In his emotive elegy in memory of ANC (African National Congress) stalwart, Steve Tshwete, former president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki described his party – the ANC – as ‘the premier organisation of the struggle of the peoples of Africa for liberation and independence’. Mbeki spoke these words at the funeral of Tshwete in 2002. In 2017, over fifteen years since the former ANC leader uttered such reassuring words on the day that South Africa bid farewell to one of its struggle heroes, the question arises: do these words pronounced by Mbeki still apply to the ANC? Does the ANC truly believe, in the year 2017, on the eve of its 106th birthday anniversary, that it still represents the hopes and dreams of the ‘great masses of our people’?
Last weekend, on Saturday, 16th December 2017, the 54th ANC National Elective Conference officially kicked off at Nasrec Expo Centre in Soweto, Johannesburg. President Jacob Zuma, now former leader of the ANC, delivered his last political report as president of the ruling party after serving ten years at its helm. In his report, published in book form that looked more like a detailed scientific thesis than a political article, the former president touched on critical issues such as poverty, land, active economic participation by the majority and so on.
On Monday, 18th December 2017, two days after the conference had begun, the results of the top six high ranking members of the NEC (National Executive Committee) – the highest decision-making body of the ANC – were announced. In the past few months leading to the conference, branches across the country elected seven candidates to compete for the presidency of the ruling party. As the date of the elective conference approached, it became clear that the contest would boil down to two people: Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and former AU (African Union) chairperson Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Throughout their respective campaigns, the former enjoyed the general support of the media while the latter, a woman competing against a man in a patriarchal society, relied on the support of ANC branches, the leagues of the ANC and some members of the public.
But who is Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a woman who thought she could outfox a man with a questionable character in a world designed for him to thrive? Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is a zoologist and a medical doctor from the University of Zululand and the University of Bristol in the UK (United Kingdom) respectively. She was born in 1949 in the village of Bulwer, outside Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu Natal. NDZ, as she is known, joined the ANC at a very young age, where she would meet another struggle stalwart, one Jacob Zuma; a decision that is being used now to justify why she is not qualified to lead the ANC. Even our noble currency, the Rand, and the unfailing markets had something to say on the matter.
When information was leaked that Cyril Ramaphosa would ascend to the highest position of the ANC, attaching his name to a very short list of men who served the ‘titanic African army’ throughout its 105 years in existence, the Rand climbed from above R13 to R12.52 against the dollar until it was officially announced that DD Mabuza would be Deputy President of the ANC. I imagine that if the Mpumalanga premier had not emerged, the Rand would have risen to less than R5 against the green bag to register its excitement at the news of Matamela being president of the ANC – a political party that was once known the world over as a terrorist organisation. Dear reader, think about what would have transpired if NDZ was elected first female president of the ANC. The Rand and the markets would have been so displeased with her election, analysts would have been harping on about an imminent collapse of the economy. Not only do the Rand and the markets despise black people, they specifically loathe black women; their stellar credentials notwithstanding.
The most intelligent and powerful writer of our time, a woman I am proud to call my compatriot, wrote recently on The New York Times a wonderful piece about a very dubious character, one Grace Mugabe, former First Lady of Zimbabwe. In her genius stroke of a pen and a single article, Sisonke Msimang picked Grace Mugabe from a dustbin of ridicule, washed her gracefully like a fabric and hung her on a line for all to see this woman, who is by no means flawless, but yet human.
In her piece Msimang doesn’t contest that Grace Mugabe is a saint. She doesn’t attempt to argue that Grace Mugabe is noble. Msimang merely exposed a system that would still condemn the former First Lady of Zimbabwe even if she was other than she is, because that system, a system that celebrates men despite their sullied and compromised characters, hates women in general and black women in particular. The failure of Robert Mugabe is heaped on the shoulders of Grace Mugabe. If Robert Mugabe had not ‘tripped and fallen’ on the lap of an inviting Grace, Zimbabwe would have been fine. If Grace had not thrown herself at poor Robert, Harare would be thriving. Robert was fine until Grace entered. And therefore, Robert is good and Grace is bad.
