ANC shows how women can be their own worst enemies

Gender activist Tswelopele Makoe.

Gender activist Tswelopele Makoe.

Published Nov 27, 2022



Johannesburg - This week’s announcement of the ANC’s nomination list for the party’s elective conference taking place in mid-December offered little hope for improvement in the country’s gender dynamics and the future of women in political leadership.

Despite the capable and formidable female candidates in the ANC, only two women have been nominated to contest each other for the less-powerful position of deputy Secretary-General.

This is so typical of our society’s patriarchal culture. Women should continue to fight for the crumbs at the table instead of claiming their proper seats. Since 1994, when the first democratic elections were held, we have seen the ruling party bestow positions of prestige, influence and of leadership onto men much more than women.

The contentious dynamics of gender have long been present concerning politics, particularly in the role that they play in our very own ANC.

Historically, women and men would not collaborate in their advocacy against societal issues. The 1956 Women’s March, when over 20 000 women marched on the Union Buildings, is a case in point. Our recent history has, thankfully, grown to be a more collaborative and interconnected struggle against societal injustices.

Political parties such as the ANC have deep political roots in their fight against institutionalised racism and the abhorrent apartheid system.

To argue that the issue of a male-led ruling party is a result of the post-colonial patriarchal accent of society is to simplify a very obtrusive issue in our nation and our national politics.

South African political leaders have been front-and-centre in their advocacy for gender and equity reparations. We have seen our political leaders stand at the forefront, calling for private and public institutions to address equity issues and engage in equitable practices in the workplace.

Our political leaders have in recent years increasingly advocated for women’s rights and empowerment, especially concerning the fatal GBV culture. However, they have sadly not undertaken and practised this in their political environment. They claim to advocate for women, yet are evasive in their advocacy and participation in women’s leadership courses.

Not only does this week’s ANC nomination rejection of females send a dangerously disheartening message about the position of women in politics, but it also speaks to an even more detrimental regard for women in our society.

Not only for women - but also men - this does suggest a sense of despondency towards the need for progression in gender parity across our nascent democratic order. These are the times when ANC leaders and the party’s rank-and-file are supposed to lead by example and demonstrate their resolve to their frequent calls for 50-50 gender representation in the party and society.

I find it disheartening that the members of our governing party have once again failed to help usher women to the forefront and recognise women as the formidable leaders that they are. One would have thought that in 2022, young girl-children would have a long list of role models in the highest ranks of the ANC and would have an avalanche of true examples of authoritative female figures everywhere. It is so hurtful that this is not the case just yet.

Our country could learn from the many societies that have put women at the forefront. For example, Robinah Nabbanja, the Prime Minister of Uganda, Sahle-Work Zewde, the President of Ethiopia, Samia Suluhu Hassan, the first female president of Tanzania, our very own neighbours, who have had Sara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, the Prime Minister of Namibia in power for over five years.

This is proof that female leadership is being embraced not only by Europeans and Westerners but by traditional, cultured, and much more conservative African nations. This is also proof that you cannot blame the lack of female leadership on the “regress of culture”. It is indeed people that are unchanging, not the norms and conventions of society.

We are a developing world with issues that are specific to an ever-changing universe, and we cannot continue to act in archaic and ignorant ways, as the ANC nomination process showed. Women deserve a monumental position in our national politics. This is pertinent not only because gender matters are ravaging our country at a petrifying rate but plainly, because women deserve to be represented by a woman.

No wonder that in this day and age, we continue to witness the dangers of having laws about women’s bodies and issues being decided by men.

The societal issues that pertain to women are often too complex and strangely addressed in spaces where women are visible in their absence.

In my view, this is the root cause of the malady.

We can no longer continue to overlook politicians that undermine and ostracise women’s voices and participation in spaces and positions of influence. Women are legitimate and autonomous members of society and deserve to participate as equals in political and public discourse if they truly live in a just society.

Socially, politically, and economically, women continuously need to fight to be seen and heard and are often mitigated by fake promises of solidarity and advocacy. In reality, however, when the opportunities for an equitable order are presented, they are stifled. It is not only men that work against achieving an equitable society, but also women, as seen by the very women in the ANC.

They chose to continue to vote for their male counterparts, thus reinforcing an unequal patriarchal system. This is not an issue exclusive to politics but also in religious leadership and the corporate world, where women fail to be the advocates of other women. It is indeed a heart-breaking observation that often, it is women who are their own worst enemies.

And politically, we face the striking truth that South Africa still has a long way to go before we have a woman president. We must be extremely weary of the unwillingness to change, especially by those that we have assigned to lead us. Women must very urgently begin to recognise their power.

Your male leadership is emboldened and empowered by you, women. Do not be the architects of your destruction. The scores of women from the past did not sacrifice their lives for a democratic South Africa where women occupy inconsequential positions. The time to shy away from change is long gone.

Now more than ever, women need to break the glass ceiling, and soar. Kwame Nkrumah once poignantly said: “Action without thought is empty. Thought without action is blind.”

And acclaimed tennis star Serena Williams puts it even better: “The success of every woman should be an inspiration to another. We should raise each other. Make sure you’re very courageous: Be strong, be extremely kind, and above all, be humble.”

Tswelopele Makoe is an MA (Ethics) student at the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice at UWC. She is also a gender activist. The views expressed here are hers.

Sunday Independent