The new leadership of the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) is likely to spark fresh controversy after it backtracked on earlier calls for the abolition of cultural practices like ukuthwala and virginity testing.
The two contentious matters had divided members amid concerns that abolishing them trampled on the beliefs of those who practised them.
The league had taken a tough stance on these issues leading up to its delayed elective conference, labelling practices like virginity testing as harmful.
But the butting of heads at the conference over the contentious issue led to a compromise.
Newly elected secretary-general Meogo Matuba (41) from North West told City Press that women at the conference agreed to respect each other’s beliefs, cultures and choices.
“Remember we are in a democratic country. Our society is one where everyone has rights and responsibilities and must respect one another. We will not force anybody to stop practising what they believe in.
“If you feel it’s your culture then we won’t be against it. There are things we also do as part of our culture, but we don’t talk about them,” said Matuba in an interview on Friday.
“Our position as the women’s league is that we support pro-choice. When someone says they choose it, then we give them the support.”
But Matuba said while that was the case, cultural practices such as ukuthwala – where a woman is abducted and married off to a man she is not in a relationship with – should be done in a manner in which women are not forced, but can make up their own minds.
Last year, the ANCWL’s national policy conference recommended that virginity testing be abolished. But last week, this view was defeated by provinces such as KwaZulu-Natal.
The province, which accounted for the biggest delegation at the conference, was not happy about the league’s position and argued that the practice played an important role in educating young people about premarital sex, preventing young girls from having sex and contracting sexually transmitted infections such as HIV/Aids.
It could also reduce the high rate of teenage pregnancies.
Matuba said there was a unanimous decision at the conference not to dwell too much on the cultural issues, but to support those who believed in them.
“We are not here to discriminate against others based on their culture. It differs from province to province; we do have our own beliefs and support one another on this issue.”
The ANCWL also appeared to have succumbed to pressure from the women who marched to Luthuli House expressing their unhappiness about the virginity testing position taken by the ANCWL policy conference in December last year.
The former North West provincial secretary said a task team would be set up to look into ways in which transgender communities could be accommodated into the league.
“We are a democratic country, and society has rights and responsibilities,” she said.
But Matuba, who left her family to permanently move to her office at Luthuli House, said the “vibrant” new leadership was set to take the league to new heights and bring renewed hope to women in the country.
Also on the cards is an initiative to grow the membership significantly from its current 174 000 by targeting businesswomen and professionals. Sixty-percent (800 000 members) of the ANC comprises women, but not all of them are part of the women’s league.