Will the Women’s League in 2022 again allow patriarchy to abuse them to divide itself and deliver a 14th male ANC presidency?

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By: Clyde Ramalaine

The Women’s League should be categorically clear that its candidate is contesting for the Presidency, not the deputy presidency of a male-led ANC.

Despite its formation in 1912, the ANC remained an exclusively male organisation since it was only in 1943 that it accepted women.  The history of the Women’s League traces its genesis to a predecessor organisation, Bantu Women’s League, founded by Dr Charlotte Maxeke in 1918. Central to its formation was the requirement that black women carry passes. Passes were documents that were seen as a means for local authorities and owners to control their movement. In 1948, the ANC Women’s League officially replaced the Bantu Women’s League in the Eastern Cape. The first official president of the League was Ida Mntwanaa.

ANC Women’s League for its historical role and impact warrants acknowledgement. That history is understood in its part among the others, the historical Defiance Campaign.  It is a role that from the start showed an appreciation for the undeniable multi-layered and intertwined oppression. The oppression that places a Black woman as doubly shackled in subjugation first in the blackness of a collective identity of the oppressed and toxic gender discrimination exacted by both the white oppressor and black males through an intricate system spearheaded by the demon of patriarchy as misrepresented in culture. Despite the tremendous and celebrated work of the Women’s League, the ANC, in its 109 years of history, has shown a particular reluctance hitherto to produce a president from this League. However, at every election of a male president, the role of the Women’s League registered its unique presence in abetting the choices of one male over the other. In a sense, the Women’s League is complicit in its juniorization in an organisational context.

Before the banning of the ANC by the heretic apartheid-led illegitimate South African government in 1960, National Congresses were held annually. Following the prohibition, the ANC had several National Consultative Conferences abroad. When the ANC was unbanned, it held its first National Conference in 32 years in Durban (1991); from 1991 to 1997, the conferences were held every three years. The 1997 Conference held in Mafikeng agreed that all future conferences would be held in five-year intervals. What is indisputable is that the Women’s League has been complicit in its subjugation in the ANC since it hitherto failed to show its appropriate agency to have an ANC president from its ranks in a unison candidacy.

Some will contend that former Speaker of parliament Baleka Mbete served as the Chairperson of the ANC. Equally so, when Thabo Mbeki relieved his successor, Jacob Zuma, of the Deputy President of SA role, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka was appointed deputy president of  South Africa.  Yet, the more honest picture will acknowledge the presence of women in the National Office Bearer position is best explained in the highest role of Deputy Secretary-General. We saw that in 1991 when former COSATU leader Cheryl Carolus succeeded Cyril Ramaphosa after the latter, for all intents and purposes, was fired. Now serving her second term as DSG, Jessie Duarte is the other example of the historical glass ceiling. One could also argue that intertwined in this role of DSG is perhaps the less veiled male-driven corporate-SA subculture notion of rendering black women as good and valuable in the role of secretaries. A subculture that is also visible in civil society formations. However, those mentioned earlier must equally engage that a Secretary-General’s office is arguably the most important for the organisation in the ANC. Therefore, the role of DSG is not merely a glorified secretarial function as often is experienced in the corporate SA context.

The ANC’s 55th Conference is scheduled for December 2022. Meaning there are eighteen months left, and candidates for the race will shortly begin to announce themselves.  The critical question is, what will be the role of the Women’s League voters in this instance? As arguably the most stable and best-organised League, it is a naturally powerful constituency that will determine the 14th president of the ANC. To appreciate the Women’s League role, we have to look at the 53rd  Conference in its outcomes in the make-up of the contenders and pretenders for the ANC’s highest office, namely president. The 2017 campaign leading to Nasrec had seven candidates, the highest since 1952. Among those were two contesting candidates Nkosazana Dlamini- Zuma and Lindiwe Sisulu. Both seasoned ANC NEC members have served in a plethora of ANC structures and since 1994 in various Cabinet positions of Governmental expression.  Sisulu is also  MK Military Veteran with a strong intelligence background. In the end, the race whittled down to a contest between Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa. NDZ, as a woman in this sense, made history to square off against a Ramaphosa. It is perhaps fair to say that Ramaphosa did not win the elections in any authentic sense but did so as is public aided by betrayal and an R1bn sponsored campaign. NDZ thus was betrayed and denied. Let it be known. If Ramaphosa secures a second term, it will be because the Women’s League makes him again president.

