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Bathabile wins right battle, for women

Former Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini.
Former Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini.

The ANC Women's League does not get a lot of praise from the commentariat.

Understandably so. After all, in the past decade and a half the organisation - the biggest political and oldest formation representing women in the country - has often not covered itself in glory.

It has often betrayed the mission of its predecessor, the Bantu Women's League - founded by Charlotte Maxeke, to be the women's voice in SA. The Bantu Women's League, established in 1918, did not only protest against the oppression of black women in the colonial state of the Union of South Africa.

It also fought for the voice of women to be heard within black organisations, especially the ANC, at a time when the prevailing attitude was that politics was the exclusive domain of men.

It was through the struggles of the Bantu Women's League that the ANC was forced, in the 1940s, to admit females as members. Hence the birth of the ANC Women's League in 1948.

But unfortunately, over the past decade and a half, the women's league veered off this mission - allowing itself to be used as a pawn in power struggles that largely benefited men at the expense of women.

When, for instance, the league had a chance of demanding that a woman becomes ANC deputy president when the party went to its national conference in 2007, it abandoned that cause in support of a pro-Jacob Zuma slate.

It did the same five years later in Mangaung and only changed its stance in 2017 for reasons that seemed less concerned about women empowerment than with protecting Zuma.

It is with this history in mind that we are impressed by the principled stance the women's league has taken in recent weeks as President Cyril Ramaphosa and the ANC were busy putting together their government teams. The league won major battles, forcing the party to accept that in provinces where premiers are male, 60% of the executive should be made up of women. It also pushed hard at national government level that at least 50% of ministers be women.

At the helm of this struggle was its president Bathabile Dlamini. She was excluded from cabinet for the right reasons, but we must give her credit for taking the struggle for gender parity to a new and higher level.

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