Opinionista Sisonke Msimang 17 January 2014

The thinking woman’s guide to the 2014 elections

As electioneering gears up, it's hard for any self-respecting South African woman not to feel depressed about the political options presented to voters. When it comes to race, gender, transparency, accountability and leadership, South Africa’s political parties and their leaders remain stubbornly contemptuous of any actions that might appear to respect the electorate in general and women in particular. Interestingly, they are remarkably similar in the manner in which this contempt is expressed.

The ANC and the DA: more similar than different

Both the ANC and the DA are resolute in their opposition to transparency regarding political party funding. The ANC has a proven track record of looting state resources, but for all its barking about openness, the DA’s hypocritical stance on this issue doesn’t inspire confidence that they wouldn’t do the same if they were in power.

In terms of leadership, Jacob Zuma’s profligate spending and his perennial personal brokenness form a recipe for political disaster. His list of IOUs reads like a political who’s who of South Africa. Not content with loans and cash gifts from Shabir Shaik, Zuma’s hit up an ageing Nelson Mandela for two million rands to clear his debts. Once he became president, Zuma realised that the Department of Public Works had far deeper pockets than anyone else he might consider asking for money. Hardly the stuff of political inspiration.

As for Helen Zille, her embrace of a narrowly prescribed kind of black leader, and her incoherence on matters of racial transformation signal that her party has some way to go before it can win over significant numbers of working class black voters. Her girlish pandering to Zuma, including her absurd giggles when he refers to her as ntombi, are further evidence of her out-of-touchness on matters of race and gender.

Furthermore, Zille’s 2011 blunder in appointing an all male cabinet to run the Western Cape puts her in the same league as the ANC Women’s League, which declared last year that the country is not yet ready for a woman president.

Finally, the end of year debacle around the Employment Equity Amendment Act – and in particular Zille’s clumsy handling of the matter – created the impression that the DA continues to reject the idea of substantive equality in favour of a definition of equality that privileges those who already have plenty; namely men, white people and the middle classes.

Agang: a damp squib

While Mamphele Ramphele rates well in terms of transparency – revealing her personal net worth was a brave move – her party is already beset by staffing and organisational problems. Sadly, Agang is likely to be a non-starter at the polls.

The EFF: buffalo soldiers

The red beret-donning fighters are getting their act together. Although Julius Malema has personally apologised for his generally roguish behaviour while he was in charge of the ANC Youth League, I imagine that will do little to take away the sting from those he wounded with his public barbs at the time. The journalist he accused of having ‘rubbish in his pants’ is unlikely to have fond memories of Malema, and millions of South Africans who care about the women in their lives, will remember his remarks about Zuma’s rape accuser ‘enjoying it.’

The jury is still out in terms of the whether the addition of some thoughtful young women to the ranks of the EFF will shift the obstinate misogyny thus far displayed by the party’s founding fathers.

Despite this, the EFF will be an important addition to Parliament. The young party already has a disproportionate effect on the framing of key national conversations. For a Parly that is largely a rubber stamp, the presence of the Fighters will be invigorating.

The new left: the love affair between Jim and Vavi

Pundits are frothing at the mouth at the prospect of the entry into the political arena of a Numsa-driven political formation. Given the failure of the left to genuinely influence state policy in the last two decades, the idea of a strong worker party holds much appeal.

Yet any political enterprise whose founding was precipitated by patriarchal solidarity, at the expense of women, cannot win my vote. Despite his attempts to paint himself as a hero of the working class, Vavi has failed too many leadership tests to earn my immediate respect.

Last year he was accused of rape by a junior member of his staff. After her name was published in various papers, after her face was splashed across media and her Facebook page was inundated with page views, after her cellphone and ID numbers were posted on the COSATU website as Vavi used the union machinery to tell his side of the story, and after he had also made public all the private messages the complainant had shared with him, she withdrew the rape charge against him.

As the scandal unfurled in excruciating detail, Numsa’s SG, Irvin Jim leapt to Vavi’s defence. Jim’s solidarity with his old friend showed the extent to which men in leadership positions in this country are prepared to forge bonds of absolute loyalty with one another, regardless, over the bleeding bodies of women.

Vavi’s continuing legal battle against COSATU, and his refusal to resign, demonstrate a strong disinclination to accept responsibility for his own behaviour. In this regard he is in good company: President Zuma specialises in this self-serving brand of leadership.

Others may be excited about what 2014 holds at the polls. I find it hard to muster any excitement. For South African women it is a case of different year, same poor choices.

Happy New Year one and all! DM


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