On the final day of the ANC policy conference, the gender commission and the important health and education commissions discussed the reports that had been approved by the plenary. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.
The ANC Women’s League is very concerned about how poverty and inequality affect women, but seem to be out of sync with society in general when it comes to solutions. Hlengiwe Mkhize, the deputy minister for economic development and the treasurer-general for the ANCWL, said that though the league had come to the conference with a hope to have prostitution legalised (a move that was supported by women’s organisations in the South African Communist Party and Cosatu), they had realised that the idea would not find favour with women in South Africa’s conservative society. That idea has now been shelved to give the ANCWL time to host a seminar with civil society to “soften attitudes”.
The idea of decriminalising prostitution is because the ANCWL believes that women who go into sex work do so because they don’t have any other option. Instead, the league proposes that an academy for these women be established. It also wants strong economic integration between South Africa and its regional neighbours to disincentivise women from other countries to seek employment here in the sex industry.
On the gender quotas in the party, which the ANCWL has championed since 1991, the league now wants to deepen women’s representativity beyond mere numbers. “After making gains in the 50-50 objective, women now want to evaluate the effectiveness of the quota system and the women’s ministry,” Mkhize said.
The commission was reportedly unhappy with the fact that women are almost always deployed to serve as deputies to men.
The ANC should also pursue gender quotas in the private sector. The women’s ministry should fast-track the gender equality bill.
Patricia Cheu, the league’s chairwoman in Gauteng, tripped up slightly when she was asked what the commission decided on polygamy. “Polygamy is not a South African issue,” she said. “You speak about it like it doesn’t happen in America or Germany. Polygamy oppresses women in practice, and gender activists among us oppose it, but not everyone in ANC agrees with us. There are women in the ANC who agree with polygamy, and men too. We won’t expel anyone from the ANC for disagreeing with us.”
The ANCWL will also establish a youth desk to attract numbers from the younger crowd. League spokeswoman Troy Martens was used as an example of the younger crowd that they want to pull in.
Strangely, the gender commission seems to have used the Second Phase document to inform its deliberations, even though reports are that the document was either hotly debated or rejected in other commissions. We already know that its name has been changed; strong evidence that it didn’t exactly find widespread favour.
Education and Health
The ANC appears to have made a serious concession to the South African Democratic Teachers Union on education. The party resolved at the Polokwane national congress four and a half years ago to have education declared an essential service. In essence, it would mean that teachers would be barred from embarking on strikes like the police and medical staff are. Sadtu killed the move dead at the policy conference (why it was still under discussion if it was a resolution at Polokwane is a bit of a mystery – perhaps nobody in government thought to implement it).
Basic education minister Angie Motshekga (who sits on the party’s health and education subcommittee) said that the commission lamented the fact that textbook coverage in South Africa is only 45% meaning that most kids have to share them. By comparison, Swaziland has 95% coverage. The procurement of textbooks is going to be controlled by the national level of the department, as opposed to provinces, and it is Pretoria that will decide what textbooks will be used in schools. That decision has actually been implement in government already – in Limpopo, schools were given books that were selected by a panel of experts instead of school principals.
The commission also recommended that an independent panel of experts be convened to determine what the pass rate for schools ought to be.
Higher education minister Blade Nzimande said that the commission supported the idea of reopening old teacher training colleges, and building five new universities, 20 teacher training colleges and 50 FET colleges by 2030. The commission also wants to tackle the problem of jobless graduates by introducing a form of national service for all graduates who benefit from public funding (that would include any university student who attends a university that accepts public funding – even if they pay their own fees).
Health minister Aaron Motsoaledi had some surprising statistics on the training of doctors: the ANC wants to send more students to Cuba because it is much cheaper and students are taught preventative health methods instead of curative health methods. It apparently costs R1,7 million to train a student for six years here, but only R750,000 to train the same student in Cuba.
The commission also recommends less market involvement in the health sector. The government is already conducting national health insurance pilots in different parts of the country, and the ANC is mooting a state pharmaceutical company very strongly.
Motsoaledi said the commission proposed that the costs of the NHI should be lowered by targeting non-communicable diseases caused by unhealthy lifestyles. Therefore, the commission proposed that the government tighten smoking, drinking and unhealthy diet laws as soon as possible.
The pharmaceutical procurement system may also go under a major change – instead of procurement happening nationally, it will happen locally and drugs and equipment will be delivered directly. This proposal seeks to solve the problem of millions of antiretroviral drugs and other essential medicine expiring in warehouses. DM
Photo: Delegates attend the African National Congress (ANC) policy meeting in Midrand. (REUTERS)