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ANC Women’s League makes a return to respectability – sort of, maybe

ANC Women’s League makes a return to respectability – sort of, maybe
From left: Deputy President Lungi Mnganga-Gcabashe, Secretary General Nqaba Nokuthula, President Sisisi Tolashe, Deputy Secretary-General Dina Pule and Treasurer General Maqueen Letsoha-Mathae at the African National Congress Women's League conference, 23 July 2023. (Photo: Twitter / @Myanc)

The election of new leadership to the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) now means that, for the first time in many years, the governing party has a functioning elected leadership for both of its main leagues.

It is also the end of an era in which Bathabile Dlamini comprehensively lost the (ANCWL) leadership elections. This may be an important boost for President Cyril Ramaphosa and may suggest he now has more power within the party. 

But there are also the usual signs – this time in the election of Dina Pule to an important position – that the ANC is unable to truly renew itself.

The election of Sisisi Tolashe as the new leader of the ANCWL may be a new beginning for the Women’s League.

In the past it has defended a future president while he was accused of rape, campaigned for a man to be leader of the ANC, and only supported a woman from his political unit, in Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.

Now, a person junior to Dlamini Zuma in government is the leader of the League.

Tolashe is currently Deputy Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and People Living with Disabilities, while Dlamini Zuma serves as the minister in that department.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of this election is the comprehensive defeat of Dlamini. She had led the Women’s League for many years and through many scandals and consistently refused to retreat from her defence of former president Jacob Zuma.

Her time as ANC Women’s League leader was marked by her actions in government and how she enabled a white man, Serge Belamant, to benefit from the social grants payment system.

This scandal saw her lie under oath about her role in a deal that saw Belamant essentially abusing BEE legislation.

All through this, Dlamini, and by extension the League she led, became synonymous with the “RET faction” of the ANC.

But it must be remembered the roots of this lay in the months before the ANC’s Polokwane conference in 2007, when the League’s leadership at the time decided to support Jacob Zuma despite his behaviour and comments about sex and women, both during and after his rape trial in 2006.

As Baleka Mbete, convenor of the ANC task team that managed the League until this weekend’s conference, put it in reference to Polokwane: “The women were also affected as they were part of the movement and all its formations. It is a fact that when history is captured, it will show how exactly and how much we reflected this contamination as women.”

This election, then, may well mark the end of an era which began over 15 years ago.

And it is a comprehensive end: Dlamini won just 170 votes – this can only be interpreted as a wholesale rejection of her leadership by the delegates at this past weekend’s conference.

If this is the case, and if the Women’s League is about to embark on a new era in which it shows it is independent of other factions in the ANC, this could be a very important moment.

And if the ANC Youth League is also able to define itself independently, then President Ramaphosa could point to these recent conferences as proof that the ANC is finally renewing itself. He may be able to say that, in fact, with these leagues, the party’s structures are now beginning to properly reform.

This could be important for the ANC as a whole, too.

This is because it provides structures for different constituencies to join the party and work towards their aims. It means that young people and women can now join those structures and start to develop through them.

It would also send an important signal that some of the damage caused to the very structure of the ANC in the years since Jacob Zuma won the Polokwane conference is now undone.

More personally for Ramaphosa, the fact that Tolashe appears to be an ally suggests that he is still increasing his power in the ANC. To have an ally in such a position can be of crucial importance. It allows the League to defend a person in power and to take the offensive against those who oppose them. This can be a powerful weapon.

It may also suggest that Ramaphosa still has some kind of momentum – that he is still in the process of grinding out his political victories. Perhaps more importantly for the longer term, this also suggests that like-minded people – who agree with his stated agenda of “renewal” – can be elected to important positions in the party.

However, those who believe this shows the ANC is solidly on the road to renewal may well want to think again.

The election of Dina Pule from the floor at the conference, to the position of Deputy Secretary General, shows that people who have important findings against them can still be elected to positions of influence in the party.

In 2013, Pule was found guilty through a parliamentary process of failing to disclose that she was in a relationship with Phosane Mngqibisa, who had received R6-million through a contract with her department. She was the communications minister at the time.

During the investigation, it emerged that the committee investigating Pule’s conduct, and its chair, Professor Ben Turok, had received death threats and had to be provided with security by Parliament.

Then, the Public Protector at the time, Thuli Madonsela, found in her investigation that Pule had consistently lied.

To sum up, this is a person who was found twice to have lied (including by a panel dominated by ANC members), and ANC members investigating her were threatened with violence. She lost her job as a result.

And yet, ANC members have now decided to elect her to an important position in the ANC Women’s League.

This would surely torpedo claims that the ANC is on a solid path to renewal. 

It is also a reminder of how so many other dodgy people have been elected into top positions in the ANC, whether they be the liar Malusi Gigaba, the woman-beater Mduduzi Manana, or Zweli Mkhize, the former health minister whose department handed a lucrative contract to Digital Vibes, a company controlled by his former personal assistant.

While there is still intense speculation as to what will happen in next year’s elections, it is clear the ANC will remain the biggest player in our politics. 

The election of new leaders for the youth and women’s leagues suggests that the party may, finally, be moving forward and that its formations are now beginning to work.

But that does not mean it is able, or even willing, to deal with those in its ranks who are corrupt. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Grumpy Old Man says:

    Stephen I am afraid you are ‘polishing a turd’
    If you consider the election itself it is a ‘cut & paste’ of every other kind of ANC elective conference. Slates, wheeling & dealing & not around policies but around personalities & positions. I stand to correction but the Woman’s League has a 40 member NEC (that in and of itself is ridiculous)
    The truly sad part about all of this is that potentially the Womens League could be a force for good in society whereas all it really is, is another combatant in the on-going internal, soap operaesque, factional fight circus that defines the ANC!

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    The question remains: why does the ANC recruit crooks and liars to its ranks especially if it intends to be different?

  • Rae Earl says:

    These league women will do what they always do. They will welcome crooks like Dina Pule back into their policy making structures for no other reason than that she’s a long time buddy, and then allow them to screw things up for years (a la Bathabile Dlamini). They will also always (ALWAYS), end up bowing and scraping to their chauvinistic ANC male counterparts (a la Jacob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa), instead of establishing a solid plaform of independence and feminine leadership.

  • Change is good sa says:

    They are still calling each other Comrade. Still living in the 20th Century.
    Sad that futuristic 21st Century dynamics are not in play. They are completely irrelevant, as they have been for a long time.

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