Khadija Magardie
Khadija Magardie

How the gogos got their groove back

It’s exciting enough to have me scrambling for the number of my old tailor in Oriental Plaza. Granted, those gigantic bib collars are a bit seventies, and the skirts are a bit mumsy. The hint of shoulder pad also needs to go. And that hat will never fit on my ‘fro.

But the old green and black has been packing some serious punch lately.

The ANC Women’s League is out of mothballs! And not a moment too soon.

It’s got me mighty excited. And so should be all South Africans committed to gender justice, who’ve for so long been dismayed at the failure of a genuine, inclusive and non-racial women’s organisation to take root.

Since the days of the WNC there hasn’t really been a women’s movement that addresses issues facing the fabled ‘grassroots’.

Generally (and globally, it should be said) women’s organisations have been a pick ‘n mix: some only address sex crime, others reproductive health, and others women in the media. Now, it seems, after decades of political expediency, the ANCWL is making good on its threat: its women are rocks and if you strike them, well, we’ll have to wait and see.

As for those frothing over the use of the word gogo – relax, I’m not insulting legions of honest, hardworking women.

Some of my best friends are gogos. My grannies on both sides are gogos. And as an occasional resident of the Middle East, I now dress like a bit of a gogo myself.

In context, this should be taken to mean a phalanx of well-meaning, pantyhose-clad and benign matrons, content to sing at political funerals and sit through sermons at conventions but do little else. Like their offshoot, the entirely ineffectual, public purse-draining and irrelevant commission on gender equality, the ANCWL has had neither bark nor bite: paying lip service to the term women’s empowerment.

From access to safe abortions, to lengthening child support queues, to customary law battles being waged through the courts, the ANCWL has not been silent as much as it’s stood safely on the sidelines.

Not any more.

Angie Motshekga’s telling-off of Cosatu supporters for their racist and sexist insults against two opposition politicians may come a little late (they’ve been around for a while) but it deserves headlines.

For anyone who’s despaired at seeing the country’s most powerful women politicians lead the struggle to see the women of this country live the rights promised them, this is big news.

Nobody’s saying the women’s league’s track record is spotless. After all, it was the ANCWL who in 2007 said they’d back President Jacob Zuma as a presidential candidate, not Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. And it was league supporters in full uniform who sang and chanted derogatory slogans against the president’s rape accuser a year previously.

Of course, it’s neither here nor there whether feminists should back a female presidential candidate just because she is female. As much was suggested during Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. This politician, who, if the truth be told, is where she is because she hitched her political ambitions to the Bill bandwagon, is said to be making a real difference in third-world female lives (unless they’re Saudi or Gaza Palestinians, perhaps).

In Dlamini-Zuma’s case, her feminist track record (introducing free maternal healthcare, prioritising the Termination of Pregnancy Act) should have spoken for itself – and it’s nothing short of disgraceful that the organization didn’t help elevate her to the highest office.

But these changes we’re seeing in the profile of the league, this valuable organisation without which none of the gains women have made in this country would have been possible, are impressive and we heart them for it.

When in February the ANCWL organised the mini-skirt march through Johannesburg’s main taxi rank, the march may have got the lion’s share of coverage but the monumental shift from inertia to action that it represented for the league, didn’t .

The sight of our glamour-puss, Premier Nomvula Mokonyane (in a suitably racy mini), and Minister Lulu Xingwana (in sensible green and black) gave me hope the ANCWL was finally stepping up

But being politicians, I assumed it was a flash in the pan stunt designed to score political points.

Minister Motshekga’s words show the league is back, “in numbers too big to ignore…” and isn’t going to take it anymore.

Let’s see now if the minister is woman enough to take on Sadtu by firing (and frog-marching to the police station) the predatory paedophile schoolteachers impregnating hundreds (and that’s a conservative estimate) of pupils across the country, denying girls the right to finish even their basic education.

If there was ever a feminist issue, minister, that’s it.

I, for one, would just love to see the women’s league form the Papgeld Battalion –  sending delegations of members (in uniform) to sing at the workplaces of maintenance defaulters.

Or the Sheila Squad – to punk (in black and green paint) the lawns of meddems who think they can get away with paying their domestic worker peanuts.

The possibilities are endless. (And I’m available to consult the ANCWL on catchy phrases the media will latch onto.)

It’s time we gave the gogos in green some credit. And started filling in those membership forms.

Malibongwe Igama Lamakhosikazi, Malibongwe!

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