Another national public holiday is looming, and opposition parties are again bitching that the ANC is hijacking the event, which is supposed to unite women as it had done in a march to the Union Buildings against pass laws 55 years ago. CARIEN DU PLESSIS reports.
At a table selling ANC paraphernalia, the desperate trader had on offer for a bargain R5 a pair of Jacob Zuma 2011 rear-view mirror covers – which at first glance looked more like underpants. They go cheaply, nowadays, but are the leftovers from this year’s local government elections campaign and will soon be outdated.
Such displays are a common sight at ANC and alliance gatherings, but seemed out of place at the entrance to the hall in the Birchwood conference complex where the first women’s conference, a government event proudly organised by the Ministry for women, children and persons with disabilities was held from Sunday to Wednesday this week.
Minister Lulu Xingwana proudly declared at the closing session on Wednesday that 800 delegates were expected, but more than 1,000 turned up “from all sectors”, including trade unions, business, NGOs and government departments like correctional services minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.
The conference discussed policy issues and significantly economic development Ebrahim Patel agreed 50% of jobs created by the New Growth Path would be reserved for women (how he would go about monitoring the process is another matter). This is in line with the theme for Women’s Month, which is “working together to enhance women’s opportunities to economic empowerment” (a line which almost comes from a Youth League handbook, with their “economic freedom in our lifetime” mission).
The Gender Equality Bill – the ministry’s first big project – was also discussed and in theory wants women to be in half of all “key decision-making positions”. (Again, what exactly that means in practice still has to be sorted out.) The ministry is aiming to have the Bill passed by March next year, but is for now still deciding on the policy direction, Ranji Reddy from the ministry said.
Deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe, whose name did not appear on the programme, closed the conference on Wednesday, saying gender issues shouldn’t be confined to August, which has been declared national women’s month.
But it seems like even gender issues could be sacrificed, again, at the altar of party politics.
Some opposition parties complained bitterly that the conference was hijacked by the ANC Women’s League and say the same is bound to happen at the Women’s Day celebrations planned for Tuesday in the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane, where in January the ANC held its 99th birthday bash. Last year the UDM boycotted the national celebrations in East London, while the DA couldn’t attend as it only received the invitation for the Sunday event the Friday before, when they already had other plans for the weekend. It was just as well, because the Cope representative who spoke at the occasion was heckled so badly she could hardly deliver her message.
The UDM said its five representatives from Eastern Cape, out of an invited provincial delegation of more than 400 (most of whom are ANC members, the UDM says), have already declined their invitations because they felt they should have been given more places.
Thandi Nontenja, secretary general of the UDM’s women’s wing, complained that the ANC tried to turn national celebrations into ruling party rallies, with this year’s Freedom Day celebrations, where opposition party speakers were again heckled, in the presence of Zuma, and where large parts of the crowd came in ANC elections campaign gear, another case in point.
She called this “a disguised form of misuse of state resources” to fund the ANC’s political programmes.
She also complained that the ANC hijacked this week’s conference with the majority of delegates from the ANC Women’s League and other women’s organisations aligned to it.
The proceedings had an ANC ring to it, with delegates singing freedom songs normally sung at ANC rallies and some wearing clothes with the party’s logo on it. But it wasn’t all bad, because the conference was closed not with a freedom song, but with delegates singing the more neutral: “This little light of mine, I am going to let it shine”, led by Mapisa-Nqakula, before the national anthem.
Nontenja told Daily Maverick it was sad that women couldn’t simply get together for Women’s Day without party politics interfering. “The women who marched to the Union Buildings were all women, regardless of race, class or political affiliation,” she said.
ANC Women’s League president Angie Motshekga has argued that invitations to Women’s Day events happen proportionally to the party’s representation in Parliament – the UDM has only about 1% – but Nontenja said women should rise above party politics and unite.
DA spokeswoman on gender issues, Denise Robinson, echoed some of Nontenja’s sentiments, saying “the ANC is notorious for hijacking events”. Still, Robinson said she would attend the Women’s Month proceedings in Parliament on 22 and 23 August, but could not yet say whether the party would go to Polokwane next week. She said she hadn’t seen an invitation – yet. DM
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