Monthly Archives: May 2009

Wassup with Zuma’s parly

I know that all eyes are on the Union Buildings with Jacob Zuma as the fourth president of a democratic South Africa, but there is something very puzzling going on in the new parliament.

First of all, Baleka Mbete, formerly the Speaker of Parliament before briefly becoming the Vice President of the country has been getting quite a bit of mixed attention. I was not watching, since some of us have day jobs that require us to occasionally be in specific classroom X on certain days of the week, but according to various media reports, she remained sitting after her name was mentioned along with other MPs for swearing in.

This was then followed by much speculation in the local media for days on end. Was she miffed that anything short of a vice presidential appointment was a demotion? Was she demonstrating diva behaviour by throwing her toys out of her cot? Was this just demonstration that women who throw their lot in with the violent men never get rewards?
And on it went, as analysts and commentators wrote and spoke and foamed at the mouth.

No matter what the real deal is for you, the fact of the matter is that she seemed like the most powerful woman in the country over the last few years. It no longer looks that way – no matter what position she continues to hold within her party. I may be wrong, and breaking news could tell us another story in a few weeks. But I am not holding my breath.

Ms Mbete is nobody’s doormat. That bit is clear from afar, so I am not writing her off by any stretch of the imagination. However, her current position (as unclear as it is – and nowhere near parly) can only make us wonder about the drama behind the scenes.

Then there is another woman who has been powerful in various ways over the last few years: the feminist former deputy speaker, Nozizwe Madlala Routledge. She, too, is nowhere to be seen in the new parly, having resigned quite suddenly (it seems from a distance) as the new order started dishing out seats and responsibilities that would decide who is who in the new regime. Although, Madlala Routledge’s departure was also much discussed, it has completely died down now and things seem to have gone back to normal. Again, my mind is working overtime trying to work this one out.

I couldn’t help thinking that something very sinister is up with the new dispensation. These are not two small childish women (as they were condescendingly called in some press) and their resolute refusal to tow the line – whatever the real line and story is – is not a small matter. It makes this blogger very curious about what is going on in the ruling party. We may not know for a very long time, given the tendency in politics to be loyal to a party that has taken the wind out of your sails.

It is precisely because I think that both exercised agency – they were not just responding – that I am perturbed and a little more than concerned.

As if the untoward mystery and demotion/(self)absenting of these women was not bad enough, the ANC fell far short of meeting its 50/50 gender parity in parliament. Again, very little was said by the usual commentators and analysts – apart from a handful of gender and feminist folks, some of whom said the strangest things this time round – even though a 50/50 split still means women are under-represented. I insisted in commentary at the time, that one after the other these signs are showing us that we are entering the age of the big men.

Now, as if South African women do not have enough problems, we have to deal with the indignity of a ministry of women, youth and disabled people. This last fact has had me so incredibly depressed I could barely do more than put a foot in front of the other, take care of admin, and do practical stuff for weeks. Yes, I still talked to and hung out with the people l love. But I could not write.

Even though I am far from a Zuma fan, and I had my reservations about his administration long before he was officially in power, I did not expect to be so deflated so early in his presidency. Yes, it is depressing that women are once again the problem in this country. No self-respecting Black person would consent to a ministry of Black people because it would be clearly recognised as racist rubbish reminiscent of and hankering after Bantu Affairs. Women are the majority in this country. We are not in power. And so it that we get a special little ministry as though we are some odd interest group or annoyance. On what planet is the women’s minister different from a Sebe in so far as she accepts such a post?

I really was hoping against hope that the Zuma administration would prove me wrong – but the signs so far, long before 100 days in office -are more worrying than anything I could have predicted. I did not vote for Zuma in the presidency, but there was never a question that he would be president. I can live with the fact that I am not in the majority because I like living in a democracy, even when what I want does not happen. I still hoped against hope that there’d be a few pleasant surprises early in his administration.

I guess South African feminists had better brace ourselves for more bizzarely offensive posturing on gender affairs. Eish.