Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

How far is South Africa from a female president?

The road to Mangaung is paved with good intentions, but none of these intentions include advancing women to the position of president or deputy president.

This year’s race is patriarchal to the core — just have a look at the effort that’s been put into pushing the Traditional Courts Bill through the system despite the outcry from civil society and the minister of women, children, and people with disabilities (that’s right, the ministry of everyone except able-bodied men doesn’t want the bill). The votes the ANC leaders care about are the votes that are rooted in sexism and the suppression of women’s voices.

We’re not unique. Whenever male politicians need to send out their fishing lines and draw in the old chauvinist stalwarts they try to take away women’s rights. Cast your eyes to the US and their election race relies on the control of women’s bodies too — sexual and reproductive rights are being denied, revoked and altered across the US. It’s a sad state of affairs.

This weekend the ANC Women’s League Gauteng conference couldn’t decide on a presidential candidate. Perhaps it’s because the pickings are so slim. Despite being one of the bodies with the power and opportunities to push female rights forward, and to advocate for female political representation in the executive, the ANC Women’s League has not done much for women since 1993 when they protested the objectification of women in the Miss World pageant. (I’m begging you to prove me wrong with examples. It would make my day.)

South Africa’s female representation in the executive is still less than 50%. We have 13 female ministers (we had 14, but Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma went to the African Union) out of 34. They hold portfolios such as agriculture, forestry and fisheries; basic education; communications; defence and military veterans; energy; international relations and cooperation; labour; mineral resources; public service and administration; science and technology; social development; water and environmental affairs; and women, children and people with disabilities. Many of these departments are in crisis. The Limpopo textbook saga, the decision to pursue nuclear and coal-powered plants despite ample renewable resources, the increasing number of wage strikes in the mining sector, the funding crisis in the social development sector (strange when the minister is a convicted fraudster, no?), an impending water crisis, and the fact that women, children and people with disabilities are still regarded as a minority group with minority rights by the president.

The women who are in government have been placed in difficult portfolios. Some like Naledi Pandor have done an incredible job. Others are flailing. So even if the ANC Women’s League were to choose from this bunch, it would be the best of the worst. The reality is though that the ANC Women’s League wouldn’t choose from the options of female leaders.

The ANC is not likely to lose political power in at least the next two elections despite the fact that only 38% of eligible voters voted for them in the previous election (and only around 59% of eligible voters voted at all), so opposition leaders like Helen Zille and Lindiwe Mazibuko are unlikely to come into power any time soon.

We are painfully far away from a female president, especially one who is likely to get the job done Joyce Banda style. It’s really sad. Women’s political representation is key to inspire young female leaders to enter into politics. Most women my age wouldn’t even consider getting into politics because it’s so tarnished by the corrupt, the ineffective, the lazy, the greedy and the sexist. What now?

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    • michael

      Well the ancwl supports zuma for president which proofs that they know their place in the black patriarchal culture and it also shows a lack of self confidence.Banda in Malawi has achieved more in less than a year than all the black male leaders in africa the last 50 years.

    • Bernpm

      The lack of female candidates for the presidency would present a logistical problem.
      The sheer size and weight of the female ministerial crowd might require a total overhaul of all presidential facilities.
      The country cannot afford this after spending a few hundred million on Zuma’s home town palace.

    • bernpm

      correction: “The lack of female candidates for the presidency would present a logistical problem.” should read:

      The lack of female candidates for the presidency might have been foresight of the ladies. A female president from their league could well present a logistical problem.

    • Shaman sans Frontieres

      There are articulate, visionary, informed women in SA such as Dr Mamphela Ramphele and Graca Machel, and yet we are governed by a pack of dinosaurs.

    • David

      In my view, the ANCWL lost credibility, what little was left, when they didn’t voice out against Malema’s rant about taxi fare (I stand corrected, but I do not recall seeing any comments from them when that was all kicking off).

      In terms of female president, I thought Frene Ginwala was a very likely candidate, but then it’s a question of, are we ready for an Asian president, rather than the question posed in the title.

