[OPINION] Parallel lines: Decline & fall of ANC Women’s League

If one was running a competition to determine who had fired the starting gun for this year’s ANC leadership campaign, you would probably have to give the prize to the ANC Women’s League. On Saturday night they became the first organ of the ANC (as opposed to members of the alliance) to formally call for a particular person to be the new leader of the party. A lot has been said about why they did it, and the smackdown that was swiftly administered by ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe. But the league’s proposal seems to be almost fatally flawed, not just because they jumped the gun, but because of the people it wants in the top six of the ANC. The Women’s League of today seems to lack any kind of coherent political programme, apart from existing to push for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma's ascendancy. It is tragic, considering how important the league used to be.

The formal nomination of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma by the ANC Women’s League appeared to have caught most parts of the ANC by surprise. It was an unexpected move, and may have been deliberately timed to steal part of the show from the National Executive Committee’s (NEC) January 8th statement. But in the fuss, not a lot of attention was paid to the full statement, and the other people it also wants to accompany Dlamini-Zuma into the upper echelons of the ANC.

FILE: Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. Picture: GCIS

Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Picture: GCIS.

The League’s statement reads:

“In line with the 50/50 representation in the officials, the ANCWL has resolved to lobby for Cde Baleka Mbete, Cde Jessie Duarte, Cde Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Cde Lindiwe Sisulu, Cde Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and Cde Nomvula Mokonyane to be considered in the other five of the six official positions of the African National Congress in December 2017.”

It is worth going through some of these names, and considering what kind of leadership they would form.

Baleka Mbete, of course, is the person now best known for throwing Julius Malema out of Parliament on a weekly basis. She has demonstrated that she is not properly democratic, and appears to try to rule the National Assembly as an autocrat.

ANC National Chairperson Baleka Mbete seen at the Mangaung conference. Picture: Taurai Maduna/EWN.

Baleka Mbete. Picture: EWN.

Jessie Duarte is someone with a long history in the ANC, and was an informed, interesting and effective spokesperson for the organisation. But since she became deputy secretary-general, something seems to have changed. She appears to have claimed (on ANN7 no less) that the Reserve Bank was allowing the rand to fall in value, because it was privately owned. Which demonstrated a simple lack of understanding of how our financial system works, and the Reserve Bank’s place in our Constitution.

FILE: ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte. Picture: Thomas Holder/EWN

Jessie Duarte. Picture: Thomas Holder/EWN.

Unfortunately, it is the next person on our list who really demonstrates the lack of thought by the Women’s League. Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has managed to embarrass herself in every public role given to her. She was a disaster at Home Affairs, didn’t seem to grasp Correctional Services, and became the first Defence Minister since 1994 to confine every member of the military to base. The national emergency that led to this edict? A comment by Julius Malema that he would hold a political meeting outside a particular military base.

Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. Picture: Taurai Maduna/Eyewitness News

Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. Picture: EWN.

And that’s just in her public life. Unfortunately, Mapisa-Nqukula has shown that she is quite happy to use her position to break the law if it serves her private life. She is responsible for the quite unbelievable crime of smuggling a young woman into the country. And she used a government jet to do it. Amazingly, when confronted with confirmation of this, she simply said that she would do it again, if she had to. Considering how difficult it can be for parents to arrange for their children to travel, it is simply incredible that this happened. At the very least, it is a demonstration of all that is wrong with the ANC; the arrogance, the belief that the law does not exist if you are a minister, and the utter craziness that seems to be inflicting some people in high office.

And yet, unfazed, the Women’s League thinks it is suitable for her to be involved in running the country.

In any political campaign, it is important to consider the whole picture – you have to think things through. The inclusion of Lindiwe Sisulu on this list is proof that it has not been properly considered. Not because of any questions about her competence (there aren’t any). But because Sisulu appears on this list just hours after Sipho Pityana addressed the funeral of her late husband Professor Rok Ajulu. It was obvious that Pityana was going to use the opportunity to attack the ANC of President Jacob Zuma. This he did. How then can Sisulu be a part of a campaign for the leadership with Dlamini-Zuma?

This doesn’t make sense.

The ANC's Lindiwe Sisulu. Picture: GCIS

Lindiwe Sisulu. Picture: GCIS.

What this demonstrates is that this was an amateurish move by the Women’s League. Perhaps there is something in Mantashe’s response that “I was a sprinter in my youth, and sometimes you have to be aware of something called a false start.”

Unfortunately, though, the Women’s League has shown itself to be almost incapable of thinking anything through to its final conclusion.

At the end of last year, this publication started reporting on what looks like an imminent crisis that could affect everyone who receives a social grant. In a nutshell, it appears the Social Development Department is not ready to take over the payment system from the company Cash Paymaster Services. If this is not sorted out, it’s not being alarmist to say that this would be the biggest unnatural disaster to hit this country since 1994. Millions, and we mean millions, could go hungry. Imagine the anger of people who already have almost nothing. The response from the department has been to almost ignore it. Certainly, no proper plans have been laid out.

It would be natural, at this point, to think that the ANC Women’s League, considering the constituency it serves, would be very, very worried about this. It is many of its members that would be directly affected here. And it would simply be good politics to be seen as being at the forefront of finding some solution to a dangerous problem.

Instead, the League is doing completely the opposite: it is defending its leader Bathabile Dlamini. Who happens to be the Minister of Social Development. In a statement released in December, titled 'The ANCWL Statement on the political smear campaign against cde Bathabile Dlamini by the Daily Maverick', it accused this publication of being involved in a “calculated political move to discredit the work of the ANCWL president and her leadership collective”. Then comes the claim that “this political smear campaign is funded and carried out by those who have consciously taken a decision to cause disunity in the ANC and society in general”.

ANC Women's League President Bathabile Dlamini lead thousands of women to the Union Buildings in Pretoria on 30 October 2015 in defense of President Jacob Zuma. Picture: Reinart Toerien/EWN

Bathabile Dlamini. Picture: Reinart Toerien/EWN.

Frankly, it’s breathtaking. This is the ANC Women’s League. An organisation that claims to be fighting for the rights and well-being of women, in particular black women, poor women. And instead of trying to help find out what is going wrong in this system, it is seeing this looming humanitarian disaster as a political ploy and simply closing ranks around its leader. It is hard to think of a worse case of what claims to be a “pro-poor movement” protecting someone in power.

It could always be possible to critique Daily Maverick’s coverage of this affair – surely a clever spin doctor could find an angle of defence. And yet, the league has gone ad hominem. A general claim of some sort of unexplained agenda. Why? The answer can only be because it doesn't understand the enormity of the problem caused by its leader and cannot think of any other form of defence than attack.

As a political act, it demonstrates the inability of the League to conduct itself politically. That its leadership cannot think politically, cannot consider the impact of their actions. This is probably a symptom of something else that affects so many of our political leaders at the moment. The fact their lives are completely divorced from the reality of their constituents’. That they have no understanding of how they appear in their eyes. It is this kind of thinking that led Ekhuruleni Mayor Mzwandile Masina to attack people for not voting for the ANC during his inaugural address.

We all know that this is going to be a difficult and emotional year in the ANC. If there is one thing that Zuma has taught us, it’s that the person with the coolest head will prevail. That head does not belong to the ANC Women’s League. Not anymore.

This column first appeared on Daily Maverick. Go to www.dailymaverick.co.za for more comment and analysis.

Stephen Grootes is the senior political correspondent for Eyewitness News and the host of the Midday Report on Talk Radio 702 and 567 CapeTalk. He is the author of 'SA Politics Unspun'. Follow him on Twitter: @StephenGrootes