Guest Column

Is it time for a woman to lead the ANC?

2015-10-28 07:42

Goodenough Mashego

The African National Congress Women’s League announced after their recent elective conference that time is ripe for a woman to lead the ANC by 2017. In simple terms the league wants to appoint the next president of the country. League Treasurer Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told the media, “The time has come for women leadership to be acknowledged. We are not asking. We are saying the time is ripe”.

ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe warned prior to the conference that members must desist from debating leadership as such debates have a potential to cause divisions within the party.

Notwithstanding such caution, the ANCWL want the presidency of both the party and country. It matters little to them that they don’t have the chairpersonship of a single province. It also matters little that even though the ANC was founded in 1912, it took 44 years for the party to elect Lilian Ngoyi as the first woman in the organisation’s powerful NEC.

This was regardless of the ANCWL having existed since 1948 alongside a patriarchal ANC. That they started entertaining ambitions of leading the mother body must have sent ripples in the inner echelons of a party that has not entrusted its provincial leadership to a woman.

Why does it matter that women today want to be parachuted to leadership and not ascend gradually? In Kgalema Motlanthe, A Political Biography, author Ebrahim Harvey notes that in the 1980s there was a culture amongst National Union of Mineworkers leadership to treat women as sex objects and that Motlanthe, when he was put in that position “told miners that he was not interested and they needed to realise that ‘women are not objects for sexual pleasure’”.

It matters because poet Ntsiki Mazwai angered some ANC members recently by making an allegation that such was still the norm. It raises the question of why do women want to rise to the highest office when they have not been afforded lower preparatory offices and have not challenged such practises in their midst?

There has been a deafening silence when politically powerful men have been fingered for abusing their offices for sexual benefits. There was silence when Public Protector Advocate Thuli Madonsela and former DA leader Helen Zille were insulted.

Speculation is that ANCWL is banking on former minister and now African Union Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to step up to the plate and challenge for high office. She indeed has the stripes. Dlamini-Zuma was Minister of Health whose legacy is banning tobacco advertising. A former minister of both Home and Foreign Affairs who turned both departments around. Her current AU position puts her in a pivotal position to understand continental politics from ruling party to government level. Most of Africa’s ruling parties are liberation movements that shared trenches with the ANC.

As the AU’s Chief Diplomat she also dabbles in the geopolitics of the United Nations. Those stripes alone seem to qualify her for the position of ANC president and country by 2019. She seems the perfect candidate to reignite the African Renaissance project started by former president Thabo Mbeki. She was at the UN in New York on that September night Mbeki resigned and she immediately took over some presidential duties.

However the ANC is an organisation with a deep tradition. Mbeki was recalled, according to Frank Chikane in his book Eight Days in September – The Removal of THABO MBEKI because “of a vicious and debilitating internal strife within the ANC, centred on the removal of (Jacob) Zuma from his position as deputy president of the country and the charges of corruption preferred against him”.

As Georg Hegel aptly put it, “We learn from history that we do not learn from history”. With the voices of succession growing louder and the existence of a shadowy Premiers League alleged within the party, the country is faced with a potentially damaging Mbeki moment. Some think it can be remedied by granting President Jacob Zuma a third ANC term; thus giving him the power to anoint his successor. There are already provinces that seem to indicate that they might back the ANCWL’s call for a potential Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to take over from her ex-husband.

Some members allege that as in all likelihood the United States of America will be led by a woman it makes perfect sense to follow that lead. However some members are not supportive of this deviation from tradition (where branches elect) and suggest that this argument is fuelled by an ethnic ambition that has bedevilled former liberation movements the continent over. Allegations are that deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, a former trade unionist who has dabbled in big business, might be denied the crown not on grounds of matriarchy but other sinister motives.

Ramaphosa is a shrewd negotiator who, together with Roelf Meyer was instrumental in drafting the country’s Constitution and brokering the final settlement between the British government and Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland. His role in Zuma’s Cabinet, as head of government business could be preparation of his future as president of the country. The ANC cannot afford to repeat the mistake of chucking out smart cadres to satisfy narrow tribal agendas represented by those 100% Zulu Boy T-shirts of 2007.

Merit suggests both Dlamini-Zuma and Ramaphosa are neck and neck to drive a country with massive youth unemployment, a high crime rate, a growing gap between the rich and poor, low skills and low entrepreneurship culture, a weak education system and collapsing infrastructure. Dlamini-Zuma brings into the equation her thick Black Book full of contacts from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. She brings political oversight experience from heading three government ministries and a continental body that is growing teeth.

Ramaphosa brings his consensus finding skills that saw him lead NUM during the crippling 1987 mineworkers’ strike where 50 000 miners were fired and rehired. He also brings his stewardship as Secretary-General of the ANC. Unfortunately his stint in business made him super rich but ended with the death of 34 miners in Marikana and an ugly blot etched on his shirt.

As a way of appeasing those who want Dlamini-Zuma for reasons of micro-management and those who want Ramaphosa to drown the Nkandla crowd and break the ethnic hegemony of South Africa’s political leadership consensus can be reached.

The solution could be to amend Section 5 of the country’s Constitution which deals with The President and National Executive. Legislators must focus on Clause 83 to 102 to reconstitute and redefine the President’s powers and establish a Prime Minister position who will become head of government. The President becomes head of State (like the Queen in the Commonwealth) with miniscule non-executive powers similar to those of the presidents of Ethiopia, Germany, Greece, India, Israel, Turkey, Japan etc.

The Prime Minister heads government and Executive. The President becomes head of state and a Chief Diplomat whose role is to front ceremonies, host political leaders, make courtesy visits to foreign capitals, cut ribbons and be a unifying power like Nelson Mandela was after 1999. The Prime Minister only attends important government to government summits and meetings and bypass ceremonies. Dlamini-Zuma is already respected for her ability to act in a dignified non-partisan way. Her transition to the Presidency should be easy.

However this arrangement will require her to disappoint the ANCWL and abandon any ambitions of being president of the ANC to allow either Ramaphosa, Jeff Radebe or Zweli Mkhize to emerge in 2017. After all she’s already 66-years old and the world is getting younger.

As is the case with Afghanistan where they have a president and a Chief Executive Officer, South Africa’s problems require a business approach to governance. This role needs a person with a huge political mandate who will not be required to do much traveling but have a ceremonial president who oils the nuts and bolts in foreign capitals while s/he tackles electorate problems.

In this season of leadership contests; some for micro-management purposes while some are for ethnic reasons we are reminded by what Motlanthe said in his biography, “I still insist that it is not for members or followers of any organisation to want to be leaders. That is a decision which only the members of an organisation can make – if they so wish – but to want yourself to be regarded as a leader is too presumptuous and even arrogant, I think.”

Read more on:    ancwl

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