It’s been 100 days since the departure of a president who had overstayed his welcome, followed by the election of another, who promised South Africa a new dawn. Amidst all this Ramaphoria, however, is there a new deal for women somewhere? South Africa got its Minister of Women in the Presidency under former president Jacob Zuma, but ordinary women might be forgiven for never noticing the difference this made in their lives.
Promises still to be met
Take, for instance, Zuma’s promise of free sanitary pads for girls who can’t afford them (an issue that impacts on their education, since girls tend to stay home to avoid embarrassment when they have their periods). He announced it at the ANC’s birthday celebrations in January 2011, but by the time he was ousted, seven years later, there was still no cohesive programme or visible financing to distribute these in the same way that free government-issued condoms are. Responsible departments are already distributing free pads in places like orphanages, hospitals and mental institutions and prisons, and some provincial departments have been getting involved as well, but not to the extent that women might have been expecting.
Violence against women
One small example highlights how President Zuma saw the crisis of GBV in South Africa. It took a certain amount of manoeuvring and cajoling to get former deputy minister for higher education and training, Mduduzi Manana, to resign after he was involved in an assault on three women in the early hours outside Cubaña restaurant in Fourways. To make matters worse, scarcely a month after his sentencing, Manana was elected onto the ANC’s 80-member national executive committee. He was one of those who supported Cyril Ramaphosa in his bid for the ANC’s presidency, and Ramaphosa wasn’t likely to turn around and deal with him on the spot.
Will it be more of the ‘same old’ under Ramaphosa?
Much was made of Dr Tshepo Motsepe, the woman at Ramaphosa’s side ahead of his first State of the Nation Address in February, a day after being inaugurated following Zuma’s resignation/sacking. There would only be one First Lady now, went the talk on social media, and she would be her own woman – an accomplished person with a medical degree.
Ramaphosa’s monogamy was in sharp contrast to the marital status of Zuma, who kept everyone cynically guessing when his next wedding would be and how much tax money was being spent on maintaining all his wives.
Amid allegations that he’d had affairs, Ramaphosa has conceded to only one affair, with a doctor, many years ago. This admission might have caused some strain in his marriage, but the public was prepared to let him off lightly, because Zuma’s behaviour seemed much worse (such as fathering a baby with the much younger Sonono Khoza out of wedlock in 2010, soon after becoming president).
Ramaphosa says the right things
Some people felt that Zuma’s attitude to women was a step back for gender rights. When he said things like: “It’s better for women not to be single,” “You’ve got to have kids,” and “Kids are important to a woman because they give extra training to a woman, to be a mother,” it all seemed to underscore his sexist attitude.
By contrast, in terms of gender equality, Ramaphosa made all the right noises on his campaign website last year. Women’s economic empowerment requires changes in society, it said. “For example, there needs to be a shift within families towards a more equitable allocation of domestic and parenting responsibilities. This means traditional attitudes about the place of women in the home need to be challenged.” You go, Cyril.
Also, the Shanduka group that he founded has produced female boardroom superstars such as Phuti Mahanyele, who was CEO and made the Wall Street Journal’s list of “Top 50 women in the world to watch in 2008”.
But politics isn’t business as usual
Ramaphosa came under fire from supporters of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, now minister in the presidency, for daring to challenge the first woman to run for presidency.
Mindful of this criticism, Ramaphosa scrambled to find a female running mate – minister Lindiwe Sisulu (who he promoted from human settlements to international relations), who gave up her own campaign for president to run as his number two.
As it happened, Sisulu was eventually outmanoeuvred by Mpumalanga premier DD Mabuza, now the country’s deputy president.
In fact, under Ramaphosa the number of women in the ANC’s top six leadership positions went from two to one, but because more than 4000 ANC delegates voted for these positions, Ramaphosa cannot really be blamed for this regression.
But what about Bathabile Dlamini?
The president should, however, take responsibility for retaining former Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini in his cabinet as Minister of Women – the same woman whose deliberate bungling almost saw thousands of people (most of them women) left without welfare grants.
Even though the Buffalo Soldier is the new Number One, he isn’t all-powerful – he had to retain Dlamini because she has some standing in the party as ANC Women’s League president.
Also, Ramaphosa possibly didn’t want to be seen to be purging those from an opposing faction, just in case disgruntled comrades decide to sabotage his cause.
Ramaphosa has been doing a lot lately to woo overseas investors and get the economy back on track – all of which could benefit women. Whether the promise of free sanitary pads will soon be fulfilled, though, remains to be seen.
When it comes to political survival, it’s sometimes still each man for himself.