    • Musa

      I reckon that we are still a couple of decades before we can ever get a female president in SA, let alone in the ANC which is 100 years with all 13 presidents being males. It took Europe Centuries to this level of having a female president and America has had 49 presidents, all of whom are males so why must SA be in a hurry? Not that one is using the USA and EU as benchmarks but they are the trendsetters.

    • Skerminkel

      In general I agree that the sooner we get a female president, the better. The ultimate goal, however, should be that the gender (as well as race, sexual orientation, cultural background, religion, etc.) should not matter.

      The argument by Jennifer, however, is so clouded by other issues (energy sources, reproductive rights) that it clouds the issue.

      To argue that women currently in ministerial positions receive basket cases is also no argument. A suitable presidential candidate should have no difficulty in fixing a problem department.

      Until such time as we can select a suitable PERSON as president, I am all for lobbying for a woman.

    • Ms Ann Thrope


      “The sheer size and weight of the female ministerial crowd….”

      Congratulations on picking up the MOST important detail about women in politics: their apperance!

      Your type is worse than the traditional patriarchs, at least they don’t pretend to give a damn.

    • Brent

      In the middle/late 90’s i worked with a young (± 30/35) ANC activist who was was spot on with his predictions of what the ANC would do as far as policy and 100% as regards who would fill which positions. His prediction after Mandela was correct in naming Mbeki and thereafter he said it was a one horse race – the ex Mrs Zuma. In his opinion and he said the opinion of many younger ANC members, she was miles ahead of anyone else in terms of sheer quality or person and leadership. She has done excellent work as health minister, foreign affairs minister and miracles at home affairs – her prize, banished to fighting Africa’s politics in A. Abba. Out of harms way of the current leadership fight for the top prize!!!


    • Skerminkel

      @Ms Ann Thrope,
      Your sentiment is correct, but you would have to be blind not to notice the fact!

    • Mark

      >>How far is South Africa from a female president?

      About as far as we are from placing the basic needs of our citizens before ideology.

    • Bernpm

      @ Ms Ann Thrope: “Congratulations on picking up the MOST important detail about women in politics: their apperance!”

      I did try to make a lighthearted comment on a very noticeable phenomenon of our politicians.

      Over and above: the appearance of anybody representing a company or country is important. It is the first impression of the person on his/her new meeting partners.

      Obesity might be acceptable in Africa, it might not in many other parts of the world. Our President will have to be acceptable all over the world and at first sight. He/she is the top sales representative for South Africa.

      All other qualities (intelligence, negotiation skills, insight in political sensitivities) come later and can be learned through good advisers. Manners can but appearance can not!!

      Other than being

    • The dictator to save you from yourselves

      How about a clour-blind, non-sexist population voting in Helen Zille?

    • Barry

      Very far I’m afraid.

      Not sure what difference it’d make to be honest, as females are also human. Please be aware that women are also quite able to be corrupt, ineffective, lazy, greedy and sexist.

      How I do I know, you may ask? Well, believe it or not, I have two sisters.

      What now?

    • Tofolux

      @Jen Thorpe, I am quite disillusioned with the conceptual thinking of social writers. Maybe someone should do an article on social commentators and how they are catapulted onto radar screens as objective, independent or responsible writers against their expertise. Brilliant writers are those who r brave enough to tell the truth at any cost. It would have been helpful if you declared your interest in the first paragraph ie mooting the Madame and Lindiwe AND and what a contradiction of note when talking about women’s issues. It is gross misrepresentation to say that the ruling party is ”sexist” and “suppresses” womens voices. How can that possibly be when their processes say that all their elected leadership structures must be a 50/50 system. Also, this is the major fault with women in particular especially those from a liberal background, it is them and only them in particular who ”pulls other women down”. It is also grossly incorrect to claim that TCB is linked to Mangaung. TCB should be linked to previous resolutions of previous conferences. But how you could possibly argue for leaders in DA when talking abt womens issues when it is them who was forced to reshuffle WC MEC’s becos they couldnt find 1 women in WC that was ”fit for purpose”. It is gross misrepresentation to argue against the gains of women leaders who hav been acting deputy pres of SA and nw a leader of AU. How do you possibly think this happened without any influence of ANC?