Unpacking the identity of the ANC- Women’s League in Faces

Yet before we can engage the potential outcomes of the 2022 ANC 55th Conference, we must first attempt appreciating the identity of the ANC Women’s League. It would be foolhardy to ascribe the Women’s League a uniform identity of those who make up a homogenous group.  A better assessment is forged through being cognisant of the two faces of the Women’s League. Faces that delineate and confirm denote descriptions of the  ‘The Mammas’ [representing the rural, workers groups] and the ‘Professionals’ [modern urban and corporate group]. One makes this distinction less in being petty but in a conscious attempt to appreciate the centrifugal balance-of-forces in sentiment and eventual ultimate support this Women’s League brings to the equation of making ANC presidents. The face[s] of the ANC- Women’s League equally so adopts generations. With generations, one uses the yardstick of 10-year- intervals.  Nowhere is this two faces notion better appreciated than in the 2017 candidacies of NDZ17 and LS17. It is anticipated that these will again define the race for 2022. They represent the intertwined faces of the ANC in its Women’s League presence. When one asserts these two reflect the two faces of the League, it should be clear that we cannot blame them for what they represent because they are products of the ANC and define the fullness of the organisation in its historical and evolutionary context. Neither can it be easily argued that the Women’s League can do without one of the two. It is perhaps better to think of these two faces as one producing the other in the globalised context of the advancement of women leadership.

Ministers Lindiwe Sisulu and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. FILE PHOTO: Supplied

Examples of globally recognised successful women presidencies are plenty.

The ANC and SA, as led by males, have produced the current reality. In the face of this, success stories of Women Leadership in a global context are no longer debate. In this instance, we can see that globally countries that are doing better in presidential leadership come immanent in women leadership. Here we can think of, for example, Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany. During her prolonged tenure as chancellor of Germany, the world’s fourth-largest economy and Europe’s largest, Angela Merkel has been called “the de facto leader of the European Union.” We can think of Erna Solberg, Prime Minister and leader of the government, who is currently serving her second term. Solberg is the second woman to be elected Norway’s prime minister. She is praised for handling an oil crisis in the mid-2010s, avoiding a recession. Let us not forget the Nepalese women’s rights advocate Bidhya Devi Bhandari, President of Nepal, elected in 2015. Bhandari is Nepal’s first female president. She is known for carving out a mandate in the country’s post-war constitution that women hold at least a third of the country’s parliament’s positions, and either the president or vice-president must be a woman. We also may think of Simonetta Sommaruga, President of Switzerland elected by the Swiss Federal Council, serving her second 12-month stint as president of Switzerland. In Switzerland, the president is “first among equals.”

Another example is Tsai Ing-wen, President of Taiwan (officially known as the Republic of China), which China considers a province. Tsai Ing-wen is the first female elected to the head of state in Taiwan’s history, and she has been in office since 2016. She has known for her rejection of China’s “one country, two systems” policy and her support for a sovereign Taiwan. One could also cite the New Zealand prime minister’s outstanding leadership, Jacinda Kate Laurell Ardern, who distinguished herself as one of a handful of Presidents to have dealt with the COVID- 19 crisis with great foresight and visionary leadership.

What is really at stake immanent in 55th Conference and the subsequent National Elections?

There is consensus across several spheres that the ANC is declining, less trusted and associated with endemic corruption scandals that threaten to define the gambit of the 27 years of its governance. The ANC has to win the hearts and minds of its members, who are often pressed into factions driven by cheap self-interest when branches become fodder for individual interest. An ANC not serious in delivering essential services to the masses in saying that the masses do not count. Though captured in multiple resolutions and policies hitherto, that realisation and those convictions remain opaque and a mirage.

In this sense, in guiding lived-experienced values, the ANC registers an imploded organisation, meaning the values for which many joined, some identified with and of us were willing to vote for today attest the dilapidated and destroyed walls of a collective dream of emancipation if measured in economic freedom. In a twist of events or perhaps as meticulously orchestrated by an unseen hand, the ANC attests an elitist-leadership organisation that produced an immensely wealthy leadership in the last 29 [since 1992] years while the poor they claim to represent are dying in squalor.

When the Women’s League accepts the challenge to restore the ANC in its values, it must confront what the ANC has become. The ANC confirms an organisation where capital and its destructive interests dictate the nucleus of the organisation’s ill-health. An ANC modern context attests to an organisation enslaved by the arrogant and unrepentant power of capital willing to buy many to ensure a divided Women’s League. It warrants a vigilance to guard against the deployment of sinister strategies and tactics that divides, threatens leadership with cabinet reshuffles, and tacitly unleashes state apparatus on political foes.

The Women’s League must contend with the known public discourse of a judiciary that stands accused of being manipulated, as we saw with the sealing of  CR17 funder records. It must be cognisant of the aggressive use of a cohort of embedded journalists in mainstream media that works for the targeted demonising and annihilation of political opponents. It must engage the fact that there is the abuse of state apparatus to deal with those who cannot be bought and who are necessarily political foes.

It must ask why money in the ANC is used in a detrimental sense, case in point, the organisation’s notorious inability to pay its staff salaries but its readiness to fight expensive court cases against its Secretary-General.  Upon the shoulders of the Women’s League is the responsibility to ask why political opponents are being purged in for example the Free State Province and OR Tambo, Eastern Cape regions where Ramaphosa is not politically potent. The Women’s League must confront the convenient and ambivalent selective application of a step-aside rule to ensure a CR22 second term.

It is an ANC endemically factionalised and claims of unity are farcical. An entity held incarcerated by the dictates of self-interest in which the people are left behind. It is, unfortunately, an organisation that fails to engage critically but instead endorses its incumbent president in the absence of asking why it needed to cost R1bn to have a Ramaphosa presidency. On another score, it is an organisation that must contend with the precedent it created in accepting that  R1bn is now the standard for all future presidents.

