Racial minority questions and the lack of 50-50 gender parity must be addressed

Eric Naki

The challenge facing the ANC as it starts its national conference in Limpopo this Sunday is not only that of grappling with the 50-50 gender equality issue, it also has to confront the question of racial minorities.

With the current conflict over gender representation the conference faces a daunting task. Add to this the fact that the final nomination list of 170 office-bearers has also failed to engage the minority issue.

Minorities are important in the life of the ANC for they are a reflection of the nonracial nature of the organisation.

But one aspect that the ANC leadership has been unable to control was the matter of ensuring that the grass roots took these matters seriously during the branch nomination process.

It seems political education on the party's constitutional requirements has been ineffective, if it existed at all.

Previously, in order to deal with this, the ANC national leadership intervened to ensure the accommodation of these groups.

The situation is exacerbated by the fact that the ANC has no quotas for minorities.

While only candidates who have been proposed by a province will appear on the national conference ballot paper, the ANC constitution provides for another way to salvage the situation.

A member not on the final nomination list can be nominated from the conference floor, but he or she has to be supported by 25percent of delegates before he or she is included in the ballot.

At the same time, the leadership could also co-opt certain members to enrich the NEC.

Co-option often helps to deal with the shortcomings of the democratic electoral process.

This co-option can consider representation in terms of, inter alia, gender, geographic spread, disability and youth.

Had it not been for white traditional struggle stalwarts such as Ronnie Kasrils, Jeremy Cronin, Alex Erwin, Derek Hanekom and Rob Davies, the list would be completely without whites.

The conference will have to prise open this issue, for it is a serious omission to leave out prominent leaders such as former NP leader and Minister of Environmental Affairs Marthinus van Schalkwyk, Deputy Justice Minister Johnny de Lange and ANC MP Annalize van Wyk.

If some of them had made it on to the lists emanating from provincial general councils, then their names are not reflected on the consolidated final list.

But Indian and Coloured members, as usual, are fairly represented on the list.

The ANC constitution states that the organisation is a nonracial and nonsexist democratic liberation movement.

Its composition and functioning, therefore, should be nonracial, antiracist and nonsexist and opposed to any form of tribal exclusivism or ethnic chauvinism.

The ANC must be seen to be practising nonracialism. The general membership needs to be educated on this key issue.

Another area is the ANC's undertaking "to support and advance the cause of women's emancipation".

One never thought this issue would become so contentious. It had always been a given that the ANC would raise the representation of women from the current one third at all levels to 50-50.

The matter was confused by the Women's League itself after it deviated from its own conference resolution to have a woman in the presidency in Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Instead of nominating Dlamini-Zuma for the position, the ANCWL instead nominated men, Jacob Zuma and Kgalema Motlanthe, as president and deputy president respectively.

The Zuma camp is presently trying to do some damage-control by elevating Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete from her nominated position of deputy secretary to national chairman. Mbete is likely to be replaced as deputy secretary nominee by Thandi Modise.

The league's decision has divided women. It has lost the trust of many of the country's women and gender rights groups. Some have even said they will vote for the DA in 2009 in protest.

A few are praying for a formidable Black Consciousness group to materialise so they can have an alternative to the ANC.

Cosatu chief Zwelinzima Vavi did not help matters when he criticised those calling for a 50-50 representation.

There is no doubt that the call for a representation of 50-50 will not get the support of all women in Limpopo. It won't come as a surprise if the matter is raised - with several delegates rejecting it or asking for it to be postponed to another time.

But it is one of the proposed constitutional changes on the agenda and the conference has to deal with it.

Somadoda Fikeni, an independent political analyst, blamed the nonracial issue on the "gradual waning" of whites in the struggle.

"There is a sense of discomfort within the ANC about white members who do not bring value to the organisation. Van Schalkwyk, for instance, failed to bring his constituency to the ANC," he said.

Also, the pact between the ANC and NP was not well explained to the ruling party's grassroots.

"The NP seems not to have been well received by ANC members," Fikeni said.

Regarding the 50-50 issue, Fikeni said failure by the ANCWL to nominate a woman for the presidency had weakened the league and reduced its bargaining power to push for women in the top six.