By Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni
How is it possible that the African National Congress (ANC) still thinks the battles for women’s rights and feminism are somehow different?
Separating women’s rights from feminism is the reason the ANC claims to be a “nonracist, nonsexist” organization, but patriarchy is rife in the party, according to a gender rights expert. The ruling party and the ANC Women’s League recently came under fire after ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini supported former higher education deputy minister Mduduzi Manana after he was accused of assaulting women at a nightclub.
Police confirmed they had opened a case of assault against Manana. One of the victims told the eNCA television channel, “As we were leaving we were assaulted by Deputy Minister Manana and his group of friends. They kicked me, they punched me, as well as my cousin.” A journalist who witnessed the incident, Lumko Jimlongo, said on South Africa Broadcasting, “She fell on the floor… then he proceeded to trample [her]… he kicked her, his foot was on her head.”
The ANC Women’s League president claimed the incident was being used as a political tool and that “others” were worse, suggesting she was aware of men in government or politicians who had committed even more serious crimes against women.
Lisa Vetten, senior researcher and political analyst for the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre, said it was unrealistic to expect the ruling party or the league to be a leading voice against injustices against women, given the party’s strong leaning toward conservatism.
“You can’t really expect more from the ANC or the women’s league, whose leaders are still very conservative. It’s never going to happen,” Vetten said. “I think the ANC has a very ambivalent attitude towards the issue. There are those who do care and there are those who don’t, like those who would like to reinstate traditionalism as rapidly as possible. So when you have that sort of ideological divide, the leaders are not going to do terribly much.”
She said some leaders were better off saying nothing about gender politics because the cognitive dissonance in their statements was often detrimental to the cause of gender justice.
In 2012, former ANCWL leader Angie Motshekga famously said, “The ANCWL is not a feminist organization, it is a women’s rights organization.” Nevertheless, the ANC insisted it was the leading organization in the struggle for gender justice.
ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said the party had more equal gender representation than opposition parties, adding that speaking out against patriarchy and misogyny, and interrogating the attitudes of men toward women, was not helpful.
“The issue about gender-based violence is that we should not be dealing with stereotypes and attitudes, because that is looking for an explanation. There is no explanation for such violence against women; there can be no explanation. Regardless of the history of violence against women, we are not looking for explanations, we want to condemn it regardless of everybody’s location in society.”
Minister of Women in the Presidency Susan Shabangu recently intimated that her feminist ideals were often not welcome in the party but refused to say whether patriarchy was still an issue in the ANC.
“In 2014, when I said you cannot fight violence against women by organizing women alone, I was under attack and was told to focus on women’s rights,” Shabangu recalled. “I understood exactly what the problems are and what I need to respond to. Hence, today, I am happy we are seeing more men’s organizations fighting gender-based violence in our society. The perpetrators are men, so I’m satisfied we are moving in the right direction.”