South Africa


ANC’s long-term future better be female

ANC’s long-term future better be female
From left: Edna Molewa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Simphiwe Nkwali) | Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Veli Nhlapo) | Mmamoloko Kubayi. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sharon Seretlo) | Thoko Didiza.(Photo: Gallo Images / Beeld / Deon Raath) | Gwen Ramokgopa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Beeld / Lisa Hnatowicz)

While the ANC has done much to transform our country in many ways, it has so far not been able to create powerful female leaders. And while it may still take some time before this happens, there are indications that the party and the country are changing. It almost certainly will not happen within the next five years, but soon enough the evolution will be complete.

The ANC has deliberately tried to implement mechanisms to ensure women have access to real power, particularly in its National Executive Committee (NEC). However, despite this, it is a sad fact that a woman has only once won a provincial election in the ANC – Edna Molewa in North West. It is not certain that this is going to change in the near future.

On Wednesday morning, while speaking to SAfm, North West Finance MEC Motlalepula Rosho confirmed, after repeated questioning, that “if branches nominate” her, she would be available for the position of leader of the ANC in North West. Of course, this is ANC-speak to confirm that she is contesting for the post. 

Rosho will certainly not be the first woman in recent times to contest for provincial leadership. In 2010, Nomvula Mokonyane contested for the position of Gauteng leader but lost to Paul Mashatile.

Since 2007, the slate system has taken over in the ANC. A consequence was that teams of people were created to contest for positions. In provincial elections, these were always led by a man, with at least one woman on the slate to ensure some kind of gender representation.

This was also pointing out that the women on these slates were not really in powerful positions and that they did not have real influence. Of course, many of them (some correctly) disputed this.

At the same time, the ANC did something very few political parties have ever done. It deliberately chose to implement a formula to ensure that its top decision-making body between electoral conferences, the NEC, had proper gender representation. As the voting narrows towards the 80 members of the body who will join the Top Six, votes start to be weighted towards women. It is for this reason that if you look at the members of the NEC in the order in which they received votes, the final few are usually female.

And yet, this has not necessarily led to real change in the provinces, regions and branches, where the vast majority of the elected leaders are male.

This is one of the reasons there is often a tussle after provincial elections. The ANC has a standing resolution that where possible, the leader of the provincial party should also be the premier, to avoid having two centres of power. Because all of the provincial leaders are currently male, there are no female premiers.

As a result, the NEC often has to intervene and essentially decide who will be the premiers to balance the gender dynamics around this.

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Of course, it has happened only once that a woman has stood for the position of the ANC’s national leader. This was when current Cogta Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma lost to Cyril Ramaphosa in 2017.

This may appear to be in stark contrast to the bodies that are perhaps closest in nature to political parties, the unions.

Currently, three of Cosatu’s six national office-bearers are women, including its president. Four of the top six leaders in Saftu are women, and two of the top seven leaders in Fedusa are women.

That said, and similar to the ANC’s provincial structures, there appears to be only one Cosatu affiliate with a female leader, Louisa Thipe at Saccawu (she is also in the top leadership of Cosatu). This may suggest that it is easier for a woman to be elected to lead a federation than an individual union.

It is obvious that the ANC cannot continue like this indefinitely. There is likely to be a real pressure on Ramaphosa to, in December, endeavour to advance a woman as the party’s next deputy leader.

And this is where some of the political calculations around who that person could be, and whether they may one day be the first female leader of the ANC, and perhaps our first female president, start to get complicated.

So far, no woman has put their hand up and said they will definitely contest for the position.

UCT professor (and Ramaphosa biographer) Anthony Butler has suggested in Business Day that Land Reform Minister Thoko Didiza may be a strong candidate. She was asked about this directly on SAfm last week. 

The question was: “Are you available for the position of deputy leader of the ANC?”

There was a brief pause, before she said, “Well, no. The issue has not arisen.”

Another name mentioned in recent times has been that of Human Settlements Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi. She was recently elected as chair of the ANC’s subcommittee on economic transformation. This is generally seen as a powerful position; her immediate predecessor is Enoch Godongwana, the minister of finance, a position arguably more powerful than the Deputy President.

Of course, power does not only reside in the positions of leader and deputy leader. During the Zuma era, Gwede Mantashe showed how powerful the position of secretary-general can be. It is entirely possible that a woman (Gwen Ramokgopa perhaps…) may be elected to that position.

However, all of that ignores the really difficult question that the party and our society have to address on gender. Which is: Why is it that only one woman has ever been elected as a provincial leader in our governing party?

It may be that it is only when women are equally represented in directly elected positions within the ANC that the party will have completely transformed itself along gender lines. That said, the ANC could argue that it has probably done more than any other political party in Parliament to ensure this transformation does happen in the longer run. DM


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