|Who’s Afraid of Feminism: Gender in South African Politics.
|"But can the left itself connect in new ways? In this period of see-sawing between despair and hope, redistribution of economic resources and assets to be sure, but also the redistribution of social and political power which remain marginal?"
That legacy, rich in debate and contestation, has been abandoned by the ANC in government. Going into the democratic era, there was a political consensus that not only should women have greater voice in decision making about public resources, but that those resources should be directed towards reducing the inequalities that are rooted in economic and social structures. That consensus is embodied in the Constitution. To be sure, one part of this related to parity in representation, full legal equality for all, and a public commitment to the rights of women. But that was always understood among feminists inside and out of the ANC to be one side of the bargain; the other side was the redistribution of status and resources.
The Women’s League of course benefitted from supporting both Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma: it gained positions for its members in Cabinet and in provincial legislatures, as well as in the Commission on Gender Equality. In 2007 it was poised to nominate a woman for the position of president of the ANC, in line with the suggestions by Mbeki about his successor. Many hoped that successor would be Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a longstanding leader in the Women’s League and a smart and capable politician.
But Mbeki’s game was up and, by the end of that year, the League joined the winning side. It supported Zuma against the views of feminists in its own party, who were concerned about the macho assertions of power, the attitudes of sexual entitlement and the homophobia displayed by Zuma during his rape trial. Standing by their man came at a price. By the 2014 elections it was so hopelessly aligned to Zuma that it could not even maintain the pretense of support for women’s political power. It declared that South Africa was not ready for a woman president. This year it has made an about turn and rumours are that it will be nominating a woman for president at its elective conference this month. Truth is, no amount of spinning can conceal the fact that the Women’s League has done little during the past two decades of democracy to build public support for women’s rights, let alone shift gendered patterns of economic inequality.
|"...no amount of spinning can conceal the fact that the Women’s League has done little during the past two decades of democracy to build public support for women’s rights, let alone shift gendered patterns of economic inequality. "
In place of a politics of removing inequalities, the various structures set up to represent the interests of women in policymaking – such as the Office on the Status of Women – suggest the triumph of form over substance. Once the Ministry of Women’s Affairs was set up, none of the ministers that headed it could come up with the programs or the resources that would address the hard realities of life for poor women. Instead, they championed a bill that would legislate gender equality in both the public and the private sector – a cold sop to compensate for the lack of proper ideas and strategies. Now even that Ministry has been moved, this time into the Presidency – precisely the location in which the Office on the Status of Women was sidelined. This latest shuffle seems to be a typical gesture that gives the appearance of elevated status without the power to actually do much (or be properly accountable through the structures of parliament).
In fact, it is hard to see it as anything other than a retrogressive step for the project of getting government to deal with the gendered impacts of its economic policies. Zuma hopes that the Minister will champion women’s socio-economic empowerment and rights: so would we. But does anyone really believe that Susan Shabangu, who disastrously mismanaged the aftermath of the Marikana massacre, remembers her trade union roots?
|"More pertinently, the left in the tripartite alliance resolutely refused to listen to the feminists who warned that he was not the standard-bearer for progressive politics that he was portrayed to be. "
|"...such sexism is telling: it is ‘a crude reminder of the sexist double-standards faced by female guerillas in the aftermath of war where they are expected to conform to dominant ideas of feminine respectability.’ "