Ahead of our 2019 election, there is no better time than the present for us to engage – as voters or possible candidates – for a more balanced and diverse representation on the issues that matter to us. More than two decades into our democracy, with a lack of female representation in positions that matter, it’s safe to say we are facing a leadership crisis. So how do we go about inviting the next generation of public leaders into the fold? Where do you start if public service is your passion? We’ve gathered key information from women in the know who’ve served in parliament, and those who’ve observed it from the front line.
How to bring in the big bucks
There is this perception that women don’t like to ask for money, but not everyone hates it. In her time as Leader of the Opposition, Lindiwe Mazibuko says she felt at ease while fundraising, seeing it as part of her role and a way to drive the party’s ideology forward. Fundraising is always difficult, especially in the context of the global economy, let alone the national economy.
‘However, it is always true believers in any good cause that will find a way of making a contribution and in doing so assist in advancing the rights of the oppressed,’ says Magdalene Moonsamy.
- Start small by asking your circle or network to donate towards your campaign, even if it’s a monthly debit order of any amount.
- Create your own database of people in your area who you believe would be willing to support your political agenda.
- Donations don’t need to be high. It’s okay to ask the same supports to donate small amounts repeatedly (it worked for Barack Obama).
Find out more on how to get started from Lindiwe here.
Skills to perfect
Any public political role requires regular interaction with the media, and media fails are the stuff that viral memes are made of. So, what are the dos and don’ts to note?
1. Keep your focus on what your agenda is.
Don’t get distracted by the noise – because there is a lot of noise in SA politics and they chase what’s out there.
2. Stay true to who you are.
Some politicians focus on how they look as a way of defining themselves, while others focus on being combative as a self-defence mechanism; people need to find what works for them. There is not one way that is the right way. But you need to be prepared from the beginning. Attacks are inevitable and par for the course, and it’s a hostile territory. Find your own survival guide because there isn’t one for every female politician.
3. Female first
There is nothing worse than women trying to keep up with their male counterparts. Some could be doing this as a survival mechanism, but it doesn’t work.
How to handle the trolls
Being a woman in this world comes with its own set of challenges and expectations – and being in the public eye means dealing with haters.
In an ideal world, commentary would be based around your policy and not your physical appearance. But in this social-media-driven age, the trolls seem to find their way into your feed. Try to instill clear boundaries by switching off social media and spending quality time doing the things that resonate with you and with the people who inspire you.
‘The manner in which to deal with a troll is to simply ask, “What do you mean?”’
Women are more vulnerable because trolls tend to attack where they perceive you to be weakest. They try to make you feel inferior, and gender is an easy avenue to do that. It can be demoralising, even driving you to quit. But whatever you do, don’t! Don’t let trolls ruin your experience, says journalist and editor Ranjeni Munusamy. ‘Trolls represent the lowest denominator in society. Blocking the trolls means that you are blocking perspectives, but at the same time you cannot have trolls in their pure form alter who you are, what you are doing, what you represent and what your agenda is. Instead, you need to maintain a balance with trolls in small doses. I sometimes go back and forth with trolls, and often I use sarcasm to attack, but it doesn’t always work. Sarcasm is my own defence mechanism. And sometimes sarcasm is lost on stupid people,’ says Ranjeni.
‘TROLLS in capital, darling! Of course I deal with trolls every day,’ says attorney Magdalene Moonsamy, former EFF treasurer and the founder of the Women’s Justice Foundation. ‘But all they need is a firm handshake and a gentle reprimand. I am confident that trolls have mastered the use of triggers, and the manner in which to deal with a troll is to simply ask, “What do you mean?” You will usually find they just meant to harm you and you have nothing to do with their malice. I usually then gracefully bow my head, turn around and walk away.’
Want to get your head in the game? Here is some insight from current and former female MPs.
Read about how they became MPs here.
‘You need a strong support team. You need personal support (someone who supports you in your home life), you need support in politics (a mentor, someone who can show you the ropes, and advise you when it gets hard), and of course you need support from your constituency (it helps to come in with a proven support base behind you).
‘Don’t take things personally’
‘I would tell my younger self: make sure you know what you’re getting into. It sounds exciting and you go in with rose-tinted glasses thinking you’re going to change the world, but it’s very different once you get in there. You need to watch out for predators of every kind – people will steal your ideas, hit on you and stab you in the back – even people who you think are your friends. It’s a dirty game, and that can be off-putting, particularly for women. It’s very confrontational and tough. You need to grow a thick skin. Don’t take things personally: the attacks are directed at your party or your beliefs, but not at you.
‘And also, it’s just very difficult. Parliament changed in 1994 to make it easier for women to be MPs. (They changed the sittings, stopped having so many meetings in the evening to make it easier for women with children, etcetera). But it’s still demanding. The hours are long, and you need support on the home front. I had friends that really helped with my kids. It’s tough because you’re still expected to play the role of a mother.’ – Janet Semple, DA Shadow MEC for Economic Development
‘Assert your power’
‘The political space is an extremely contaminated space. It was something completely new to me, and I still don’t feel like ‘a politician’. You become a politician and you learn how to maneuver through politics, but at the end of the day, being a politician, your success is the result of numbers in your party. You get elected, which results in your deployment to various positions as a public representative – whether it’s the President or an MP. You can be the manoeuverer and do it that way, but my advice is: always be honest, always be true to yourself. Sometimes people will walk over you – you must assert your power. People will misunderstand you, they will take you for granted. Sometimes they don’t understand why you’re doing something or not contesting something – but the truth always finds its way. If you’re in a political space, be true to yourself. Avoid being part of factions, follow the guidelines of what you’re doing and always be honest. Honesty will keep you safe and secure and take you far in a political party.’ – Leigh Mathys, EFF Treasurer