    • jack sparrow

      In to day’s SA I don’t think I want to dicker about the sex of the president. I just want an honest, hard working and competent one. Rampele, Hogan, Zille and a few others may fit the bill. But some of the women are terrors. Think of SA under Sisulu (mouth moving = lieing), Ramos (sell everything), Marcus (what crisis?), Zuma (swap one for another?), Mandela (necklace), Motshega (textbooks), Pandor (education) and a few more. Terrible.

    • Oldfox

      South Africa first and foremost needs a good president.
      Having a female president in itself does not guarantee equity or justice. Liberia’s female president has screwed peasant farmers in Liberia.

    • Charles

      Women constitute 50% of delegates and more than 50% of the national electorate. Should they choose men for the national or ANC presidency, such a choice must be respected. In any event, nothing stops you or any other person from lobbying for a female president “Patriarchy” must not be blamed for your inability to convince women and men to vote for a female president. The focus should be on the electorate’s choice of a person, not on their reproductive organs. Anything else is simply anti-democratic and sexist.

    • Charles

      Ms Anne Thrope
      @ October 3, 2012 at 11:21 am

      But feminists routinely point out at the physical size of men to routinely lobby for legislation that favours women in circumstances of violence (domestic or otherwise). In fact society (the “patriarchy”) favours women’s security in all instances of violence or danger, based solely on the supposed physical size of men. Proxy violence (by other men) is even encouraged by feminists against men who have caused harm against women, purely on the basis of the size of men. The less said by women (and men) about the looks of those they perceive as worthless or creepy (e.g. Malema, etc) the better.

    • Graham

      Well said Jack. I couldn’t care less about the sex/race/age of the president.

      All I want is a president who knows what he/she is doing.

    • MLH

      I think JZ got the only present contender out of the country, to the AU!

    • Dave Harris

      How hypocritical of you and your ilk to:
      – You totally ignore the tremendous strides we have made in encouraging almost 50% participation of women into government. Not even the US or UK can claim this!!!
      – Not a single word about supporting the governments Gender Equality bill to encourage companies to achieve similar gender parity.

      Instead you use this form to peddle the tired old politics of the white tribal DA party. Sies!

    • http://none siphiwo

      i was hoping that former Home Affairs, Dr Zuma but unforfunately the former husband lobbied for her to be working in the Au, so that he doesn’t have any more competition.

      always disappointed with the women’s league, in limpompo we hoped that they will support a woman candidate, but instead the chose Zume. i am disappointed even now they decided to keep silent.

    • Pingback: Loyal subjects: ANC Women’s League (heart) Zuma – Daily Maverick | Latest News and Headlines()

    • ntozakhona

      Jen, feminists have a serious quarrel with patriachy. Patriachy promotes the superiority of one human being over the other. It manifests itself in racism, sexism and religious intolerance.

      Feminism in order to fight and defeat this scourge encourages sisterhood accross all colour lines and solidarity of all the oppressed. It is a kind that produced a kinship between Rahima Moosa, Sophie de Bruin, Helen Joseph and Lillian Ngoyi.

      Feminism is not about a female who shouts and dances like male as Helen Zille likes to. In the ANC every member, including footsoldiers like me are taught Samora Machel’s maxim that the liberation of a woman is a the liberation of a nation.

      It makes perfect sense to us as we were brought up by mothers whose husbands were conscripted to the mines, to factories that rolled till Sunday and to detention cells, South Africa will have a women president and my prediction is that Nkosazana Zuma will deputise for Kgalema in 2019.

