South Africa Not Ready For A Woman President
Last week Angie Motshekga, President of the ANC
Women’s League, told a press conference that her
organisation would not be putting forward a woman
presidential candidate in the run-up to elections. She
made the point that “no one wants to go into a futile
battle.” Unsurprisingly, this prompted derision and
ridicule from the chattering classes.
Curiously, there have been very few column inches
commending the Women’s League for stating, in the
same press conference, that “cultural practices and
traditions that promote the violation of women’s
rights must be abolished and these include, among
others, ukuthwala, ukungena, and virginity testing.”
The Zulu royal family blasted her, suggesting she go
and live in another country for uttering such words.
Civil society and commentators, for the most part,
Many middle-class South Africans have written off
the ANCWL. Disappointment with the body peaked at
the Polokwane conference where the League backed
Jacob Zuma over Thabo Mbeki in the leadership race.
After the conduct of Zuma’s supporters outside the
rape trial, after his statements on the stand, this
seemed like a bitter pill to swallow for many. The
truth is that the Women’s League did not have a
simple choice to make. It was not as easy as Zuma
bad, Mbeki good.
Both leaders had their strengths and weaknesses.
While Mbeki had an excellent track record in terms of
promoting women in leadership, many argued that
the delay in rolling out ARV treatment programmes
had a disproportionate effect on women and that his
style – which was seen as stifling debate rather than
encouraging it – was not helpful to the party. On the
other hand, there was Zuma.
In the end, although his personal conduct was highly
questionable, women in the ruling party did not have
the luxury of pretending that their president
represented an exception. Zuma is not the only man
in the party - indeed in the country – who has trouble
keeping his pants on.
In the fullness of time it has become clear that the
Women’s League made the right call and that the
organisation continues to carefully balance internal
party politics with its mandate of promoting gender
equality in wider society.
Many have been critical of the ANCWL in the past,
but given how bitter and bloody the factional wars
were in the ANC have been, the ANCWL has done
well to stay alive. At Polokwane and again in
Mangaung, the League did what every other bloc in
the party did: it picked a side and actually, it picked
the winning side. Everyone has chosen sides in these
wars, but as usual, women have been most heavily
chastised for their choices.
When Angie Motshegka says that fighting to get
Nkosasana Zuma, Lindiwe Sisulu or any of the other
highly qualified women in the party to make a run for
the Presidential seat would be “futile”, it probably
means that it would be, well, futile. It is difficult for
women to introduce radical change and new energy
into a party that continues to privilege male voices
over female ones – this is true for all political parties.
Across the world, the best women candidates for
political office come from the ranks of the party,
usually from within women’s caucuses. They use
party structures and processes to advance and they
learn how to fight party battles. This means change
is indeed slow. Those who ascend do not do so
overnight, and they succeed because first and
foremost, they are party women. There is nothing
wrong with this: indeed it is what sustains solid party
Angie Motshekga may not present her arguments in
the most media-friendly manner, but her point is
clear. There are indeed long traditions related to
leadership and succession in the ANC, and over
the years, the ANCWL has become adept at using
these to their benefit. The Women’s League used its
insider power when it fought for women’s
representation at CODESA. It used its influence in
pushing forward the Choice on Termination of
Pregnancy Act in the face of stubborn opposition
from many men within the ANC.
Remembering this history and drawing on it will be
key if the Women’s League is to make a case that it
should be listened to both within the party and
outside it. It will also need to demonstrate that it has
a gender strategy that looks beyond the lobby of
The first order of business, however, will be to
develop a more circumspect communications
strategy. This should include a media training to
teach its President to avoid making statements that
can be easily quoted out of context. The League has a
message; it just needs to rediscover its voice.
League is right:
The ANC is not
ready for a woman