Some in the upper echelons of the ANC Women’s League have cried foul about Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu dissing them for constructing their campaign for the ANC’s first woman president entirely and exclusively around herself. Now, for the first time in the history of the 105-year-old former liberation movement, three women are seriously vying for the top spot. But is anybody taking them seriously? By CARIEN DU PLESSIS.
There is something rather shrill about the way the ANC Women’s League has slammed “Comrade Lindiwe Sisulu” in one of its latest press releases following Sisulu’s DIY launch on Saturday of her presidential campaign ahead of the ANC’s December elective conference.
Styling herself as Ms Clean-up, the daughter of struggle royalty invoked the spirits of the stalwarts at Kliptown, Soweto, calling for a “must do” campaign to regain the party’s values and principles of the Freedom Charter, adopted there about 60 years before.
Banners in the hall said: “They didn’t struggle for this, let’s recapture the right path” and Sisulu said to loud cheers: “We have to save the ANC”.
In an interview two days later, Sisulu told SAFM the Women’s League was wrong to endorse Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as President Jacob Zuma’s successor after a meeting of its extended national executive committee a day before the ANC’s January 8th birthday celebrations.
“First the ANC Women’s League said it is now time for a woman to lead the organisation. Then they said the only woman who is qualified and ready to lead the ANC is Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma,” Sisulu said.
“I think it is wrong for them to say that. It is not only wrong, it is also undemocratic. Any candidate who is nominated by the branches can go to the ANC conference and stand for the position,” she said. Sisulu herself managed to muster a nomination from a branch.
Of course the Women’s League would be miffed. Sisulu has chosen to rise without much heed to the ranks (she did a spell in ANC intelligence with Zuma in the 1990s but hasn’t been in any top leadership positions in the ANC or Women’s League), and now she has the nerve to criticise.
“The democratically elected leadership of the ANCWL under Cde Bathabile Dlamini and her collective will not allow to be drawn into public spats with Cde Lindiwe or any leader of the movement,” the league said in a statement that had the actual feel of a public spat. It dared “Comrade Lindiwe” to “approach her ANCWL branch and raise any of her dissatisfaction about the ANCWL”.
And some shade: “In case she is not an active member in any ANCWL branch she can directly take the matter to the ANCWL Regional structures/ Provincial structures within her area or make submissions to the office of the Secretary General of the ANCWL where it will be given the necessary attention,” the statement read.
There is also a reminder that the Women’s League is “the frontrunner of the emancipation of women within the ANC and its structures and at all levels in government and the South African Society as a whole” – in other words, if Sisulu wants to operate outside of this clique she could not expect much support.
Sisulu herself, however, must know that her campaign is unlikely to fly. A poll done by her people (and published by the Sunday Times over the weekend) showed she had about 7% of support within the ANC, amounting to a third of Dlamini-Zuma’s waning 21,4%. Incidentally a man, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is leading in this poll, with 42.6%.
Perhaps Sisulu is angling to get on Ramaphosa’s slate. She has been mentioned by some of his people as a possible number two.
Perhaps, some others suggested, her aim is to split the vote for Dlamini-Zuma and ANC chairperson Baleka Mbete, who has in turn been using her position as National Assembly Speaker to gain prominence in the presidential race.
Mbete has been wanting to become president ever since she kept the seat warm for Kgalema Motlanthe following former president Thabo Mbeki’s axing and deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka’s resignation in 2008.
However, saying Mbete and Sisulu could split Dlamini-Zuma’s vote would be to assume her supporters in the women’s, youth and “premier” (referring to the three, and with Mpumalanga possibly four, premiers who back her) leagues want a woman president because they’re women’s rights activists.
They’re not. They’re mostly those who, through Zuma’s ex-wife, want the status quo to remain so they can retain their grip on power, maintain their patronage networks, and also, perhaps, not go to jail. Whether Dlamini-Zuma, who in the past as a minister cleaned up in Home Affairs in half a term, is in on this, is another question urgently in need of an answer.
Mbete, on the other hand, has been trying to catch some of the hot air of this campaign – and, by extension, Zuma’s valuable and powerful support – to float to the top. Like Sisulu, she feels the women’s league has erred in declaring its support for Dlamini-Zuma very early on.
As recently as on the sidelines of the ANC’s policy conference earlier this month, Mbete’s campaigners in Women’s League structures complained about the league’s declaration of support for the former African Union Commission chair.
Unlike Sisulu, Mbete has been in the Women’s League’s structures (she was general secretary in the early 1990s) but has been unsuccessful in garnering mainstream support from them.
As Speaker she incidentally could actually find herself being president for up to 30 days should the August 8 (a day before Women’s Day, no less) motion of no confidence in Zuma succeeds.
The chances of this are bigger with a secret ballot, but even this is unlikely to ultimately yield enough votes to oust Zuma as there has been a strong push-back in the ANC caucus against the motion. A secret ballot could, however, crack the already-paranoid pre-conference ANC further – and it’s entirely in Mbete’s power to rule on this, something she could use to bargain with for support.
As for Sisulu, she might be able to steal the few votes Mbete could garner as the woman candidate at the ANC’s December conference. Neither of them has the perceived Zuma double-barrel baggage, and some Anything-But- (Dlamini-)Zuma votes could oscillate their way.
With Sisulu’s campaign in the hands of, amongst others, Fallist student leader Mcebo Dlamini (who is currently not doing himself any favours in a possibly defamatory whatsapp spat with Mzwanele Manyi), expect her to be a disruptor.
See, there is a small rebellion brewing in some of the women’s and youth leagues branches against Dlamini-Zuma as they perceive her top-level support to come from structures with only factional legitimacy. The tolerance for this faction and the state capture associated with Zuma is wearing thin by now.
In taking the fight – and nominations – back to branches, campaigns like that of Sisulu (and also Mathews Phosa, whose nomination was similarly inspired by branches only) could see nominations by top structures fall more quickly than you can say Cecil John Rhodes.
With the mooted disbandment of Ramaphosa-supporting provincial structures in the Western and Northern Cape – on the pretext that they have been unable to keep themselves together, lower structures like branches will be important. This is where the fight will be in the next five months.
Also, Sisulu doesn’t have support from a home-base province or league. Her message of cleaning the ANC could hit home with some of the thinking women’s campaigners and those who want to see the ANC prosper for the right reasons.
The most Sisulu could perhaps achieve is to assuage the conscience of gender-aware Ramaphosa supporters by running on his slate. Even if she doesn’t run on a gender ticket, ANC members consider it important to have women in the top leadership too.
Speaking of gender tickets, it isn’t entirely as yet clear what, if anything, any of the three female candidates by virtue of their gender would do different to the men. At least on this score everyone’s pretty equal.