Zuma promises to improve hardships of being a woman

By Carien Du Plessis 10 August 2011

The official Women’s Day rally on Tuesday was more of the same, with President Jacob Zuma making all the right – but somewhat sterile – noises on women’s history and economic empowerment. CARIEN DU PLESSIS wonders if this means the stadium was half-empty rather than half-full.

Not so long ago President Jacob Zuma addressed a crowd at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane. It was 8 January, the ANC’s 99th birthday celebrations. At the time the 45,000-seater stadium was pretty much full – until it started pouring with rain, at least.

In his party’s traditional 8 January statement, the year’s theme, economic emancipation following political liberation, was set. One of the promises that received much media attention, though, was free sanitary towels for poor women.

This promise was made official in Zuma’s State of the Nation address a month later but didn’t seem to follow through to Women’s Day.

On Tuesday Zuma failed to report back on his government’s progress regarding sanitary pads or, for that matter, anything regarding women’s health (a report detailing horror stories of maternal health care in Eastern Cape, released on Monday, for example, shows that much still needs to be done), but he did talk about the history of 9 August, the strides made by government to appoint women and the backwardness of business in this regard.

The theme of the celebrations was, after all, the (clumsily constructed gobbledygook) slogan, “Working together to enhance women’s opportunities to economic empowerment”.

The Commission for Employment Equity report, released just last week, was a case in Zuma’s point, as it “reflected male dominance, especially white males” in the workplace.
Zuma quoted the 2011 Women in Corporate Leadership Census (sponsored by Nedbank and the department of trade and industry) of the Business Women’s Association, which stated that women held only 4.4% of CEO or managing director positions, 5.4% of chairperson positions, and 15.8% of all directorships.

The Gender Equality Bill, being drafted by the Ministry of women, children and people with disabilities, should deal with these inequities, he said.

Government gender representation is, of course, much better, but there’s been one blotch: women’s representation in local government decreased from 40% to 38% after May’s local elections, mainly “because some political parties did not feature an adequate number of women in their candidate lists for local government,” Zuma said.

This is true, but he did neglect to mention the ANC’s scramble earlier this year to find any women north of the Tugela (pretty much Zuma’s own chauvinist backyard) that were liberated enough or willing to stand as ANC councillors.

Since the ANC took a few seats off the IFP in those wards, it’s likely that even as Zuma points his finger at the opposition, quite a few fingers are pointing back.

He also brags about the ANC’s adoption of a 50/50 gender parity policy at the party’s Polokwane conference in 2007, which admirably means that half of all leadership positions in the ANC, including its election lists, should consist of women. He failed to say that the party at the same conference allowed the policy not to apply to its own top six leadership, where, for reasons of political expediency, only two women were allowed.

Stilll, the ruling party is trying.

Women make up 43% of the cabinet (again, Zuma’s not applying the ANC’s 50/50 policy to his executive, to which he added quite a few positions in 2009), up from only one women in cabinet before 1994.

“Our goal is to achieve the 50/50 gender parity by 2015 as required by the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development. This requires all political parties, including the opposition, to champion this cause,” Zuma said, and we should keep our politicians to it.

Incidentally, the ANC 8 January statement also mentioned the celebration of 80 years since the Bantu Women’s League was started by Charlotte Maxeke (who is from Limpopo, where Tuesday’s event was held), but according to South Africa History Online the founding was closer to 1918 after the government started forcing women to carry passes too. The league was mentioned by Zuma, but not in the context of any celebrations, and we’re yet to hear more in this regard.

Polokwane experienced an especially hot winter’s day for the celebrations, which meant the incident of the day wasn’t people booing opposition politicians, but the fainting of an opposition politician.

DA leader in the Limpopo legislature Desiree van der Walt collapsed as she – during her few minutes’ speaking time – told the crowd that government should “improve its approach to land reform” to improve the lot of poor rural women.

It was difficult to see her face from underneath the wide-brimmed black hat she was wearing, but people present said she complained of nausea and exhaustion beforehand.

The DA’s Limpopo chairman Jacques Smalle afterwards said Van der Walt was fine, but he was concerned that the head-on collision she was involved in last week had something to do with her collapse.

“I will definitely tell her to go to the doctor to have it checked out in this week,” he said.

By all accounts the kind of booing witnessed at last year’s event in East London, when an ANC Women’s League crowd interrupted a Cope speaker (although really, a Cope speaker in an ANC crowd in Eastern Cape, where contestation between the ruling party and its splinter was fierce, was a recipe for political disaster), didn’t happen at this year’s rally.

For all the goodwill shown at yesterday’s celebration, there were some obvious omissions. ANC stalwarts like Albertina Sisulu and Bertha Gxowa, both deceased in the past year, were mentioned and commemorated, but the well-known Black Sash activist Margaret Nash, by all accounts a courageous and noteworthy woman who died last week and whose memorial service was in St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town on Monday, wasn’t mentioned from the stage at all.

The rally – where, among others, green-uniformed ANC Women’s League cadres were seated in a block – was addressed by the obligatory minister for women etc, Lulu Xingwana and Women’s League president, basic education minister Angie Motshekga (who called for the new chief justice to be a woman), ID MP Joe McGulwa (now that Patricia de Lille is a DA mayor, she can no longer represent the party she founded), and women from parties that have enough women to speak for them (like Cope, the DA and the PAC), and men from parties where the women don’t talk much (like Azapo and the IFP).

IFP president Mangosuthu Buthelezi preferred to address his own rally at Kwadukuza, perhaps just to show his former, but too ambitious chairwoman, Zanele Magwaza-Msibi (now leader of the National Freedom Party), that men can do it for themselves too.

And Cope secretary general Hilda Ndude (of the Terror Lekota faction) told a Cope rally in turn they shouldn’t allow the ANC to take over Women’s Day.

The whole of August has been declared Women’s Month, and Parliament is set to debate women’s issues, as it does every year, on 22 and 23 August, which means the hype is set to last for a few weeks beyond Tuesday, at least. DM

Read more:

  • Plans for a women’s monument in Pretoria are in the offing in The New Age.

Photo: Reuters


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