Mondli Makhanya: Young and factionalist - the farce that is the Women's League

As the old saying goes, it would be funny if it wasn’t so serious.

Over the past couple of weeks, the ANC’s women activists have been playing hardball about not being allowed to wear their party colours at the women’s march against gender-based violence and misogyny in Pretoria this week. So strongly did they feel that they organised their own precious march separately from the main #TotalShutdown event, which encompassed all.

Away from the successful march that drew thousands and was replicated in other parts of the country, the good comrades staged their own protest that drew a few hundred of their members and supporters. And while the main march took the angry message to the nation’s seat of power, the Union Buildings, the comrades marched on Luthuli House, their organisation’s seat of power.

At the Union Buildings, the activists’ memorandum was received by the head of state, President Cyril Ramaphosa, who said that kicking off Women’s Month in this way “gives us the opportunity to give more substance and meaning to the interventions we should make to protect the women of our country, and to make sure the rights in the Constitution are ones that you, too, as women of the country, can enjoy”.

At Luthuli House, where the marchers handed their memorandum to the head of the ANC’s administration, Ace Magashule, a farcical situation was playing out. Magashule’s deputy, Jessie Duarte, was one of those marching to the place where she works and wields authority. National executive committee member and Land Reform Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane was also there. As was the ever-chewing Bathabile Dlamini, who is the president of the ANC Women’s League and the Cabinet minister in charge of South African women’s affairs.

So they got there and gave Magashule their demands. Magashule promised the marchers that the memorandum would be on the agenda at tomorrow’s national working committee meeting. Attending the meeting at Luthuli House will be fellow committee members Duarte and the ever-chewing one, where they will deliberate on the memorandum that they delivered to Magashule themselves.

What is positive, however, is that this petulant and factionalist behaviour by people who put party colours above an important cause did not detract from the loud message that went out across the country.

But it still begs the question of why a group of women who belong to the majority political party would feel so insecure in a large crowd if they’re not wearing their party’s colours – the point is to unite, not be singled out and noticed as if they’re at a carnival.

In the build-up to the march, Feziwe Ndwayana of the ANC Women’s League’s young women’s desk accused the #TotalShutdown organisers of having “their own political agenda” and claimed that “we don’t want to politicise this”, yet insisted on wearing party regalia.

“We are not competing with any marchers because, at the end of the day, we want the same thing,” she said with a straight face at the press conference where she and her comrades were announcing their breakaway march.

Such behaviour is not uncharacteristic of the ANC Women’s League, whose proudest achievement over the past decade was to help catapult a misogynist to power and then protect him from all scrutiny. At every Women’s Day and every Women’s Month event, the organisation celebrated the brave women of the 1956 march with hypocritical statements about women’s rights, while cosseting the nation’s chief chauvinist.

Last year, the league hijacked the official August 9 event and turned it into a rally in support of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s candidacy for the party’s presidency. They flooded the venue with women in ANC regalia, totally disregarding the nonpartisan nature of the national occasion. Encouraged by a dancing clown who was the main speaker in his capacity as head of state, they sang party songs in support of their candidate.

Who can forget how they stood by their favourite misogynist while Khwezi was subjected to the worst form of mental torture by his supporters and were silent when she was forced into exile? The suffering of this woman and the league’s support for her prime tormentor should forever be a stain on their consciences. While supporting victims of gender-based violence, including Karabo Mokoena and Reeva Steenkamp, the ANC Women’s League has been nowhere when principle was supposed to trump political expediency.

The organisation has been absent from key debates in the country and has primarily focused on propping up the disgraced former president and his allies in the so-called Premier League. Worse still, it could not call its own leader to account when she endangered the wellbeing of poor South African families – many of whom are headed or propped up by women – through her questionable dealings with a wealthy social grant service provider.

What is disappointing is that the younger generation is following in the footsteps of the likes of the ever-chewing one. If their attitude is that party loyalty comes before the cause of women empowerment and the defeat of patriarchy and misogyny – as they demonstrated this week – the future holds no hope.