Women's League, with NDZ as its symbol, failed ordinary women

23 December 2017 - 00:00 By Palesa Lebitse

Over the years, feminist ideologies have gained momentum. The barricades protecting men-centred norms that dominate our society are slowly dissolving.
Research indicates that despite women's views and interests being put on the back burner, more women are becoming independent and educated. Many are climbing business and government structures, including the judiciary. There are signs that indicate the battle for an egalitarian society is drawing nearer.
I am persuaded to narrate the great sorrow I feel for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, South African women and the ANC Women's League. The rise of matriarchy and women empowerment was never supposed to be like this.The ANCWL's reaction to its preferred candidate Dlamini-Zuma's failed campaign caught me by surprise. ANCWL president Bathabile Dlamini expressed her disappointment, lamenting that the ANC had failed the women of South Africa. The league's contention that its campaign was nobly and directly linked to empowering ordinary South African women made my jaw drop even further.
This was so because it was evident the ANCWL never campaigned for the emancipation of ordinary women, but rather for a particular woman. Dlamini-Zuma was touted as the matriarch who embodied women empowerment and advocacy. Her candidacy was solely premised on the basis that South Africa was ready for a female president and her supporters gave the impression South Africa was ready to make headway with regard to women empowerment and therefore equality. This could have been an honourable campaign - if only it were earnest.
It is unbecoming that the ANCWL purports to have supported a female candidate in order to affirm women as capable leaders in society and therefore make an impact on the "ordinary woman" in the street. The ascending of a woman to the highest office does not necessarily resonate with the emancipation of the "ordinary women" in the street and their daily struggles. The ANCWL fails to understand that it is generally symbolism, particularly to ordinary women, that a woman is leader of the governing party or serves as president.
The ANCWL fails to appreciate that there is an even greater opportunity for gender-concentrated issues to be dealt with by the ANCWL as an organisation. The mobilisation of those women in an effort to shift gender-related narratives is more far-reaching and likely to impact the ordinary women more effectively. In sum, while a woman ascending to power may be earnest, what is more pertinent is that the ANCWL, as a league, is strategically positioned to direct and shift policy within the governing party that may have a positive impact on women in society in general.Issues the ANCWL could tackle include feminised poverty, crime against women and how that can be dealt with by legislative reform, and labour-related issues such as unpaid maternity leave that impact on women and children. The ANCWL needs to question why women are deprived of their full pay during maternity leave. Given our constitutional dispensation, it ought to be a concern that businesses may choose whether or not to grant female employees their pay during maternity leave.
While gender succession is pivotal, the agenda of the ANCWL cannot be only about symbolic change in the governing party. Should it not be about change in society for women in general?
The ANCWL possesses the power to mobilise its members within powerful structures inside the governing party, including institutions such as parliament, to push gender-related matters.
The ANCWL made mistakes such as supporting one female candidate while neglecting others like Lindiwe Sisulu. It was a decision based on factional politicsdriven by patriarchal motives. The ANCWL represented itself to the ordinary women as a league not necessarily serious about women and their empowerment.Another lesson is that identity politics does not serve ordinary women in the street, or resonate with them. I care deeply for gender-related matters, but that includes caring for markets, class and the economy.
I care about issues related to continuous corruption, the justice system and how we respond to crime. I care for a government that is honest, and for public office bearers who are true to service delivery objectives. I care for our education system and policies that dictate how we treat our children, women, elderly citizens and our neighbours.
The narrative that Dlamini-Zuma ascending means women empowerment is misleading. Her failed campaign is not a failure of ordinary women. The ANCWL, as an organisation within the governing party, fails ordinary women by failing to concern itself with issues that daily affect women.
∗ Palesa Lebitse is a legal researcher and feminist

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