The Women’s League must be aware that while  CR22 may be promising many in the ANC the position of Deputy President, that position is uniquely reserved for Trevor Manuel, who is about to make a comeback to politics. It would be foolhardy for Lindiwe Sisulu, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zweli Mkhize or anyone else to fall into the trap of accepting these promises when Manuel will ultimately be the Deputy President. His abuse of Lindiwe Sisulu in his CR17 campaign conveys a disturbing picture of a ruthless politician driven by nothing but self-interest to appease those who advise him.

The Women’s League warrant being aware of the organisational context that in modernity is saturated with the unrepentant and arrogant presence of personality politics.

The challenges that confront the Women’s League

If any ANC league or group holds the key to rescue the ANC from its undeniable compromised values in a confirmed downward slide, it must be the Women’s League. As the only functional League, it shoulders the burden to aid the organisation to do what is right. However, the Women’s League also may jeopardise the ideals of necessary renewal of the ANC in its original values and lived ethos when it chooses to avoid being honest and sincere as to where the ANC finds itself and how this current leadership is out of sync on finding the organisation’s true North.

In this context, the ANC Women’s League owes it to itself,  the ANC and South Africa, to rise above personality politics and centralise the renewal of ANC values. It must rise above ever-present tribalism and detest the conjoined partnership in the crime of patriarchy. Suppose the Women’s League decides to take its role seriously, as on many occasions in history. In that case, it will choose against the dictates of patriarchy, the cancer of modern-day capital’s influence, the crutch of tribalism and the dictates of personal entitlement of careerism. It warrants advocating that neither candidates are naturally entitled or is owed the Presidency of the ANC, be that in vibrating tribal or aristocratic association senses.

What matters is who will be the best in this epoch to restore the cornerstone values defining and informing the strategic ethos liberation mandate that details its policies. What must direct the League in its decision on its candidate for Presidency of the ANC must be the obligation and vow to deliver what the black poor still do not share. It must be a sober Women’s League to direct its preferred candidate in the solemn conviction of what this hour needs. It must red-card the politics of slates that has ravaged the soul of the ANC. It warrants extending its candidate a mandate to give effect to the economic emancipation of the black masses.  It must direct its candidate to deliver on Radical Socio-Economic Transformation and be the conscious bulwarks against any intention to rubbish this important resolution as that of looting campaign as Johann Rupert in 2017 dared to pronounce and some in the echo in thoughtless sense re-echoed.

It is an inescapable reality that ultimately, the choice will be between the two faces of the ANC’s Women’s League, yet that not in a narrow sense but in honest reflection to ask what this hour needs. In 2017 NDZ had an honourable contest on the diaphragm of the Peoples Campaign. A contest many, including the author of this article, believe she won had it not been for the toxic combination of patriarchy, capital and external powers in connivance with the ANC players. In 2012 NDZ became the first female leader of the African Union (AU).  The critical question that confronts the Women’s League is her candidacy the correct one for this epoch?

On the other hand, Lindiwe Sisulu, with an equal recognised elongated track record in serving, was also a candidate in 2017. She made a formidable run but was up-ended because the CR17 slate, despite her insistence that she was running her own campaign, as a deceptive tactic aimed at dividing the women’s League, confused when it kept tagging her as its deputy president candidate. In the end, the Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini announced that Sisulu would withdraw her candidacy, thus paving the way for a single woman candidate immanent in NDZ.

Does this moment not call for sober reflection, honest, engaging and frank discourse about what the ANC and South Africa needs? What is certain, another Ramaphosa term does not aid any of the fundamental objectives of the economic emancipation for the lagging black masses. This season evidence that the gains of democracy, colonial and apartheid subjugated are being eroded, there is a need to bring things to a halt and cause a disruption for the good of ANC and SA.

Equally so, the Women’s  League must be clear and conscious that its woman candidate will not be made any false promises of a deputy presidency by a male incumbent candidate or hoping to become the next male candidate. It is a given that CR22 is in conversation in multiples of commitments to both males and females, a tactic that worked in CR17. The Women’s League should be categorically clear that its candidate is contesting for the Presidency, not the deputy presidency of a male-led ANC.

The Women’s League thus must facilitate an honest discussion and direct its choice of candidacy. I suggest a mature sister talk is necessary. One would pray that common sense prevails and that the Women’s League, in the spirit of Charlotte Maxeke, the heart of Albertina Sisulu, the grace of Adelaide Tambo, the fire of Winnie Mandela will bring its two faces together and choose the best suitable next president.  Guided by its awareness, two competing women candidates soon to be announced will hand CR22 the second term on a silver platter.

Clyde N. S. Ramalaine
A Lifelong Social Justice Activist Political Commentator & Writer is a SARChi D. Litt.et. Phil candidate in Political Science with the University of Johannesburg. Chairperson of TMoSA Foundation – The Thinking Masses of SA