Here in South Africa, one Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is paying for her silly little girl mistake of marrying Jacob Zuma, a man who is undisputed in the arena of scandals and controversy. Alas, Jacob Zuma is a former ANC president. He is also the country’s head of state. When Msholozi ascended to the ANC presidency in 2007 his scandals were known yet he was elected. Less than two years later in 2009 voters sent him to the Union Buildings to serve South Africa as head of state. Again, we knew of Jacob Zuma and his shenanigans. Yet, this didn’t seem to bother us.
The man Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was competing against for the top position of the ANC was fingered in the killing of 34 people in Marikana in 2012. He is now the president of the ANC. Dlamini-Zuma’s mistake is having married Jacob Zuma. Her unforgivable sin is being a woman who thought she could do a man’s job. When Ramaphosa sulked and abandoned the ANC in the late 90s because he did not get the position of the Deputy President of South Africa, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a loyal cadre of the People’s Movement stayed and agreed to serve wherever her organisation deployed her. When Ramaphosa was amassing wealth in the private sector and rubbing shoulders with captains of the industry, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma selflessly served the people of South Africa in various positions where the ANC had sent her. In 2012, when Cyril Ramaphosa was exhausted from making money, and suddenly made his way into politics, the ANC had sent Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to serve Africans in their large diversity and numbers as the AU chairperson.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a trained medical doctor, could have abandoned the people of South Africa and Africa to work in the private sector and make money for herself and her children; yet she stayed, because she understood that to serve in the ANC is not about positions and ego. It is about serving the ‘great masses of our people’ from every position, big or small, the ANC assigns you.
Yet again, the ANC has failed. The movement of Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has failed her. It has failed to stand up and pronounce in unambiguous terms, that just as the ANC celebrates men with bruised egos, it also celebrates incredible and hardworking women who have displayed loyalty and love for their people. The ANC has failed, yet again, to communicate to the world that the People’s Movement is home to brilliant daughters, sisters, aunts and mothers just as it is home to dodgy sons, brothers, uncles and fathers. The ANC has failed, yet again, to demonstrate to the ordinary people across the lands that the women in its rank and file matter as much as its men. In its failure to elevate Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to its highest position, the ANC has pronounced itself to the people of South Africa and Africa as an all talk and no action organisation.
Those who know more than I do argue that the reason Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma failed to make history and become the first woman to lead the ANC was because of the people backing her. It is said the people who supported her are corrupt and dodgy. These people who know more than I do, masking their misogyny and hatred for black women in clever speak, contend that had she not been backed by people like the ANC Women’s League president, Bathabile Dlamini, ANC Youth League, Colin Maine and now former ANC president, Jacob Zuma, NDZ would have stood a chance. From this logic one assumes that Cyril Ramaphosa is backed by angels and saints. If this is the reasoning that is being put forth to defend the argument that Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was not a suitable candidate because of her backers, then one is allowed to conclude Cyril Ramaphosa’s supporters are men and women of immaculate character, even though they lurk in the shadows like thieves.
In the same piece about Grace Mugabe, Sisonke Msimang brilliantly observes thus: ‘The nationalist discourse of many independence movements, which still shapes African politics today, has little room for women.’ Unlike Grace Mugabe, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was immersed in the struggle for a free South Africa, but then again, as Msimang reminds us, the ‘discourse of independence movements…has little room for women.’ Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma knows no other life outside the ANC. At least the 14th president of the ANC has seen and enjoyed the posh life of private sector. ‘Grace Mugabe is no Winnie Mandela. She does not begin to approximate the integrity of Graca Machel’, writes Sisonke Msimang, again to make a point that she is not vindicating Grace Mugabe, the individual. ‘Still, it is worth noting the dangers faced by women married to prominent men, in Africa and elsewhere: When they don’t fit a certain mold, they are often vilified — even those who don’t cast nearly as villainous a figure as Grace Mugabe.’ Next to a giant that is Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Grace Mugabe is obviously a midget, but this does not diminish the point made by Msimang: African politics have a deep-seated problem with women. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma happens to have been married to Jacob Zuma, whom a sound argument could be made that he too comes short next to the good doctor, and that decision is used as a stick to punish her. As the general public, the ordinary masses in the streets, we too have failed Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Together with the ANC, the liberation movement of the people of Charlotte Maxeke, we should hang our heads in shame for failing to aggressively advocate for gender equality in the persons of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Lindiwe Sisulu and Maite Nkoana-Mashabane. Yet again, alongside the branches of the ANC, we have failed. Kgotsong!