By: Amanda Gouws, Stellenbosch University
South Africa celebrated Women’s Day on August 9th to mark the day in 1956 when 20,000 women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to insist on their rights.
Women’s Day provides an opportune moment to reflect on what it would mean for South Africa to be governed by a woman president after the 2019 elections. Three women from the governing African National Congress are running as candidates – Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Baleka Mbete and Lindiwe Sisulu. Because voters vote for a party, the President is elected by the members of parliament. The ANC holds the majority vote, which means that the president will most likely be an ANC candidate.
All three women are ANC stalwarts who can be considered as part of the exile generation. They were all active in the liberation struggle, and all have contributed to the country since the first democratic elections in 1994.
The question is: will having a woman as president lead to more of the same in terms of the trajectory the ANC has been on since 2007 when Jacob Zuma was elected as President?
And, will a woman at the helm bring a set of feminist values to the table? Women leaders who believe in substantive representation, more than mere numbers in government, will bring a commitment to changing conditions of gender inequality to the position. They are normally influenced by feminist values. Former British Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher, for example, did not care about women’s equality at all, while Michelle Bachelet implemented far reaching gender policies in Chile.
A woman at the helm
If South Africans get a woman who will govern in the same way as a man they would have gained nothing but a switch in gender. But because the three candidates also participated in the liberation struggle, they know how difficult it is for women to advance in political parties and how gender equality needs to be taken off the back burner.
Dlamini-Zuma, Sisulu, and Mbete are more or less the same age and have long track records as political leaders. In many respects, they have similar or better track records than some of the ANC’s male leaders. All three are well educated.
Dlamini-Zuma holds a medical degree from the University of Bristol. She has held three ministerial positions – health, foreign affairs, and home affairs. She was also chair of the African Union from 2012 to 2017.
It’s both unfair and sexist to talk about Dlamini-Zuma solely in terms of the fact that she is President Jacob Zuma’s ex-wife as though she has no other credentials.
As Minister of Health, she spearheaded policies that made health care free for poor women and children under the age of six.
During her period at the AU, she championed gender equality and a gender vision for 2063.
Baleka Mbete holds a diploma in teaching and is the national chairperson of the ANC and the speaker of the National Assembly. She was the Secretary-General of the ANC Women’s League from 1991-1993 and a member of the presidential panel of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She has not held a ministerial post.
Staining her record was her connection with a scandal involving the misuse of parliamentary air tickets, as well as fraudulently obtaining her driver’s license.
Lindiwe Sisulu is the daughter of ANC icons Walter and Albertina Sisulu which is why she’s often referred to as “ANC royalty”. She has a BA Honours degree in history and political studies and is studying for a Ph.D.
Of the three candidates, she has the most experience in the executive. She has held six ministerial portfolios, including defense and intelligence.