Would the ANC Women’s League please stand up!

2010-11-13 17:11

The ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) is today sadly a shadow of its heroic and ­gallant past.

I could not even get an interview with them for my doctoral study on the impact that prepaid water meters have had on poor households in Soweto and on women in particular.

They have all but disappeared from the scene, except for some symbolic appearances at ANC funerals and other events.

At a time when black working-class women need strong leadership on so many issues facing them in the current social crisis, the ANCWL is nowhere to be seen.

It is pathetic how you will hardly find them even making a public statement in support of grassroots women’s struggles around basic services in the townships, especially when there is an evident dearth of leadership in such struggles.

Not only are black women the biggest section of our society, but they have been at the forefront of the service delivery revolts over the past few years and of the struggles waged by social movements such as the Anti-Privatisation Forum.

Yet I cannot recall the ANCWL once publicly expressing their solidarity with these struggles.

One gets a sense that they avoid crossing swords with the ANC leadership and government, even on issues facing the poorest black women. How much more hypocritical can it get than that, really?

After all, it is the ANC government that commercialised and commodified the most basic services that poor women, in particular, heavily rely upon and it is they who imposed the installation of the dreaded prepaid water meters in poor working-class townships.

Instead, the ANCWL seems to have been mobilised behind the scenes to support this or that ­competing faction in the ANC – as happened at the 2007 national ­conference – and by doing so created or deepened divisions internally.

But in the midst of probably the worse socioeconomic crisis in South African history – which has hit the poorest women the hardest – the ­ANCWL should be marching alongside, helping and guiding their struggles, even if it is against the government that these are directed.

Just like the ANC Youth League, the ­ANCWL is an ­autonomous body.

The deafening silence of the ANCWL at a time when their support and leadership was most needed – ­especially since these struggles confront the most basic necessities of daily life – is probably the most damning indictment against them in post-apartheid South Africa, ­especially since these policies were worse than these women faced ­under apartheid when, despite its extreme racist brutality, the water supply in black townships was ­hardly ever cut for non-payment.

Compare this with the fact that many millions of poor black people had their water supply cut over the years under an ANC government ­because they could either not afford to pay for monthly consumption with the older conventional meters or when they could not afford to ­recharge expired prepaid meters, which cut supply after the miserably inadequate amount of free water was exhausted.

But even when the “water ­warriors” – connected to social movements – fought pitched battles for their right to water against the police, and even against the army in places such as Phiri in Soweto, and were arrested, beaten up and jailed, the ANCWL was nowhere to be seen.

Surely, the earlier brave and ­principled leaders of the ANCWL, such as Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, and Rahima Moosa, must be turning in their graves.

These women, rest assured, would not only have been marching alongside the female protesters of today, they would have been leading those struggles.

Is it time to write the political ­obituary of the ANCWL, or is it still possible for them to return to their roots?

» ?Harvey is writing the authorised political ­biography of Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe

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