Women in the EFF not ‘roses of the revolution’

2018-07-29 07:29
Leigh-Ann Mathys (File, Netwerk24)

Leigh-Ann Mathys (File, Netwerk24)

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In the five years since the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has been in existence, I am yet to sit down with one of the party’s leaders who has had enough sleep and enough to eat. They are perpetually hungry.

They crisscross the country running on fumes, forgetting the needs of their bodies.

The official with the key to the coffers, Leigh-Ann Mathys, is no exception. I’m sure she may just eat the waiter if he doesn’t return soon with her sandwich and chips order.

Despite fighting fatigue, she speaks hurriedly and excitedly about the past five years. Mathys has been there since the beginning. “I opened that first bank account at FNB in Braamfontein with the president and the then coordinator,” she says with pride.

She was the stand-in finance manager in the early days, before the first National People’s Assembly in 2014.

Just moments ago, Mathys has scolded me for not wishing her a happy birthday. Embarrassed, I sing loudly in the restaurant and ask her how old she is.

“Not my birthday; the EFF’s. We are five today,” she says with a wide grin.

It is, after all, July 26. Nothing in the EFF is a coincidence. Of course, there is the significance of the 26th of July Movement in Cuba under the leadership of Fidel Castro – but I would not be surprised at all if the birthday was deliberately made the day after pay day, so that people have the money to celebrate.

While 2.4 million people have voted for the party – which has been drawn into parliamentary brawls and become a regular at the Constitutional Court – its members still battle to change a number of perceptions about it that persist.

Mathys says the organisation’s leaders often sit and reflect on where these “false notions” originate.

“I don’t know where they come from. It is just so not like that,” she says, specifically referring to accusations of the party being too macho.

“The women in the EFF are often just seen as roses of the revolution, as if we are there to look pretty. It comes down to a societal problem because, as women, we are comfortable with doing things behind the scenes.

“Deputy secretary Hlengiwe Mkhaliphi and I did not want to do interviews for the longest time. I really just wanted to keep a low profile. But it came up in our meetings that this is the perception that people have of the EFF. So, we as women leaders also have to say: ‘Okay, not just for myself but for the sake of women, and women in politics, and also other women in the EFF.’

“We are trying to make sure that we don’t end up with that kind of an organisational culture, especially in the leadership. Women are doing everything in the organisation that men are.

“I also address the issue with members and say: ‘As women, when they come to lobby you, you must look at that slate or whatever and ask where the other women are, and refuse to be a part of it until women are fetched.’

“Then there’s this thing of: ‘But we can’t just put women in there, they must also be good.’ That drives me crazy because we don’t say that about men. So, you reinforce the idea that women are roses of the revolution.”

Mathys took over the position of treasurer-general from Magdalene Moonsamy, who left in the middle of her term to pursue her legal practice.

Despite encouraging women of the EFF to stand up and be counted for top jobs, Mathys has been reluctant to do so herself, having rejected a nomination for the post in which she now finds herself at the first elective conference in 2014.

When asked if she would accept the role should she be nominated at the next conference, taking place next year, she says: “No, please, they must find someone else. It is too much. Maybe I just don’t do it well; maybe that is why I feel overwhelmed. I feel like my head is under water all the time. Maybe there is someone else who feels that they can manage it a lot better than me,” a wide-eyed Mathys says, then laughs.


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