Women singing at a South African ANC Women’s League meeting.Three senior women in ANC are contesting the presidency of the party. Picture: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko
In order for greater representation to translate to substantive change, it is crucial that we move beyond a representative democracy which focuses on the number of women only, writes Eleanor du Plooy.
The electoral process, through fair representation and
consent, determines who will govern and who will not. It's a mechanism that
translates the support of political parties and individuals into power.
As much as the electoral process is a powerful instrument
for shaping the political landscape, it is also used as an instrument for
political manipulation. And it is within this potential for manipulation that
my feelings of disillusionment with and suspicion of the vote and the many ways
in which political leaders have grossly betrayed the electorate, finds fertile
I've only voted three times in my life but already this
fourth decision feels particularly hard. Just thinking about it leaves me
feeling exhausted. It can sometimes be difficult to look optimistically to our
uncertain future. It has become hard to keep believing in the power of the vote
when many are yet to experience meaningful material change, and when political
parties continue centring party politics and prioritising personal gain above
the needs of the people.
I have become increasing doubtful that the act of voting
within an electoral process, an act that has the power to determine the
political leadership and direction of the country, is really the foremost
vehicle through which the will of the majority can be made manifest.
The last decade of South Africa's democracy has been hard.
The 'nine wasted years' under the Zuma administration was a gross display of
incessant betrayal of the electorate through unimaginable levels of state
corruption and looting, the ever-widening inequality gap and devastating levels
of violence against women and marginalised identities.
And although jaded, I know that the decision whether to vote
or not and the question of who to vote for is one that shouldn't be taken for
granted or considered lightly. Historically, in this country and elsewhere, the
right to self-governance through the act of voting had long been denied people
of colour and women. Whatever the decision, this moment in our national timeline
asks us to pause, and to reflect on how far we've come 25 years down the line.
As a woman, representation within the political space has in
recent years become an important consideration for me and cause for reflection
as May 8 draws closer.
No reduction in women's
Although women's political representation in national
assemblies in South Africa remains among the highest in the SADC region, it
hasn't translated directly in a reduction in any meaningful way in the
struggles faced by women in this country. The argument for greater
representation doesn't assume that women are best able to represent women's
issues or that there is some general unifying experience between women across
race and class, but rather that expansive representation can allow for a
greater appreciation in political terms of the complexities of gender
In order for greater representation to translate to
substantive change, it is crucial that we move beyond a representative
democracy which focuses on the number of women only. We need to move toward a
participatory democracy that focuses on the deliberate and meaningful inclusion
of women's experiences, interests and perspectives toward enriching government.
As important as adequate representation is, qualitative
change will not be brought about by merely increasing the number of women in
government. Often, gender discrimination, cultural and societal norms and numerous
other structural barriers impede women's contributions and as such the "qualitative
presence of women must therefore also have a qualitative significance". It
can no longer be window dressing only, but the diverse experiences and
perspectives must shape how we hold political leadership accountable, inform
policy and impact legislation.
It is only once women are really taken seriously in the
decision-making arena and allowed to take up space in a meaningful way, that the
idea, substance and form of politics and governance can start to change and
power relations shift.
As we approach this year's national elections let us reflect
on what this process means for our fledgling democracy and importantly, how we
can contribute toward deepening democratic processes as we find better ways of
walking together and co-creating a joint future South Africa.
- Eleanor Du Plooy is a senior project leader at the Institute
for Justice and Reconciliation.
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.
Find everything you need to know about the 2019 National and Provincial Government Elections at our News24 Elections site, including the latest news and detailed, interactive maps for how South Africa has voted over the past 3 elections. Make sure your News24 app is updated to access all our elections coverage in one place.