The South African political landscape is set for a shake-up after Cyril Ramaphosa dramatically took over the presidency last week. Here are 10 women to watch, in the ANC and opposition, in the run-up to the 2019 elections (and beyond).
By Carien Du Plessis
1. Lindiwe Sisulu (human settlements minister)
This daughter of struggle royalty – and one of three woman ANC presidential hopefuls last year – has reportedly been topping the list for next Deputy President. Now, this might be hopeful propaganda from her own people, but with her pedigree (she was in the intelligence, defence and public-service ministries before), the worst that can happen to her in the near future is to end up in the international relations portfolio. Pretty prestigious.
2. Naledi Pandor (science and technology minister)
Another stalwart from a struggle family, Pandor was on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s list of possible ANC deputy presidents before the ANC’s December conference (but was later dropped in favour of the ambitious Sisulu). Pandor’s sharp performance in the parliamentary debate on the State of the Nation Address was powerful, and she is the more worthy candidate for Deputy President. Pandor has previously occupied the education and home affairs portfolios, and she’s had such good feedback about her performance in her current position that she’s almost guaranteed to stay put in Cabinet.
3. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma (ANC member of Parliament and former African Union Commission chairperson)
She served for four years in one of the highest political positions on the continent, but could not quite fulfil her dream of becoming the first woman president of the ANC and South Africa. Still, she has indicated that she is available to serve, and is rumoured to be destined for Cabinet again, where she served from 1994 to 2012. She could even be Ramaphosa’s surprise choice for deputy president.
4. Delisile Ngwenya (Economic Freedom Fighters MP)
This fighter from Gauteng joined the red-beret parliamentary caucus as recently as 2016, but has since made waves with fearless speeches in the National Assembly. On Monday she took on Ramaphosa about his role in the 2012 Marikana tragedy – and he actually responded in Parliament the next day, saying he was willing to play whatever role he could in the healing and atonement process.
5. Thoko Didiza (ANC MP)
Formerly one of the bright young ministers in Thabo Mbeki’s cabinet, Didiza was in the wilderness for a few years after former president Jacob Zuma left her out of his cabinet. She made a comeback as the ANC’s mayoral candidate for Tshwane, but the ANC lost, so she may just return to Cabinet again.
6. Mbali Ntuli (Democratic Alliance KwaZulu-Natal head of campaign strategy)
Youth firebrand Ntuli recently resigned from the KwaZulu-Natal legislature to focus full-time on her party’s campaigns in the province. With her in the DA driving seat, the fractured ANC and the somewhat old IFP in the province should be worried. She’s been at odds with former party leader and Western Cape premier Helen Zille before, but remained standing. One toughie to watch now, and in the future.
7. Zingiswa Losi (Cosatu second deputy president)
A former youth and student activist, Losi ran on the Ramaphosa ticket as ANC deputy secretary general but lost to incumbent Jessie Duarte. Losi was suspended from metalworkers’ union Numsa after she was considered too close to the faction supporting Zuma, but she seems to have redeemed herself and, with her profile raised after the ANC contest, you’ll definitely see her around in politics.
8. Makhosi Khoza (former ANC MP and African Democratic Change (Adec) leader and founder)
Resigning from the ANC after being victimised for her outspoken views on Zuma’s (lack of) leadership was the ethical thing to do, but politically it’s left Khoza out in the cold. With Ramaphosa in the driver’s seat now, her party’s chances of getting support in the 2019 elections are much slimmer. She’s an excellent academic and might do well to be co-opted in government in an advisory or think-tank post.
9. Liezl van der Merwe (Inkatha Freedom Party MP)
She started with the IFP as media officer but has been an MP since 2012. Van der Merwe was one of the first to push concerns about issues around the South Africa Social Security Agency’s payments, even before it started making headlines, and she has persisted, despite a hostile reception by the governing party.
10. Gwen Ngwenya (Democratic Alliance MP and head of policy)
Just this week Ngwenya left the SAIRR, where she was chief operations officer, to re-join the DA. Previously a member of the DA Youth, she will now help steer the party towards the 2019 elections. The DA will have to be really clever in the way it crafts policy now, as the era of personality politics is fading.
There are also a few women who survived reshuffles in Zuma’s cabinet, despite serious questions about their work ethic. These ministers might not be going anywhere soon: social development minister Bathabile Dlamini, public enterprises minister Lynne Brown, and communications minister Faith Muthambi, to name but three.