THE LEADING SEX: DOES GENDER MATTER?

The incoming president of the Business Woman Association of South Africa (BWASA) Happy Ralinala has challenged women to put their money where their mouth is and support at least one of the three women candidates running the presidential race of the African National Congress (ANC). Speaking at a leadership dialogue in Sandton, Johannesburg Ralinala said women hold the majority vote in elections and it is they who have the power to elect a female president – if they so choose. The former managing Executive of Private and Wealth Banking Africa at Barclays Africa Group Limited said women are the ones who put presidents in power because they are the majority but for some reason, they don’t choose well. “We are forever choosing wrong,” she said.

The three senior long-standing members of the ANC; Parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbethe, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and the current minister of human settlements and stalwart daughter Lindiwe Sisulu have thrown their hats in the ring to contest the presidency amongst five men in the upcoming ANC Elective Conference in December. Makhosini Nkosi manager for Lindiwe Sisulu’s campaign said Sisulu like Parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbethe is running solely on a gender-card. In an interview with Timeslive, he said, “Comrade Lindiwe Sisulu believes now is the time to elect a female president. She is of the view that the more female candidates there are the better. As far as we are concerned we are trying to get Lindiwe Sisulu elected president. That is the mandate of the branches that nominated her,” said Nkosi. According to recent polls, Sisulu has surpassed Nkosazana-Dlamini Zuma with a 52 percent approval rating which has seen her being ear-marked as Cyril Ramaphosas’ deputy.  At the same time strongest candidate for president based on experience, Nkosazana Dlamini- Zuma’s campaign has failed to take off due to her links to the president and the embattled Gupta family.

So, Happy Ralinala’s comments forced me to reflect on what it actually means to be a woman in politics today. It made me think about the countless women politicians who have repeatedly told me in interviews that once elected into political office women must, just like men, tow the party line since anything else would result in political suicide.

Their sentiments were echoed by one of the panellists at the leadership gathering who said that women often face obstacles in business because they don’t want to play by the existing rules. “ Someone put it very clear to me and said you know Lizzy if you are playing Soccer don’t come with Rugby rules because the Rugby rules won’t do you any good in Soccer. Women, women (we) believe in working hard, we don’t believe in getting sponsors from the corporate world. From the corporate world, one of the most important things is, find yourself a sponsor. Find yourself someone who at the table if no one else mentions your name, they are going to mention your name. Sometimes we think our work is good enough to talk for itself but in the corporate world, it’s the opposite. Those are the soccer rule games, and we want to come with rugby rules in the corporate world. You talk to lots of women and you ask them, who is your sponsor? Some of them don’t have sponsors and you know they start blinking, some of them confuse a sponsor with a coach. Finding a sponsor is someone who is at an influential position who can position you in the organizations. There comes a certain level where your growth is no longer about what you deliver, it’s about who knows you, who knows what you’re capable of and who can vouch for you. It gets to a point where you have to balance those two things of thinking your work will sell you versus getting other people to sell you” she said.

So where does that leave women? What about the case of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who has played by the rules of the party since she was elected into office in 1994 and has never violated party protocol. Not only was she nominated by the ANC women’s league which is infamous for repeatedly nominating male candidates for the ANC presidency in the past, her campaign has been endorsed by one of the most influential men in the country at the moment; President Jacob Zuma. Despite her excellent sportsmanship throughout the years, her presidential campaign has fallen in the shadows of scandals surrounding her sponsor’s camp. Are we throwing the baby out with the bathwater here? Ok. She chose the wrong sponsor, you say.

How about Lindiwe Sisulu who despite having broken protocol by launching her own campaign without the support or endorsement of the ANC women’s league – has been labelled an entitled and annoying candidate? What chance does she stand against the well-oiled machinery of Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign? What does playing by the rules mean exactly? Does it mean that one ceases to be a woman when playing a pre-dominantly male game? How can you be a woman playing a man’s game and have that not be a game changer? Is the fact of being a woman in politics enough of a game-changer in and of itself?

Should it matter? Should women be judged by how well they play a man’s game since politics is a man’s game and men are political animals? Should women be playing a different game? Do women have a game of their own? Are there different standards for women in politics? Should we vote for one of the three candidates simply because they are women?

How about the speaker of parliament Baleka Mbete who went against the grain and took a decision to welcome a  vote of no confidence against her own party leadership? Will her bold move help her realise her ambitions to one day become madam president? Who will sponsor her now?

Is it not the same rules in this political game of sponsorship and name-dropping which has led to the corruption we are witnessing from the upper and lower echelons of government and business? If we are playing by the same rules how will we ever change the status quo?

Since none of the opposition political parties have put forward a female candidate for leadership – will we be forced to vote for the ANC if we want to see a woman become president in 2019?

Why should it matter that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is endorsed by President Jacob Zuma? Why can’t she be judged on her own merits? Why can’t we vote for her because she deserves it, worked hard for it, played by the rules? None of the candidates who’ve raised their hands for the presidency are scandal-free. All of them to some degree have blood on their hands. Does it matter if their nails are painted with crimson red nail polish or not?

At this point in the game, I’m not sure what matters more. The type of underwear one puts on in the morning or the kinds of thoughts and ideas one dreams up at night. Is an idea’s merit dependent on the sexual organs of the person who conjures it up or not? But what I do know for sure is,  of the two – one is an incident of nature which for the most part can’t be helped and another is a choice.

So do we choose women because their gender made it impossible for them to make different choices? Or do we elect women because they made different choices period?

Who is more deserving of the presidency between Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Baleka Mbete and Lindiwe Sisulu? All of them are running on the gender-card in the same (slate) political party. Is being a woman more important than being ethical and principled? Why should we use these standards on women and not on men?  What qualifies men to be President? Is it because they are men or because they know how to play the game?

Happy Ralinala also noted that even though the current British Prime Minister, Theresa May is a woman,  she has not raised any gender-related issues during her tenure including how the Brexit saga affects women.  So then what does it mean to be a woman president? Should it mean anything?

In the US some women like actress Susan Sarandon who famously said “ I don’t vote with my vagina” turned their back on Hillary Clinton saying their vote was bigger than the two candidates contesting the 2016 elections. They refused to vote for the lesser of the two evils saying both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton stood for Capitalism and Financial interests which are destroying the environment, even if their approaches are different. So should South African women vote with their vagina’s this time?

What do we do in this situation?

 

 

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