ANCWL Politics Embedded in ANC’s Male Factions & Unlikely To Independently Decide on Women Leaders

By Pinky Khoabane

THE ANC has just released the list of premier candidates following the 2019 elections and it is dominated by men, as has been the case over the years. Despite the tongue lashing by ANC Women’s League Chairperson Bathabile Dlamini after the Nasrec conference where only one woman was chosen to the top 6 and holds the position of deputy secretary, the premiers list has included Sihle Zikalala in Kwazulu Natal, David Makhura in Gauteng, Oscar Mabuyane in Eastern Cape, Stan Mathabatha in Limpopo and in the Northern Cape Zamani Saul. Only two premiers are women – Mpumalanga’s Refilwe Mtshweni and Free State’s Sefora Ntombela. The ANC has until Monday to decide who will lead the North West. It is an abomination which the ANCWL must face – its inability to move women to leadership structures in the ANC mother body despite women being in the majority.

The ANC women would not even ensure that a woman became the president or deputy president emerging from Nasrec. So embedded they are in men’s factional battles that as they did in Polokwane against Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (NDZ) who was contesting the deputy presidency of the ANC and lost to Kgalema Motlanthe, they did again at Nasrec in December against Lindiwe Sisulu who was contesting the deputy presidency. She was on the Cyril Ramaphosa campaign even though she pretended to go it alone contesting the presidency but the ANCWL voted instead for a man, DD Mabuza who at some stage was seen as being on the NDZ slate.

THE ANC National Conference is never without surprises. In Polokwane in 2007, former President Thabo Mbeki was left ashen, such was the shock that a man who had hardly completed formal schooling and whom he (Mbeki) had tried to remove from the political scene had risen to defeat him in his attempt to become ANC president for a third term.

He should have known that it was a contestation he was never going to win but his lieutenants had lied to him about the mood of the people in the branches.

Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who challenged now ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa, contested the deputy presidency alongside Mbeki, then. She lost to Kgalema Motlanthe, who was on the Jacob Zuma slate. By siding with Mbeki, she had aligned herself with one of the most unpopular presidents at the time and his attempt to run for a third term was seen as a way of denying Zuma his chance at being the president of the ANC.

The Mbeki slate was slaughtered, with each of the candidates for the Top 6 positions getting half the numbers of what Zuma’s slate got. Again the issue of the ANCWL commitment to having a woman in the presidency came into question. The League had earlier that year been non-committal and evasive about a woman in the presidency but as the year wore on, pressure mounted and it was forced to make some pronouncements, which included among others, that it would fight for women to occupy 50% of all leadership positions. Well we know how that has turned out. The ANC structures – branches, zones, regions, provinces- are dominated by men.

In the lead-up to Polokwane, the names of Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and Dlamini-Zuma as possible presidential candidates that the ANCWL would likely support began to emerge. But by then the ANC Youth League had endorsed the slate that had Zuma for president and Motlanthe for deputy president. The ANCWL would later, not only endorse Zuma as the presidential candidate but also, Motlanthe as deputy president.

If Mbeki/Dlamini-Zuma slate had won in Polokwane , she may have been able to secure the president’s position in Mangaung in what has come to be known as the ANC’s tradition that the deputy president becomes the president.

It wasn’t to be and by the time the next conference was held in Mangaung, Motlanthe had joined a faction which wanted to oust Zuma. Politics being what it is, Zuma invited Ramaphosa back into the political fold to contest the deputy presidency. A source close to Ramaphosa told me at the time that Ramaphosa phoned Motlanthe and advised him to stick with Zuma as deputy president and advance to the presidency in 2017 or risk being beaten by him to the deputy presidency in Mangaung. Motlanthe didn’t heed the advice and he was beaten.

Five years later, Dlamini-Zuma was back in the presidential race, this time flanked by many of Zuma’s supporters. And Ramaphosa triumphed in what was probably the most fiercely contested presidential race in the history of the ANC. In what is a shocker and an indictment on all the delegates of the ANC is how only one position, the lowest in the Top 6, went to a woman. The irony of wanting a woman president and to ending up with only one – as a deputy secretary general – can only be described as a huge step backwards.

Women Being Their Worst Enemies

Things were a little different this time around. The ANCWL went out very early to endorse Dlamini-Zuma as the preferred presidential candidate. There has been accusations among members that there was not enough consultation done in choosing the candidate. And immediately, the Dlamini-Zuma candidacy fell into the ANC’s factional male political interests. The MKVA and ANCYL, seen as allies of Zuma, publicly declared their endorsement of Dlamini-Zuma.

Two other women emerged as presidential hopefuls; Lindiwe Sisulu and Baleka Mbete. They were seen as the spoilers in some circles. Those who wanted to divide the women’s vote to weaken Dlamini-Zuma’s attempt at the presidency.

It could be said there was merit perhaps in the accusations given that they both ended up on the Ramaphosa slate; Sisulu as his preferred deputy presidential candidate and Mbete simply endorsing him. However, they would argue that they couldn’t align themselves with the Dlamini-Zuma slate. Sisulu has consistently called for a break from the Zuma reign as a means of building confidence and renewing brand ANC.

David Mabuza emerged as the deputy president of the party beating Sisulu. It was reported in the media that ANCWL’s President Bathabile Dlamini said she had voted for Mabuza over Sisulu but struggled to articulate why she had done so. The fact that Mabuza won means he had the women’s vote. The simple reason Dlamini voted for Mabuza and most likely for Ace Magashule too is that the women had voted along ANC’s factional male interests.

Ultimately, the ANCWL was never endorsing a woman for the sake of advancing women’s issues. It endorsed one woman and it would not support the others. It had endorsed a woman who was most likely decided upon by the ANC male faction supporting Zuma.

The ANCWL’s stance in ANC elections tells us more about it’s independence or lack thereof than it’s commitment to women’s issues. It is embedded within the male factions of the ANC. A woman president will only emerge the day the men in the ANC decide it is time.


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