For immediate release: South Africa – All eyes on SA cabinet


Date: January 1, 1970
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All eyes are now on South Africa’s cabinet following the successful 22 April 2009 elections that witnessed women’s representation in cabinet increase to 43% and the accession of five women to the positions of premier in South Africa’s nine provinces.

South Africa has soared from 17th to 4th place in the global ranking of women in parliament following the national and provincial elections that saw a 9% increase in women’s representation in the national assembly from 34% to 43%[1].  Only Rwanda (56%); Sweden (47%) and Cuba 43.2% are now ahead of South Africa.
 
This is the largest increase since the first democratic election in 1994 in which women’s representation jumped from 2.7 percent to 27%. At provincial level, women’s representation has increased from 32% to 41%[2].
 
The results put the country firmly on course to achieve the Southern African Development Community (SADC) target of 50% women in political decision-making by 2015. In an update to its 15 April report that forecast this dramatic increase in women’s representation, Gender Links attributes the increase in numbers to the African National Congress (ANC’s) 50/50 election lists as well as improvements in women’s standing in other opposition parties.  
 
The ANC observed the 50/50 principle at national and provincial level and the Congress of the People (COPE) at national level (the party has only 32% women at provincial level). The ANC first applied the 50/50 principle in the 2006 local government elections, and has followed it through to the appointment of four premiers in the eight provinces where it has a majority. The premier of the ninth province won by the Democratic Alliance will be Helen Zille, the woman leader of the main opposition party.
 
Gender Links salutes the ANC for being the first party in Southern Africa to have consistently heeded the targets set by the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development for achieving 50%  in all areas of decision-making by 2015. We hope that this will set a precedent for other parties and other elections, notably those soon to take place in Botswana, Namibia and Mozambique.
 
The fact that two opposition parties (the Democratic Alliance and Independent Democrats) have women leaders; that the ANC has a woman spokesperson; that the Inkatha Freedom Party fielded a woman candidate for premier in its stronghold Kwa Zulu Natal province and that one woman (the leader of Women Forward) mounted a party of her own all contributed to challenging the predominantly male face of politics in the elections.  
 
Having two women – Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) chair Brigalia Bam and CEO Pansy Tlakula – running an exemplary election further advanced the standing of women in this election.
 
Women comprise 55% of registered voters.  This debunks the myth that women are not interested in politics.   The peaceful conduct of the poll – despite this being the most hotly contested election since 1994 – enabled women and men to vote freely across the country. However, numerous challenges lie ahead:
  • Of the 26 parties that registered for the national elections, only four (the DA, Women Forward, ID and Keep it Straight and Simple (or KISS) had women leaders.
  • The DA, COPE and other parties did not field many women at the top of the national and provincial lists. Indeed even the ANC fielded two men as number one and two on the national list.
  • In the ANC leadership struggle, the possibility of a woman alternative barely featured; not even from the party’s own Women’s League.
  • Although he was acquitted of rape charges, ANC leader Jacob Zuma expressed highly worrisome views on women’s rights in his rape trial in which he said that according to his culture a woman dressed in a kanga could not be left in that state. He is a polygamist; a practise that, although not outlawed, is self evidently patriarchal, unfair and in all likelihood unconstitutional.
  • In its campaign to defend Zuma on all fronts, including the corruption charges that have been dropped by the National Prosecuting Authority due to alleged political interference, but are still untested in court, the ANC has found itself defending practises that are not progressive and sit uncomfortably with many of its women veterans.
  • Sexist slurs such as the comment made by ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema that women who are raped do not ask for taxi money in the morning have diminished the ANC’s standing on women’s rights. Malema continues his blatantly sexist (and racist) remarks without reprimand. For example at a May Day rally he referred to DA leader Helen Zille as a “racist little girl.” 
  • Predictions for the new cabinet that Jacob Zuma will announce after his inauguration on 9 May suggest that women will constitute only 11 out of 30 or 36% of the new cabinet compared to 42% under former president Thabo Mbeki. It seems doubtful whether South Africa will continue to have a woman deputy president (at best this position is likely to be shared with a man).  
  • According to media monitoring conducted by Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) in the lead up to and during the elections, women comprised a mere 24% of news sources, despite constituting 55% of all voters. This shows that women in our society continue to be denied voice in public affairs.
Gender Links calls on President-elect Jacob Zuma to show his commitment to the principles of gender equality enshrined in the Constitution by:
  • Applying the 50/50 principle to his new cabinet and the appointment of strong, independent women who will fight for gender justice.
  • Repudiating those who mocked and vilified his rape accuser outside the Johannesburg High Court.
  • Creating a conducive climate for his rape accuser, who lives in exile as a result of the threats on her life, to reclaim her citizenship by returning home.
  • Encouraging debates that promote women’s rights, including the debate that started during this election on whether or not polygamy has a place in a constitutional state with gender equality as a cornerstone of its democracy.
  • Establishing and supporting strong, independent and fearless structures for promoting gender equality, including addressing the current dysfunctionality of the Commission on Gender Equality.
  • Ensuring that the government of South Africa is at the forefront of the struggle to ensure that all 28 targets set by the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development are met. These include halving gender violence by 2015; ensuring women’s equal participation in all areas of economic life; recognising and remunerating the work of care givers.
(For more information contact GL Executive Director Colleen Lowe Morna on 082 651 6995 or Deputy Director Kubi Rama on 082 378 8239 or Click here to download the full report.   


[1] These figures are derived from the official IEC lists of members of parliament. While names are not disaggregated by sex GL has verified all names in which sex is not self evident to ensure the accuracy of the information.
[2] Provincial figures have also been derived from the IEC’s official list of Members of the Provincial Legislatures, and the sex of candidates verified where this was not clear.


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