When is the time for women in SA?

2016-09-11 07:18

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The recently concluded municipal elections and their dramatic results have disrupted what should have been a month-long focus on various dimensions of what it means to be a woman in South Africa today.

It is good that the elections were held in August, though, for the masculinity of our politics was laid bare at a time when many would have pontificated about the progress made by women.

While acknowledging the progress made since 1994, we must keep in mind that a society that hides its demons when visited by angels will know no peace after the angels are gone.

Whether you think of the smallest municipality in the middle of nowhere, or a big metro in the glittering cities, mayoral candidates in the past elections were a hunting club – a cacophonous crowd of men with a lone female voice here and there.

Is it because women do not have political minds?

Is it not because our society continues to cling to the antiquated, sexist division-of-labour paradigm that sees no role for women outside the kitchen?

Hopefully, political pundits will at some point explain why our political culture is so patently masculine, and help us elaborate the outlines of a new culture, purged of all misogynistic impurities.

The most troubling thing is that the public spotlight never turns to the private sector.

Every August, the media scramble to find a scattering of successful women to piece together a progressive picture of our society.

Invariably, such ritualistic exercises showcase top female politicians, or low-ranking managers in the private sector.

The media should not be blamed for this; there are very few female CEOs of big companies in South Africa today.

Try to count them on your hand, and let us know how far you get.

It is most distressing that our society seems to have accepted that women cannot run big companies.

When FirstRand replaces a black, male CEO with a white one, or when MTN does the same, the source of public outcry is almost always predictable – black men agitating for other black men.

The idea of women’s incapacity to lead in business is old and transcends race.

You only need to glance over the big mining and manufacturing companies that have dominated South Africa’s economic landscape since the discovery of diamonds and gold in the second half of the 19th century.

You will be lucky to find one of those companies boasting a history of female leadership.

The successions of moguls who for more than a century monopolised mining in South Africa never welcomed women into their ranks, hence their masculine label: Randlords.

Even when the Afrikaners kicked off their own Afrikaner economic empowerment schemes from the 1920s onwards, there was no trace of a single woman in the top echelons of their industrial leadership – only male hunters.

We are dealing here with a centuries-old patriarchal culture that has preconditioned generation after generation to think of women as players only in the kitchen.

If this culture is not confronted, our great-grandchildren will read an article just like this, 100 years from now, complaining about the same phenomenon: the lack of women in leadership roles.

The bitter truth that should not be avoided is that, just like black people had to depend on themselves to fight for their own liberation, women, too, should not expect their struggles to be waged by men.

A few men may assist, but such charitable spirits are rare.

The strategic objective of the necessary war that women in South Africa must fight should be to recast a woman as a fully fledged, multidimensional human being.

In the modern age, no one sees anything wrong with a man being a father who plays with his children at home, a man who changes light bulbs at his house, a caring husband who takes his family out to dinner, a churchgoer on Sundays, a respected CEO of a leading company – all by the same person.

This idea is possible only if conceived of in the full multidimensionality of a man’s humanity. In other words, a man in this sense is taken to be a fully fledged, balanced human being.

For centuries, culture has permitted women to breastfeed children, to cook, to sweep floors, but never to lead.

Once redefined, women must re-emerge in their fullness as Homo economicus” (economic women). This means that society must be reconditioned to view women as being just as hungry and ambitious for success and recognition in business as men are. If business is about the pursuit of wealth and greatness in the realm of value creation, why do men think women don’t feel the same hunger?

The first step towards re-educating our men should be to teach them to listen to women. They should not decide what is good for us. Women can think, and they know what they want.

This kind of assertiveness should not be misconstrued as an appeal to disharmony between men and women.

No one can escape the rational orderliness and natural necessity of coexistence between men and women.

There are those who prefer not to ruffle feathers, who implore women to allow time to solve problems. To them we ask: What has time produced in the past three centuries for women in South Africa?

Given the paucity of time’s tangible products, it should be obvious to every rational person that the time for an action-orientated debate has come.

What we are calling for here is not some wishy-washy debate; we are calling for a practical re-examination of South Africa’s treatment of women.

It makes sense for me to enter the debate through the door of business.

That is where I practise my craft, an arena where women are still treated as people who cannot and must not reach the summit.

My question is simple: How long will it take to have (black) women at the top of big companies in South Africa?

Dhlamini is CEO of SekelaXabiso, an auditing and business consulting firm


Do you think women are capable of running big companies?

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Read more on:    women in business  |  leadership  |  women empowerment

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