The ANCWL needs the kind of leaders who will motivate its members and work to improve the lot of all South Africans

About 4000 women delegates gathered from yesterday until Sunday at the University of Free State for the national conference of the ANC Women's League (ANCWL).

About 4000 women delegates gathered from yesterday until Sunday at the University of Free State for the national conference of the ANC Women's League (ANCWL).

As part of the conference's agenda, the delegates are expected to elect the league's new leadership.

Commenting on the conference on Wednesday, a delegate said they wanted to elect the kind of leadership that would build unity within the ANC in general.

The conference comes at a time when the broader movement has been wrecked by divisions that have, in some instances, turned violent. The recent attack on ANC Western Cape secretary Mcebisi Skwatsha is a case in point.

Two weeks ago, the North West ANCWL had to abandon its provincial conference following a dispute about delegates' authenticity.

Delivering the opening address at the conference, ANCWL president Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula launched a scathing attack on women in the ANC, accusing them of aligning themselves with anarchists who wanted to sow divisions within the ruling party.

Meanwhile, the ANC is planning to have a special national executive meeting "to discuss the magnitude of violent conflicts on the ground".

In this context, the ANCWL conference is an important event out of which could come solutions that will, firstly, unite the ruling party; but, most importantly, refocus the organisation on dealing with the challenges that women continue to face in post-apartheid South Africa. As part of the liberation movement, the ANCWL has a history of championing the struggle for women's emancipation.

In 1991 the ANCWL initiated the formation of a coalition of women's organisations across the political and ideological spectrum to raise concerns about the neglect of women's issues by the male-led political organisations.

In 1992 the Women's National Coalition (WNC) was formed and comprised about 60 national organisations. Its objective was to ensure equality for women in the new constitutional dispensation which was being negotiated by the then apartheid government and the liberation movement.

This intervention by the WNC led to the inclusion of women as a category, along with race in the preamble of the 1993 interim constitution.

Such initiatives are indications that, as an organisation, the ANCWL understood that women's liberation could not be taken for granted but was something that had to be fought for by women.

In 1991, after being elected general secretary of the ANCWL, Baleka Kgositsile said women's emancipation "is an issue for all South African women, not just ANC women".

Unfortunately, as part of the broader ANC coalition, the ANCWL was also affected by the internal divisions caused by the leadership race between Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma.

The tensions between the two leaders led to factions which also wrecked the ANCWL.

There was hope that post-Polokwane - with the new leadership under Zuma in charge - there would be a semblance of unity within the ruling party.

However, the raging conflicts within the ANC and its structures suggest otherwise.

This situation challenges the ANCWL delegates to elect the kind of leadership that will reposition the ANC at the helm of this country's political leadership.

To achieve this the delegates must elect the kind of leaders who will look beyond the realm of the pre-Polokwane ANC politics. These are the kind of leaders who are prepared to break the shackles of "Zumaism" and "Mbekism".

Those elected should be "transformational" as opposed to "transactional" leaders.

Author and leadership expert James MacGregor Burns describes "transformational leaders" as those who "offer purpose that transcends short-term goals and focus on higher-order intrinsic needs". He goes on to describe them as individuals who drive their followers to focus on organisational goals, rather than their own interests.

In the context of the ANC these will be the kind of leaders who will motivate its members beyond careerism. They will be the kind of leaders who activate their followers' high-order needs such as integrity and commitment to improve the lot of the broader South African populace.

Transactional leaders, on the other hand, only motivate their followers by appealing to their own self-interests.

"Transactional leaders accept the goals, structure and culture of the existing organisation. They must do so because this type of leadership is ineffective at bringing significant change," sayss Burns.

What the ANCWL and the ANC need are leaders who will bring change, the kind of change that will not make those outside the ANC unwelcome to make a contribution.