In his celebrated speech ‘I am an African’, prior to his ascendancy to the highest office on the land, the great African Thabo Mbeki described the people’s movement, the African National Congress (ANC) as ‘a titanic African army’. He could not have said it better; and it is largely to committed cadres of the movement like him that today the ANC occupies such a lofty and grand place in the minds of the ‘great masses of our people’. A sharp observation at the records of history, one begins to realise that even before its founding, it was only a matter of time before this ‘titanic African army’ that Thabo Mbeki so appropriately described took to the metaphorical seas.
The ANC, the ‘world’s most storied liberation movement’, to borrow the words of Alex Perry, has been in existence for an incredible 102 years. A journey that by many accounts was not easy. The movement gave us great leaders like Tambo, Mandela and Sisulu; patriots like Solomon Mahlangu and Martin Thembisile Hani. In the likes of Govan Mbeki and his protégé Kgalema Motlanthe this nation was gifted with great teachers. Distinguished intellectuals in the persons of Pallo Jordan and Thabo Mbeki-despite their flaws-have become to this nation what the city of Timbuktu was to early Africans, the fountain of wisdom; the well of Zamzam, a source of life.
But despite its decorated and unparalleled history, the ‘titanic African army’ has failed rather dismally in its representation of women in the high ranks of the movement. In its existence of more than a century the ANC has never had a female president albeit having been founded on principles that are so emphatic on the equality of men. Two years ago, when the ANC was gearing up for the 53rd national conference in Mangaung, the ANC Women’s League provincial secretary in Mpumalanga Clara Ndlovu remarked that the ANC and in extension South Africa were not ready for a female president. ‘We want to have a female president in the near future. We are just not prepared for it now. We do not have capable leaders,’ she said. This reckless and narrow-minded statement was met with a lot of backlash from members of society, particularly female groups, for showing such a lack of faith in women. Unsurprisingly the ANC Women’s League, like they always do in nonsensical cases, came to her rescue, saying that Ndlovu’s utterances were taken out of context. Later after the dust had settled the league released a statement embracing Ndlovu’s words that the nation was indeed not ready for a female president. To my surprise, I never knew that the mantle of the president recognised gender.
But looking at this issue, partly the ANC Women’s League is to blame for undermining their role in society, particularly that of inspiring young women that there is indeed a place for females in politics and everywhere else; instead they are sitting and painting their nails. The other part of the blame should be put at the doors of the men who have led and are leading the ANC. Let us not forget that despite its noble founding principles the People’s Movement did not extend their membership to women until the early forties. While women were there when ANC was founded their role was to make tea and bake scones while men took important decisions on their behalf. Today that ‘tea-girl’ mentality is still very much alive within the democratic movement; otherwise we would not be debating silly arguments like: ‘Is South Africa ready for a female president?’
It is still evident that the men in the ANC are still the dominant players in decision making while the women sit back and agree to everything that is uttered by their counterparts even if it constitutes rubbish. It is a case of ‘jump’ and the women respond with ‘how high?’ You only have to listen to the current ANC Women’s League president and the minister of Basic Education Mme Angie Motshekga on the issue of the country having a female president to understand what I mean; and she is rather quick to dismiss any statements that suggest that she and the women within the ANC are toothless. South Africa currently has only one female premier among eight provinces that are ruled by the ANC, yet we are constantly bored with stats about women being 50/50 with men in work positions. It is appalling to say the least.
Enter the energetic and jovial leader of the African National Congress (ANC) and president of the country His Excellency Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma. The ANC Women’s League needs to one day take me out for dinner and explain thoroughly the unbridled romance that exists between them and this gentleman from Nkandla. I doubt even the magnanimous Madiba who was admired the world over was accorded the same treatment. If you walk the streets of South Africa and ask anyone whose political outlook is not restricted to the confines of their hairline about the ANC Women’s League and they will mostly answer thus: Zuma’s cheerleading group. Why is that?
Dear reader, allow me to take you on a brief journey. In 2005 when the then Deputy President of South Africa Jacob Zuma was accused of raping a family friend, the women’s league instead of interrogating the issue at hand they proceeded to publicly support the accused and might have had some strong words for the victim. Fast forward to 2012 when Brett Murray painted a picture of the president’s organ of love or as he called it ‘the spear’; and displayed it in a public gallery for the world to behold, and only to invite the ire of the ANC and the president’s disciples. Now I am not saying that Murray was correct in shaming the president the way he did, but I was quite taken by the women’s league enthusiastic stance against what was in essence an artist expressing his observation of society and its leaders; after all President Zuma has a reputation of being a modern Giacomo Casanova, a reputation he has never shied away from; in fact his silence seems to encourage it. The women’s league does all this cheerleading while young women continue to travel a dark path without any guidance from the elders to show them the right way.
What am I saying South Africa? I am saying the men and women in the ANC should stand up and show character. I am saying-to add my voice to this silly debate-South Africa is ready for a female president. South Africa without question has always been ready for a female president; and if the ANC is serious they will make sure Mme Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma occupies Mahlamba Ndlopfu in 2019 and Mme Maite Nkoana-Mashabane becomes the deputy president of South Africa. The words of the brilliant African American philosopher and comedian Chris Rock come to mind. Rock commented on the subtle racist questions posed about Barack Obama’s fitness to run for president back in 2008. He remarked thus: ‘Is America ready for a black president? Is America ready for a black president? Well it should be; we just had a retarded one!’ Kgotsong!