MPs lament lack of SA female candidates for AU commission positions

22 October 2020 - 08:28 By andisiwe makinana
Chairperson of the National Assembly's international relations and co-operation portfolio committee Tandi Mahambehlala says the fielding of two candidates for one position at the AU sent mixed signals.
Chairperson of the National Assembly's international relations and co-operation portfolio committee Tandi Mahambehlala says the fielding of two candidates for one position at the AU sent mixed signals.
Image: GCIS

MPs have come down hard on SA officials for fielding two men for the position of the deputy chairperson of the African Union Commission next February, saying this undermined the country's efforts to promote gender equality.

They charged that it did not make sense for SA to field two candidates for the same position but their biggest gripe was the fielding of male candidates and no women.

Daily Maverick reported last month that Eddy Maloka of the African Peer Review Mechanism and former ambassador to the AU Ndumiso Ntshinga are SA’s nominations for the deputy chairperson position.

Chairperson of the National Assembly's international relations and co-operation portfolio committee Tandi Mahambehlala from the ANC said the fielding of two candidates for one position had a potential of sending mixed signals which could be construed as meaning that the country could not decide on who to field and support. That both the candidates were males complicated the matter even more, she said.

“How is it [the department] has arrived at a stage to field only male candidates and why the issue of gender balance could not become an important factor in the selection process for candidates?” she asked Dirco officials who appeared before her committee on Wednesday.

Mahambehlala also wanted an explanation on why SA had “opted to ignore its own decision as part of the decisions of the AU with regards to gender parity”.

This was despite the fact that the AU Constitutive Act provides for promotion of gender equality and SA foreign policy advocated for gender equality, she said. The AU Commission has a principle of rotational gender parity which states that if the post of chairperson is held by a man, the deputy shall be a woman and vice versa.

The incumbent chairperson of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat of Chad, looks set to be nominated unopposed for a second four-year term. He has been nominated by the central region and so far is the only candidate and the nomination process has closed.

“He is in fact, for all intents and purposes the only candidate,” admitted Dirco's Mxolisi Nkosi.

But it is not a given that he will emerge as the chairperson of the commission in 2021 because even though he has been nominated as the only candidate, he will still be subjected to an electoral process according to the AU Constitutive Act and electoral procedure.

For anybody to be elected to the position of chairperson, they need a two-thirds majority of the votes of those who are present during the election, he explained.

But if he is elected as chairperson, it would mean that the deputy chairperson will have to be a woman.

Mahambehlala argued that there was a case to revisit the decision on the nominations “for the good of the country and to safeguard SA's endeavour to remain an influential member within the continent”.

“We can also sense a political push back on SA. Let's face it, it's there, it's playing out,” she said.

She said there were perceptions that SA doesn't know how to play its diplomacy after the departure of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma from the AU.

Dlamini-Zuma served as the chairperson of the AU commission between October 2012 and January 2017.

Only candidates who met criteria 'happened to be male'

Nkosi explained that when they published an advertisement in July 2020 inviting suitably qualified South Africans to apply for senior leadership positions in the AU Commission, with respect to the deputy chairperson position only five applications were received, from three men and two women.

“We then considered these applications and based on an assessment of relevant qualifications, experience as well as exposure to operating at senior and strategic management level, only two candidates out of the five met the criteria.

“These two candidates happened to be male,” he said.

The two candidates were then submitted for the consideration of the cabinet and cabinet agreed and directed that both candidates be submitted as SA candidates for the position of the deputy chairperson of the AU, he said.

Nkosi urged MPs to view the election of members of the commission in a global context and within the broader context of the elections of commissioners.

The AU Commission's senior leadership that will be elected next February will comprise of eight members — a chairperson, deputy chairperson and six commissioners. This is a reduction of the top leadership from the current 10 to eight as part of reforms and streamlining the work of the commission.

Nkosi said the other part of the story was that besides the chairperson and deputy chairperson positions, there were six commissioner positions which are also due for filling in February 2021.

“We have taken a view as a country that we need to field as many candidates as possible so that we have an opportunity as a country to secure at least one position,” he said.

“In any case, no matter how many candidates we field, if we enjoy the support of the region, we will only be eligible to have one candidate in the commission. This is dependent on whether the region we belong to, which is Southern Africa, approves and endorses our candidates.”

So, SA will field two more candidates for the commissioner positions — one for the commissioner of political affairs, peace and security and another for the commissioner for education, science, technology and innovation.

Nkosi said the next phase of the process was characterised by negotiations and horse-trading within the Southern Africa region. The region will also have to decide whether it proceeds with the deputy chairperson position or the commissioner positions.

Currently the region has two positions in the commission, a commissioner for agriculture who comes from Angola and a commissioner for and trade and industry. Both have expressed an interest in standing for a second term as their terms end in January, said Nkosi, and both enjoy endorsement and support of their countries.

MPs still did not buy it.

Mahambehlala said she was perturbed and disappointed by the explanation accusing the department “and those who decided on the two males” of not making an effort.

Terence Mpanza, also of the ANC, said it was highly unacceptable and could not be tolerated that the principles of gender equality and representation which are internationally recognised, were not considered.

Bernice Swartz described it as “unbelievable” that SA would field men “and come here and lament global context with us in the committee”.

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