As we enter the month of August, we need to brace ourselves for the usual celebrations, commemorations and rehearsed displays of shock at the poor quality of life South African women endure on a daily basis. Every August, the nation rightly pays tribute to the brave women who brought the country to a standstill by marching against oppressive laws in 1956. We also use this month to draw attention to the strides made by women since the advent of democracy and to take stock of the challenges that still stand in the way of women advancement.
This is also the month when Susan Shabangu, the minister of women in the presidency makes her annual appearance on the national stage. She will give countless speeches and cite an array of statistics as she seeks to convince us that she is worth the taxpayer funds spent on her. In this endeavour, she will predictably be joined by Bathabile Dlamini, the president of the ANC Women’s League who is on a mission to drum up support for Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma ahead of the party’s elective conference in December. We will be told that this is the year of the woman and that anybody who doesn’t support this agenda is suffering from misogyny. Ironically, she will not be making the case for other women presidential contenders in the form of Baleka Mbete and Lindiwe Sisulu.
As the party prepares itself for a battle that many predict will mark the end of Africa’s oldest liberation movement, we are being treated to what seems like endless declarations to run for the top job by various ANC leaders. The latest of these being Jeff Radebe, the minister in the presidency.
Radebe made this stunning announcement while delivering the Nelson Mandela lecture in Nellmapius in Pretoria on July 31. His candidacy would bring the total number of presidential wannabes to six if you count Mathews Phosa.
At the party’s recent policy conference, President Jacob Zuma proposed that the losing contender should automatically serve as the deputy president. One wonders how this would work given this ever growing number.
Radebe is no stranger to public office as the nations longest serving Cabinet minister. He has also held various offices within the ANC and for a long period has been a symbol of moral superiority in the party. Enter C.L.I.T Gate. In May this year, the Minister was involved in an email scandal in which he appears to solicit nudes from a female member of staff.
This fact alone should have dashed his presidential ambitions but he has soldiered on. One would have expected that his announcement to run for office would have been met with criticism and outrage but instead, he has been favourably covered so far.
The only explanation I can think of is that he gets away with this because he is a man.
Imagine if one of the women running for president had suffered a similar indiscretion. It is not far fetched to believe that she would be publicly vilified and called all kinds of hateful names. This woman would be condemned and others would question who the hell she thinks she is to want to be president after requesting nudes from a staff member. She would be called “immoral” as a married woman (as Radebe is a married man) engaging in such activity. We live in a country of double standards and Radebe is helping to make this point.
We see this too often in business and politics. During the US presidential elections last year, Donald Trump managed to defeat Hillary Clinton despite his disparaging remarks and treatment of women in the past.
Zuma managed to win the presidency despite rape accusations and 783 charges of corruption that should have tainted his moral authority.
Perhaps I’m stupid but I find it difficult to imagine any woman elected to the highest office in the land despite all of this baggage. We simply hold women to a higher standard and that alone is a barrier to women advancement.
In the coming weeks, it will be interesting to see if someone like Radebe is held accountable by people inside and outside the ANC. Will Shabangu walk the talk and call out her own colleague and use him as an example to other males in positions of power? Or will she tell South African women to stand up against harassment in the work place while ignoring the elephant in the room?
Will the ANC Women’s League publicly reject his candidacy on the basis of this scandal in which he aims to takes advantage of a woman junior to him?
It is high time that we stop paying lip service to improving the lives and prospects of women by taking real action. Shattering the ceiling of double standards that stand above them could be a step in this direction.
• Mondli Zondo is a columnist and a Mandela Washington Fellow; the flagship programme of former President Barack Obama’s initiative for young African leaders. He writes in his personal capacity.