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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?

Author

  • Jen Thorpe

    Jennifer is a feminist, activist and advocate for women's rights. She has a Masters in Politics from Rhodes University, and a Masters in Creative Writing from UCT. In 2010 she started a women's writing project called 'My First Time'. It focuses on women's stories of significant first time experiences. Buy the book on the site http://myfirsttimesa.com or via Modjaji Books. Jen's first novel, The Peculiars, came out in February 2016 and is published by Penguin. Get it in good book stores, and on Takealot.com