As the Africa National Congress (ANC) Elective Conference nears, the debate around the role of women has taken a turn, from whether the party and the country are ready for a woman leader.
When the ANC was founded in 1912 women could not be members. But since 1931 when the Bantu Women’s League was formed women have gone from being caterers and singers to warriors.
It was the women’s march of August 9, 1956 that made international headlines, with up to 20 000 women marching to the Union buildings to protest the country’s pass laws. That same year Lilian Ngoyi, who was the president of the Women’s League, became the first woman member of the National Executive Committee (NEC).
ANCWL president Bathabile Dlamini says: “Women have always been in the struggle for the liberation of the people of South Africa.”
When the ANC was banned in 1960, inroads made by women towards integration were dealt a blow and only in 1984 did the movement accept the term “non-sexist”.
Its objective now is to be the creation of a united, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic society.
For the first time in 1997 when Thabo Mbeki was elected to succeed Nelson Mandela as President, some wanted Winnie Madikizela-Mandela to be his deputy.
She was not nominated by the branches, a delegate from the North West Yvonne Makune, nominated her from the floor, breaking tradition and interrupted the proceedings.
However, Madikizela-Mandela declined the nomination amid cheers by delegates and Jacob Zuma was announced as Deputy President of the ANC.
Some say her fall-out with former President Mandela usurped confidence. But others say even the reaction to her nomination was underwhelming and she saved face.
But President Mbeki later appointed South Africa’s first female Deputy President in 2005, and in the process launched her on the world stage.
Former Deputy President Pumzile Mlambo-Nquka says: “We have passed just in two years 104 laws in 60 countries, but the real test is implementation in most countries including South Africa. In South Africa we didn’t have to struggle with passing the laws because they were already there, our struggle is implementation.”
Also Baleka Mbete was the second woman to occupy the Deputy Presidency appointed by former President Kgalema Motlanthe from September 2008 until May 2009.
However, the Constitution does not provide for quotas for representation of women in elected public bodies, ‘nor is there any legal quotas established for national or provincial elections, but the ANC has had an equal representation policy since 2010.
As the race for the presidency of the oldest liberation movement on the continent hots up, three of the possible contenders are women and the Women’s League has taken a stand.
Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula says: “The lobbying, the engagement and the horse trading which is currently going on is happening at level of the ANC and that’s where we are.”
The question that remains is will the women of the ANC pull their weight both in the branches and at the conference for one of them to take the top seat of the ANC?
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