You managed, eloquently, to say very little, Mr President. I would love the opportunity to pick your brain on some specific issues pertinent to your sentiments.
There is little transformation within the ANC to justify your pride in “its achievements over the past 25 years in furthering its transformative and progressive agenda”, so I understand why you might want to redirect our attention to the track record of the government instead. So let’s look at your administration.
Mr President, you have made promises about funding Thuthuzela Care Centres (TCC) at your National Gender-Based Violence and Femicide Summit, but your Minister of Finance failed to mention any allocation in his budget for the improvement and expansion of TCCs. Much of the work in these centres and in NGOs assisting women is done by women, for pitiful stipends. Is the scant financial support you give to these institutions a reflection of your government’s views on the importance and value of this work? Do you consider this an achievement?
It is also important to remind you, Mr President, that you gave us Bathabile Dlamini as Minister for Women in the Presidency. This is the same woman who threatened to reveal your past implication in gender-based violence when you dared to (belatedly) voice your support for Kwezi, the young woman who accused former President Jacob Zuma of rape in 2006.
Understandably, Minister Dlamini would be touched because she was part of the structure that chose to support the perpetrator against the victim. In your Cabinet, you harbour the same women who subjected Kwezi to secondary victimisation, including former ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) President Angie Motshekga and Bosasa-implicated Nomvula Mokonyane. It isn’t just that the ANC “cannot necessarily be counted on to be progressive when it comes to advancing gender equality”. On women’s rights, the leaders of the ANCWL, as standard-bearers of the new dawn, are to be feared.
So when you speak about “a clear road map towards greater representation of women in our organisation’s leadership”, do you ever consider that the character and the values of the women you appoint is critically important too? Representation is not a numbers game, Mr President.
We need effective advocates for women’s rights. Morally bankrupt victim-perpetrators of internalised sexism do not count. Your Cabinet is, much like your party, an impediment to the implementation of a “transformative and progressive agenda” towards gender equality.
It is alarming that you are capable of writing, without irony, that “[t]here is no place in our movement for sexism and any other forms of chauvinism” while failing to acknowledge the absurdity that is the absence of an ANC policy on sexual harassment.
A putative champion for women’s rights ought to understand that representation is but a start to meaningful inclusion and diversity. How do women feel secure and empowered within a structure that lacks the foresight to create safe spaces to address the menaces that we know they will face? Unless and until you set a date by which the ANC’s sexual harassment policy comes into force, your words on sexism and chauvinism are platitudes, or worse, a mockery and an insult.
South African women have made great strides in the fight for gender equality. This is however in spite of, not because of, the ANC government. Women within the movement, the government and across the nation have fought for every inch of ground they gained, often unable to count on even the ANC Women’s League. Women like Kwezi helped us find our voices when the ANC and its women leaders would seek to silence us.
The ANC and its government have nothing to be proud of on gender equality.
To borrow from former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke we, the women of South Africa – in government, in the private sector, in schools and tertiary institutions, in the workplace and in the home – we have been our own liberators. DM