Systemic suppression of women in the ANC undermines Thomas Sankara’s revolutionary ideals on women’s emancipation


By: Lusanda Mahashe

Firstly, I would like to situate my views within the political context of popular episodes that continued to take place around South African women’s struggle as people organized against neoliberal policies of advanced capitalism and their resultant gross anecdotal inequalities in health, wealth, education and politics. In this, I am emphasizing the fact that women are the most casualties and losers on these dispositions. Secondly, I would like to argue my point using three illustrious women of the ANC, namely Winnie Nomzamo Mandela, Lindiwe Nonceba Sisulu and Nomkhosi Mary Mini. Winnie originates from Mbizana in Alfred Nzo Region; the other two originates from Ngcobo in a village called Qutubeni (Sisulu) and the other one from Tsomo (Mini) in a village called Mdeni in the Chris Hani Region.

It is significant to note that two villages from Chris Hani Region are not really far apart. These three (women) will be used as a case study to argue what I call systematic suppression in death and systematic suppression in life, all operationalized and orchestrated by insecure male leaders of the African National Congress. In this article I succinctly demonstrate how Lindiwe Sisulu is going to be politically managed just like Winie Mandela. Everybody knows that Winnie Mandela would have broken the backbone of patriarchy had she was not manipulated and coerced to decline nomination in the Northwest ANC elective conference; this was after she mobilized to sustained the appetite of the masses to warm-up to her moving towards the presidency at the time. Similarly, Lindiwe Sisulu sustained the momentum of a particular faction in the ANC towards NASREC Conference, this was despite her giving no permission to those who used her face and name to achieve what they wanted ultimately. In both conference (Northwest and Nasrec) the decision makers were men. Incidentally Nkosazana Zuma was equally a victim of the night of long knives in Nasrec, orchestrated by power mongers who accorded themselves a false power to decide the future of women in this country.

One certainty about Winnie and Lindiwe is that they have solid and superior political credentials in the liberation struggle, far above some of the male manipulators and power mongers. This is despite their politically dynastic surnames. Behold on the seniority and political maturity of their male counterparts and yet these men prevail because at times these women are vilified through the utilization of media as a strategic weapon of suppression, to a point of an undue curiosity even in their personal lives. As Julius Malema once warned in Parliament that Lindiwe Sisulu is the next target towards the next ANC conference, in fact the media has already started, projecting her in a totally negative manner, while they know her capability and credentials. She must just brace herself because everything bad we have ever seen will be associated with her, the same pain endured by Winnie.

By the way I have never come across a female politician associated with selling the ANC out, especially these two (Winnie and Lindiwe), but such a notion is always synonymous with men across the world, even in history book. Black women have to contend with a triple burden of patriarchy, sexism, and racism. A traditional strong patriarchal value system favors sexually segregated roles and cultural values militate against advancement, progress and participation of women in political processes. A woman leader is expected to be polite and feminine in her political speeches and manners to please male leaders. The more confident, articulate, authoritative, assertive and powerful a woman is, the more she is easily labeled arrogant or entitled by the weak and insecure men (Winnie and Lindiwe) are clear examples of this political cancer.

Largely the labeling is coming from male leaders who have no strong political and struggle credentials, who by virtue of historical-political blunders and mistakes find themselves in the positions of power. They provide no solutions to our political and ideological challenges but are always at the center of this malice (suppression of women leaders and gossip). All they want is positions of power for themselves, strictly not to grow the ANC hegemony and development of an African child.
Back to my original point; accompanying the intensifying neoliberal crises-manifested through the financial crisis, food security/poverty crisis, under-development, HIV/AIDS, Gender Based Violence, COVID 19 crisis, land reform and land property is an ever expanding human torture in the face of a black woman. With men in leadership position, women must kiss their total emancipation a goodbye, especially in the aforementioned neoliberal manifested dispositions. Now what distinguished Sankara from many other “male revolutionaries” was his confidence in the revolutionary capabilities of ordinary human beings. His only aspiration was to speak on-behalf of his people, on-behalf of the “great disinherited people of the world”.

Unlike those who uses women for their narrow political ends solely to win positions in conferences, Sankara placed women’s resistance agency at the center of the revolution and he respected women. He saw women’s struggle for equal rights as a focal point of a more egalitarian politics on the continent. Meaningful social transformation cannot endure without the active support and participation of women.

While it is true that women have been deeply involved in each of the great social and international revolutions of human history, their support and participation has historically often gone relatively unacknowledged by movement leaders: A case in point is; why are we not told that it is during Lindiwe Sisulu’s tenure at the Department of International Relations (DIRCO) as a Minister there, when she in particular secured the current AU Chairmanship for South Africa? Why we are not told that it was during her stint at DIRCO that South Africa managed to secure the Chairmanship of United Nation’s Security Council? Which country has every occupied those two geo-strategic political seats simultaneously? Why is it both the ANC and South African media silent on the anatomy of these achievements?
Despite significant contributions to revolutionary movements, women remained second class citizens even from their own political parties, often chastised by formalized male-led small groups in the organizations. In her grave, Nomkhosi Mini died in the 2nd Maseru Massacre in 1985.

Born in a politically active family, a solid member of the ANC, a revolutionary flower par excellence, MK operative, Nomkhosi was a founding member of Amandla, the Cultural ensemble of the ANC. She survived a March 1979 South African Defense Force attack on the Novo Catengue camp in Angola; she suffered in the hands of the notorious Vlakplaas hit squad when they raided two houses in Maseru. Now for someone who died in 1985 in a foreign soil, not a single tribute has ever been accorded to her by all the male leaders of the ANC, be it at a Branch level, Regional level, Provincial level and National Level. Hers is like that of Winnie Mandela’s systemic suppression even in death, unlike that of Lindiwe Sisulu’s systemic suppression while alive. This is all orchestrated by male leaders, whom some are not even traceable in the history books of the liberation struggle.

Sankara teaches us that the revolution and women’s liberation go together. We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or out of surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the revolution to triumph. He said this after recognizing that women were missing in the joyful procession when happiness was accessible. He warns us that, the authenticity and future of any revolution depends on women, and he concluded by saying; nothing definitive or lasting can be accomplished as long as crucial part of ourselves is kept in this condition of subjugation, a condition imposed by various systems of exploitation. Now in the appreciation of what Sankara recognizes in capable women, the question is: Was Bushiri going to escape and succeed if Lindiwe Sisulu was still the Minister of International Relations or Minister of Intelligence? Could the Western countries talk down to South Africa around COVID 19 politics if she was still there?

*Lusanda Mahashe is a Secretary of Siphiwo Sishuba ANC Branch from Chris Hani Region, he writes in his personal capacity.