Mondli Zondo

Stop asking if we're ready for a woman president

2017-09-19 11:21
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at faith gospel ministry in Khutsong, Carletonville. It was her first speaking engagement after stepping down as AU chair. (Tshidi Madia, News24)

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at faith gospel ministry in Khutsong, Carletonville. It was her first speaking engagement after stepping down as AU chair. (Tshidi Madia, News24)

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"On your marks! Get set! We are ready for Nkosazana!"

These are the words to a catchy anthem that has been composed for Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma's presidential campaign as the ANC prepares for an elective conference at the end of the year. 

While she is considered a frontrunner, Dlamini-Zuma isn't the only woman vying for the top job. Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete and Minister of Human Settlements Lindiwe Sisulu have also thrown their hats into the ring. 

This unprecedented number of female candidates has caused many to believe we are getting closer to putting a woman in the Union Buildings and has sparked great debate about whether our nation is actually ready to be led by a woman or not. 

I cringe when such discussions come up as I don't believe in the concept of 'being ready'.

I understand why this question has made its way into the national discourse: we have never had a woman president and we live in a patriarchal world. Electing a woman into the highest office would be a historic moment and I believe many of us would like to see this happen in our lifetime. 

Achieving this however shouldn't depend our 'readiness' for it to happen. As humans, we are never ready for revolutions of any kind and these aren't announced, they simply happen. So too, if we want a female commander-in-chief we need to get on with electing one instead of believing we need to prepare ourselves for that time. We will never be ready for a woman president until we have one. 

There's an underlying problem with the idea of 'being ready' and both men and women are guilty of perpetuating this belief. The whole concept of readiness implies that a woman is not supposed to be there and that we need to reach consensus on whether we can live with the reality of her moving out of the kitchen and into the boardroom. 

Subconsciously, we all wonder who is going to do the cooking if she's president. Who's going to take care of her children? Where's her husband going to sit now that she's at the head of the table? Let's call this out for what it is and admit that when we wonder if we are ready for a woman to lead, what we are actually thinking is, “are we ready to give her permission to lead?” 

When Hillary Clinton ran for president during the US elections in 2016, many commentators expressed the view that while the country is ready (that word again) to elect a woman, they didn't want THIS woman. This notion of 'not that woman' is of course never raised with male candidates and this was exemplified when the US elected Trump, a serial divorcee who has said vile things about women as their president. 

Supporters of Dlamini-Zuma are guilty of this mentality as they too are not ready for a woman president, they are just ready for her. Bathabile Dlamini, the president of the ANC Women's League for example has lambasted Mbete and Sisulu for contesting Dlamini-Zuma. This is quite odd as one would expect the leader of a women's organisation to be excited that a number of women are raising their fists up and want to lead our country.

You see, we want to have a woman leader but we want it to be on our terms and we want to dictate who that woman is. If this is our thinking then we will never be ready.

This question of readiness is not only a barrier to women but to many other groups. If we think we are ready for a woman president, are we also declaring readiness for a gay, lesbian or transgender president for example? How about a president living with a disability or with albinism?

I believe the answer to these questions would be a resounding NO. We should therefore be concerned. Who determines when we are ready and who has to give this permission? 

When we tell any of these groups that we are ready for them we are essentially saying we are making an exception for them as this isn't the norm. This actually means we are not ready and that we are simply dealing with a situation we consider to be a nuisance. We make a big deal of readiness so that women (or any other group) know that we are doing them a favour. This nonsense needs to stop. 

Women and any other marginalised group of people need to realise that they can and should be president whether any of us are ready for it or not. This means a deliberate attempt to stage a revolution and to do this on your own timetable and not when somebody has said on your marks, get set and go. Change isn't achieved by waiting for the right time for it to occur, the right time should be anytime. 

During the past weeks, we have seen racially charged demonstrations by white supremacists in the US. One could easily forget that they twice elected an African-American president in the form of Obama. He did not wait to be told that it was his turn to lead and he secured a victory in a country where people who look like him are the minority. 

There is merit to the arguments that voters react differently to race and gender but what I hope to get across is that many black people never thought they would live to see a black president until it actually happened. They were never ready. 

I'm not naive about the fact that it would be even harder for women to achieve this but what I'm clear about is that women shouldn't patiently and politely wait for us to give the thumbs up. 

Instead of waiting for us to be ready, women must shatter that glass ceiling whether it makes us uncomfortable or not. 

- Mondli Zondo (@MoZondo) is a columnist and a Mandela Washington Fellow. He writes in his personal capacity. 

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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