      Given my foregoing understanding of feminism, I cannot see how you shamelessly claim to be a feminist,

    • Peter

      The argument of whether or not a female president in South Africa would be any better than a male is debatable, but does hang strongly in favour of female. The reason I say this is simple:

      In any social species, the role of the man is to protect and to work, and the role of the woman is to lead and educate. Most of you will baulk at this, except those who understand the social dynamics of horses, dogs, cats, lions, sheep, cows, bison, bees, or any other socially orientated species, where the male acts as protector and the female acts as leader. For thousands of years, across the Western World and everywhere else, the Human race has been misguided by forcing the issue that protection equals leadership. Physical dominance does NOT equate to the ability to lead. LEADERSHIP does. I don’t care who does it, but if they’re able to do it without force, I’m there to follow.

      The inarguable fact is that women are more responsive the their environment and the interests of the people they care about, while men are more responsive to themselves and their own interests. This, in itself, encourages people to follow, because they don’t feel forced or coerced, and feel they have the option to decide for themselves.

      We need to back out of 150,000 of intimidation and social programming, and decide as individuals what we need from a leader. If it’s strength of character along with empathy for our peers, it’s going to be a woman, or an uncharachteristically emotionally connected…

    • ntozakhona

      All said and done your article sounds like diatribe from a Madam gossiping at a dinner party about the impetuous maids. Mind your language.

    • jandr0

      @Tofolux: You say:

      “It would have been helpful if you declared your interest in the first paragraph ie mooting the Madame and Lindiwe AND and what a contradiction of note when talking about women’s issues.”

      You are projecting your thoughts onto Jen Thorpe. Are you also conveniently ignoring the roots-based unhappiness amongst (particularly African) women with the “traditional” bill?

      @ntozakhona: You say:

      “Feminism is not about a female who shouts and dances like male as Helen Zille likes to.”

      You are, once again, being derogatory and also projecting. You might think (and project) it as “like male,” but I don’t see it that way.

      You quote: “Samora Machel’s maxim that the liberation of a woman is a the liberation of a nation.”

      I agree with that. Yes, yes, yes.

      PS. In order to avoid misunderstanding me, note that I do not, however, equate liberation of women with token deployments.

    • Barry


      “In any social species, the role of the man is to protect and to work, and the role of the woman is to lead and educate”

      I’m not going to research this right now, but I’m almost certain that this statement is too general and not always true.

      It’s interesting to make a generalization based on statistics, “facts” and history but when it comes down to it, it’s the individual that’s important, not the gender, race or any other differentials.

      Anyway, that’s just my opinion.

    • Tofolux

      @Jandro, ok so now you’ve learnt a new word with the kind compliments of my comrade Ntozakhona (hope you have thanked him tho). But lets talk about gender equality, the Madame and Lindiwe, what are your points?
      Also, have you read and understood the TCB?

    • Sanele Lennox Nkompela

      Why don’t you talk about the strides made by the ANC-led government versus your Apartheid government?
      For your information Madam Jen Thorpe, South Africa is rated 16th out of 135 countries by the Global Gender Index of the World Economic Forum. In each policy conference, the ANC produces a discussion paper dedicated on the emancipation of women which gets implemented by the government. The 2007 Polokwane conference resolved that a Women Ministry be established, this happened and is doing well. The majority of premiers of the provinces governed by the ANC are women. The judiciary and the magistracy have a rising percentage of women. The number of parliamentarians has trippled since 1994. Even for the fact that Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is a Chair of the African Union Commission is an initiative of the ANC. Don’t write dirty propaganda here, Jen, South Africa is one of the progressive societies in the world hwen it comes to the emancipation of women. If you want to engage yourself in an anti-ANC agenda on the basis that it took power from the National Party, don’t comouflage by social media. The ANC is a non-racial and non-sexist organisation. To have a female president does not mean you have addressed women challenges because you will still have very huge gaps in the private sector which is has manifestations of partriarchy.

    • Sanele Lennox Nkompela

      Who are you to tell who the ANCWL must nominate? The coming conference is of the ANC not of the ANCWL. The Gauteng coneference of the ANCWL was not to decide on the ANC presidential candidate, only the branches of the ANC who decide.