We need to thank Bathabile Dlamini

2017-07-06 10:37
Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini. (Leon Sadiki, Gallo Images, City Press)

Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini. (Leon Sadiki, Gallo Images, City Press)

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Over the weekend social media was both amused and disappointed at revelations that the ANC Women’s League had deployed male delegates to represent it at the party’s national policy conference currently under way in Nasrec.

From what I gather, some people are amused because they are not shocked as there are low expectations of the league and its leadership anyway. Others have expressed disappointment because they believe the league perpetuates patriarchy and that it has failed to champion women empowerment by literally depriving women a seat at the table.

Adding fuel to this rage are comments made by the president of the women’s league, Bathabile Dlamini. When asked to explain this latest drama over delegates, she responded by saying that during debates women can become emotional and it is for this reason that they have brought in “experts”: men. Dlamini isn’t the first leader of the league to suggest that women need men to do their bidding. While speaking to journalists in 2013, Angie Motshekga, a former president of the league said that women were not ready to be president and that fighting for a female president would be a “losing battle.” Those remarks also sparked uproar.

Such statements delight the male leaders of the organisation. Fikile Mbalula, the minister of police added his two cents on the matter by saying everybody should be an advocate for women’s issues and that it therefore isn’t strange to have people of both genders as delegates representing the women’s league. From this, we can deduce that Mbalula would also have no issue with persons over the age of 35 representing the youth league as delegates. (I know those of you who are ratchet like me want to debate the age of the current youth league president at this point but let’s focus). Mbalula’s rhetoric is of course disingenuous and he knows this but it supports his narrative and keeps women a the mercy of their male counterparts.

Over recent years, it has become increasingly clear that both the youth league and the women’s league are redundant and obsolete institutions that exist not to represent their respective constituencies but to fight President Jacob Zuma’s battles for him. The leaders of these structures have picked their side and guess what South Africa? It’s not us.

We have reached a point where we realise that just like the youth, women need to be their own liberators and no political organisation will do this for them. We need to thank Bathabile Dlamini for making this clearer. Since becoming president of the league she has used most of her political capital defending Zuma and she has been greatly rewarded for this as she remains a Cabinet minister despite jumping from one disaster to another.

To be fair to Dlamini, men do this too. Unlike women however, men are not expected to champion the rights of their gender. Men have been allowed to shamelessly look out for number one without being regarded as sellouts or gender traitors. Has the time not come to have a more realistic view of women leaders too?

We all like to believe that having a woman leader improves prospects for other women. Does it? In the same way we like to believe that having a black leader at the helm helps other blacks in an organisation, does it really?

Or do these blacks and women like Dlamini get too caught up trying to find their own place in the system that they forget who they are supposed to represent?

While discussing the racial imbalances in our economy, a friend once pointed out to me that after 1994 black leaders were too preoccupied with fitting into the white-owned economy than overhauling it. Doesn’t a woman face the same struggle in a male dominated space like politics? I’m not making excuses for the likes of Dlamini but I am making the case that we need to realise that there is no one “out there” waiting to save us.

The women who marched in 1956 literally took matters into their own hands and didn’t wait for some man or woman to stand up for them. They brought this country to a standstill.

Have we lost that sense of activism as citizens? Have we allowed ourselves to be fooled by government into believing that we need them and that we are nothing without them. This situation often leads to what is known in politics as the “big man syndrome”. It refers to corrupt and often totalitarian rule of a country by a single person and their cronies. Sound familiar?

People like Dlamini serve as a reminder that we have abdicated our responsibilities as citizens to those in power, which is why we get so easily disappointed when they fail us. In a democracy, a government is supposed to fear its people and not the other way round. Dlamini would not defend such nonsense if she was scared of us and respected us.

We need to stop giving people like her and their organisations the benefit of the doubt by taking matters into our own hands.

How do we achieve this? Unlike in 1956 the tools of struggle have changed. There are more women than men, and all of us can do as citizens.

It begins with putting leaders on notice. In 2019 for example, the country will hold general elections and this is one of our most powerful tools in a democracy order. If we want to see changes, the likes of Dlamini need to fear losing power instead of taking the support of the women of this country for granted. It is time to show our leaders who is really in charge.

- Mondli Zondo is a Mandela Washington Fellow, the flagship programme of former President Barack Obama’s initiative for young African leaders. He writes in his personal capacity.

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