Half the sky but less of everything else

2014-09-18 13:45

Women hold up half the sky.

But 20 years ago, there was hardly anywhere for them to pee in our Parliament.

Since then, more women have entered those chambers as politicians rather than merely their wives (for whom the few toilets in the parliamentary precinct were meant before 1994).

The possibility of a female president is also more real now.

Quotas mean government institutions are populated almost equally by women and men, but a true grip on our share of the sky is still elusive.

Political power is still largely determined by testosterone-fuelled lobby groups in back rooms.

The ANC’s practice of allowing leaders to rise “organically” unintentionally favours the status quo, which dictates that men should be in key positions.

A party like the DA, which campaigns on the “equal opportunity” ticket, tends to be more women friendly at the top, but its lack of quotas means that the bulk of its leaders, like MPs, are men.

If we want a female president in South Africa’s near future, the dynamics in the ANC are what matter. The recent push from within the party’s youth league for a female leader is heartening but one wonders what took them so long.

One of the young female lobbyists blamed a lack of self-confidence. But the fact that they are uninspired by the three male candidates on offer – Pule Mabe, Magasela Mzobe and Ronald Lamola – also played a role in their last-minute push.

The female candidate, Maropene Ntuli, is a strong one. She has experience and credibility.

She was a member of Julius Malema’s national executive committee (NEC) for five years before it was dissolved in favour of a national task team. She was the only one of the NEC appointed to the task team.

Given her late entry and lack of a big-budget campaign, Ntuli’s best hope is to strike a deal with another candidate and go for the position of secretary-general – following former secretary-general Vuyiswa Tulelo.

Some female leaders in the ANC, like Thenjiwe Mtintso, have argued that the party’s women should put up women as candidates for president so they participate in the race, whether or not they win.

The youth league women said they would push for a female ANC president in 2017, with African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma a favourite.

Her name has been in the mix since before the ANC’s Mangaung conference in 2012. President Jacob Zuma seemingly gave his blessing after his re-election when he offered her as an example of a good leader at a business breakfast.

She also got more votes to sit on the NEC than any other ANC leader at Mangaung – more than Zuma himself – meaning she has support across the party.

But there are factional battles emerging around her potential presidential candidacy for 2017.

Some detractors say she’s being punted as a politically correct candidate by those who want to block Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa at any cost (ANC convention is that he be the next president).

Most women – the youth league’s young women included – are uncomfortable with lobbying for powerful positions. But they’re realising one thing: in the ANC at least, women have the party’s constitution on their side.

The ANC’s tenet of nonsexism and its belief in affirmative action mean it’s difficult to argue against a strong female candidate – and there are at least as many of them in the ANC as there are men.

Campaigners for Dlamini-Zuma are right to use this to bolster her chances above Ramaphosa’s.

Women and men who came before us fought for policies to promote female leadership and power – and these have worked in women’s favour in institutions like Parliament.

It would be an injustice if the women of our generation didn’t stand on the shoulders of our forebears to rise right to the top.

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