brothers have led us gloriously in the past century, but this is also a simple, even sad, reminder that in its 100 years, the ANC has never seen fit to elect a woman president.
Has there never been a politically astute, capable, competent woman of integrity ready and willing to lead the ANC in one hundred years?
We ANC members and leaders will be the first to confirm the outstanding leadership capabilities of women in the ranks. We can rattle off an unending list of women leaders, including two former state deputy presidents.
What we may not mention is that the latter were not elected, but appointed as stopgap measures at difficult times and their tenures were very short. At election time we did what we do best, elect male comrades.
For good measure, we can throw in our new chair of the African Union, but let’s not mention it may be difficult for her to avail herself as a candidate for ANC president from Addis Ababa.
Many theories exist on why women should be at all levels of political decision-making and activity in society.
The ANC and its alliance partners, informed by one or a combination of all of these, has concluded there can be no real democracy and freedom if women are still excluded from the highest echelons of power.
The ANC has constitutionalised gender parity, passed resolutions, formulated policies, set up structures, and designed programmes for women’s emancipation and gender equality.
Are we not at the top of the list for women’s representation in Parliament and government, surpassing even the so-called established democracies?
Malibongwe! So what do these women want? We want to sit at the highest table. We want a woman president.
Now, I am on a very rocky path. Many women and men provided a backlash against this at previous conferences, and loudly at the last conference in Polokwane.
So why does this question arise only now? Simply because the nominations were not yet officially opened, never mind the hectic unofficial lobbying behind the scenes.
Why do women do a disappearing act when it is time for nominations for the highest office?
One of the challenges for us in the ANC and the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) are the so-called slates/amakhasi, when the list of candidates in the election is drawn up.
Towards conferences, and especially since the 1997 conference, these slates seem to appear from “nowhere” but they then spread like wildfire throughout the ranks.
Provincial and regional leadership, especially chairs and secretaries, play a prominent role in this, despite their stringent denials.
It’s worth noting there is not a single woman provincial chair or secretary in the nine ANC provincial bodies.
The 18 male comrades have a field day in trying to influence the outcome of elective conferences.
Sometimes the ANCWL’s provincial leadership is involved but only in terms of their provincial ANC leadership.
The national executive committee always warns us against bulldozing through slates, but this has become the approach of the ANC towards elective conference time at all levels, beginning with branches.
Though women and the ANCWL usually participate in drawing up these slates, there never seems to be any specific women’s lobby group, even one from the ANCWL.
At the “watershed” Polokwane conference, some leaders in the ANCWL made significant noises about a woman for president, at first, then watered down their statements to wanting a woman in the presidency, and then finally they just became silent.
At the conference itself, some of the ANCWL leaders fought very successfully against a gender quota being adopted for officials.
Some of them even went so far as to declare that women who wanted a quota were motivated by self-interest in that they were likely to be candidates for those positions.
Interestingly, the proposal to have a quota came from a man.
The argument, supported by some women who seemed to be supporting a particular slate that did not have 50% women was that officials are not a constitutional structure but an informal group.
That was a correct, if academic, interpretation, in that most of the time the officials at national level and the top five at the provincial level do act as a de facto structure.
But the interesting point is that we, women in the ANC and the ANCWL, have never – since the 1991 conference at which some women quota protagonists lost the quota campaign – openly produced a list and lobbied for our own leaders.
We have always become useful supporters of male-produced lists.
I do not want to sing the praises of lobby lists and groups. But the reality is that these exist and most of the time they are successful.
If we become part of this system, let us work for our gender agenda. Otherwise, we should not be involved as the current slate system works against women.
We, the women of the ANC, should refrain from declaring this inadvertent vote of no confidence in ourselves.
We should love ourselves enough to believe in our ability to lead our country and our glorious movement at
the highest level.
Women and men in the ANC should recognise the internal workings of patriarchy that threaten gender equality.
Women should not allow themselves to be used for, or by, patriarchy in whatever form.
The ANC is a patriarchal organisation, particularly because patriarchy, the amoeba and lizard it is, adapts to any system or organ, taking its form, shape, and colours.
It spreads throughout and coexists with that organ, progressive as it may be. It has successfully done that in the ANC.
We can attack it systematically, beginning with using our numbers for the benefit not of women but of the gender agenda itself.
At some point in the 100 years of the ANC, gender struggles were subsumed by national and even class struggles.
That time has passed. A woman president will be but one stop on the path to real gender equality.
ANC women and the ANCWL have a responsibility to ensure that women’s emancipation is achieved. This, as OR Tambo once said, is not their responsibility alone.
However, at the moment, they have to lead. For starters, they can produce a list of women candidates for president, dismissing the silly excuse of “there are no capable women”.
There is no special school for ANC presidents, except in the struggle for freedom.
Most of the ANC’s men and women have gone through that furnace at different times, conditions and contexts and many women comrades would, if given a chance, fulfil the imperatives of the ANC.
Another reminder: as per the ANC constitution, no less than 50% of the voting delegates will be women. The ANCWL will also have its own women-only delegation.
The youth league should also have no less than 50% women delegates. Let the 50/50 split work for gender equality.
Lobbying for women candidates as president is not passing a vote of no confidence in anyone. It is just stating a fact that the clock is ticking and the ANC is ready to move with the times.
Let our generation leave a legacy of gender justice for future generations. Having a woman as a president is only a small part of gender justice.
Malibongwe! A woman for president!
» Mtintso is a veteran ANC leader and the South African ambassador to Italy