Once again, South Africa as a progressive nation is in the spotlight nationally and internationally.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has been praised for leading by example and implementing equality between men and women by announcing that women would make up half of his executive.
This is great news, not only for the feminist theory specialists, but also for the entire South African nation. The issues of gender equality and economically empowering women were always on the agenda at very senior level.
This is the first time in the history of our new democracy that a milestone of this nature has been achieved. Addressing the various complex issues of gender, President Ramaphosa said: “The ANC is irrevocably committed to the empowerment of women and getting women into key positions and making sure that they are fully empowered. That we are never going to reverse from.
“We are working very closely with civil society on a national plan on gender-based violence, empowerment of women, and in a few days, we will be signing a declaration that specifically deals with the economic empowerment of women.”
He also touched on issues of race discrimination.
The following women make up the 50% Cabinet executive:
Patricia de Lille - minister of public works;
Thoko Didiza - minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development;
Angie Motshekga - minister of basic education;
Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams - minister of communications and telecommunications;
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma - minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs;
Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula - minister of defence and military affairs;
Barbara Creecy - minister of environment, forestry and fisheries;
Lindiwe Zulu - minister of human settlements, water and sanitation;
Naledi Pandor - minister of international relations and cooperation;
Maite Nkoana-Mashabane - minister in the presidency for women, youth and persons with disabilities;
Khumbudzo Ntshavheni - minister of small business development;
Lindiwe Zulu - minister of social development;
Ayanda Dlodlo - minister of state security; and
Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane - minister of tourism.
It’s been a “wow” moment for all as the nation praised the president for this bold and decisive step.
The inclusion of women or the empowerment of women by the president is not only an accolade for the current women of South Africa, but also a great victory for those brave women who fought for freedom in the early days of the struggle.
Enhancing the status of women and allowing them into leadership positions, is an acknowledgement of those struggle stalwarts such as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Lilian Ngoyi, Victoria Mxenge, Albertina Sisulu, Sophia Williams-De Bruyn, Ruth First, Helen Suzman, Rahima Moosa, Fatima Meer, Helen Joseph. There are hundreds of other dedicated women who stood the test of time in fighting against the oppressive regime at the cost of their lives in detention, house arrest and even leaving their families to work in the privileged areas.
The first, in 1913, was in Bloemfontein and stands out, not only because it was such an early outbreak of women’s resistance, but also because of what Julia Wells calls a “strength and militancy”, and, because it was so “costly to the personal lives of participants” (Wells 1993:3).
White politics took a dramatic new turn in 1948. The National Party won the whites-only election in 1948 and began systematically to entrench its control. The segregation policies of previous white governments now hardened into the birth of the apartheid regime and as the 1940s gave way to the 1950s, the government began to implement a wide range of oppressive apartheid legislation, including attempts to control the mobility of African women.
In 1946, the new leadership challenged the harsh, segregationist Asiatic Land Tenure and Representation Act (the so-called “Ghetto Act”) which was passed by the government. The campaign had an important impact on Indian women, initiating new political activism in their ranks.
Dr Kesaveloo Goonam, a young medical doctor, was the main organiser, and in March 1946, a well-attended meeting of Indian women was held. Goonam, Fatima Meer and Mrs N.P. Desai were the speakers. The women pledged their support for the initiative, and many women volunteered.
Zainab Asvat, a young medical student, was one of the women among the group who set up camp on 13 June 1946 on the plot at the corner of Umbilo Road and Gale Street.
On the night of Sunday, June 16, white hooligans overran the camp. After this attack, the leaders asked the women to leave the camp but they refused to go. The ANC were drawn into women’s issues such as the anti-pass campaign.
Amina Cachalia, sister of Zainab Asvat, and Fatima Meer, became particularly prominent in the 1950s when women across the race spectrum united under the banner of the Congress Alliance.
The anti-pass campaign (1950-1953), by the middle of 1956 plans had been laid for the Pretoria march. The Women’s March was a spectacular success. Women from all parts of the country arrived in Pretoria, some from as far afield as Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. They then flocked to the Union Buildings in a determined yet orderly manner.
Estimates of the number of women delegates ranged from 10 000 to 20 000, with the Federation of South African Women claiming that it was the biggest demonstration held.
Many of the African women wore traditional dress, others wore the Congress colours of green, black and gold. Indian women were clothed in white saris. Many women had babies on their backs and some domestic workers brought their white employers’ children along with them. Throughout the demonstration, the huge crowd displayed a discipline and dignity that was deeply impressive (Walker 1991:195).
There is not enough that we know of the sacrifices that were made by our “mothers of democracy”. Today, we enjoy a free society and condemn every leader painting them with the same brush of corruption and mal-administration. It will be interesting to know or read of what the critique has to say about this remarkable strategy and plan of our “people’s president” is who did not only empower women from his own political party, but has appointed a woman from a totally different party in the position of a minister in his Cabinet.
While the negative political pundits try to find another angle to attack continuously, and whilst the opposition party of racist individuals try to manipulate the minds of a free generation into submission to their value system, the souls of our departed mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters of the struggle are rejoicing at this decision of empowerment of the women of South Africa, which is not only reserved for a few elite, but open is to all women of Africa who have the ability and zest to serve in a leadership role.
President Ramaphosa has done us proud as a nation. We salute you and in jubilance look up and hear the chanting of praises by the souls of those great women, who fought for what you have achieved today. Their chanting and dancing in the heavens with joy and pride is just another accolade in your cap of many achievements for the betterment of all South Africans. The souls of these women of our liberation struggle are at peace knowing the fact that only a true son of Africa can achieve their dream struggle they lived and died for.
Soon your views, vision and action of implementation is going to gradually silence the confused distractors on the other side of the political spectrum.
• Ismail Cassimjee is currently a PhD student at the University of Zululand in African Studies. He is a political activist, researcher, adviser and community worker in the eThekwini region.