Women Power May Spare ANC 'a Zuma Dilemma'
Business Day, Opinion & Analysis
In the debate on who is to succeed President Thabo Mbeki, little attention is paid to the African National Congress (ANC) pledge of quotas, introduced in the late 1990s, and acknowledging women's leadership role in the movement.
While South Africans ponder the merits and demerits of several potential male successors to Mbeki, some members say it is time the party finds a suitable female candidate. Now that the party has had two male deputy presidents and two male presidents, the question it must answer soon is: when will the first female deputy president, if not president, be elected? If the quota was to be strictly adhered to there would be no debating that a woman must take one of SA's two top jobs in the next election.
In the early 1990s, soon after the unbanning of the liberation movement by then-president FW de Klerk, ANC women lobbied strongly to have the party treat them as equals. They wanted the party to acknowledge their contributions in the apartheid struggle and that some of the great moments in our history took place under their leadership.
They tabled their proposal for the quotas at the 48th national conference in Durban in 1991, but to no avail. After going back to the drawing board, the lobby group managed to get the support they needed at the 49th national conference in 1994 in Bloemfontein.
However, the breakthrough came at the ANC's 50th conference in Mafikeng in 1997, where the party took its first steps to ensure that at least a third of its national executive members in all structures were women. The ANC Women's League continued to work hard to ensure women were represented in all spheres of government.
From SA's first democratic president, Nelson Mandela, to Mbeki's presidency, the party has worked to put into practice what it preaches. The representation of women in the National Assembly, the National Council of Provinces and all provincial legislatures rose to more than 40% in this year's general elections. Representation in the national cabinet and premiership positions also rose.
An obvious challenge facing the ANC and the tripartite alliance is that it seems predominantly to produce male candidates as potential successors to the presidency. Mbeki's current deputy, Jacob Zuma, told the presidential press corps last year that the history of the ANC has typically seen the deputy naturally progresses to the presidency.
Meanwhile, several male leaders have been dropped from the national executive in favour of female candidates at past conferences. The same spirit and wisdom is being called for as a solution to the "Zuma dilemma". The evidence emerging during the Schabir Shaik trial is increasingly casting doubt over Zuma's candidacy to run the country.
While most women leaders in the party support the party line that the debate over Mbeki's succession is premature there is little doubt in the ANC Women's League that the quotas poses a challenge. For traditionalists in the party, the quotas stand out like a sore thumb.
Mbeki has appointed female ministers as acting presidents on several occasions when he was out of the country. This has contributed to the pool of potential female candidates for the presidency, including Minerals and Energy Minister Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu.
At a Gender Commission function in August one woman remarked: "If conservative countries such as Pakistan and the Philippines, which are also under the stranglehold of religious extremism, did not go up in flames when their first women presidents took office, we can safely say that our SA is more than ready to have one in 2009."
Women activists say the high proportion of women MPs, ministers and deputy ministers is due largely to the ANC quota for its electoral lists and party structures at all levels. They argue this helped the country get used to women leaders in government.
Women have proved their capabilities in first 10 years of SA's democracy, and SA is not stuck with Zuma or only male candidates as successors to Mbeki.
Radebe is deputy political editor.
With acknowledgements to Hopewell Radebe and the Business Day.