Joyce Kgoadi – South Africa

Joyce Kgoadi – South Africa

Date: June 17, 2013
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Cracking the whip: Chair of the ANC Caucus, Joyce Kgoadi

None of the many posts that Joyce Kgoadi held in a provincial assembly, the national council of provinces, nor in the national assembly of South Africa after the dawn of democracy in 1994 had quite prepared her to be chair of the ruling party caucus.

With over over 250 ANC members of the national assembly, “it is a big caucus. I looked at all the other jobs in parliament and I said: this is really unfair! What am I supposed to do! But I have come to enjoy the position. It is one area that really shows that the ANC is committed to empowering women. We need to be in high positions not only in government, but also in party and parliamentary structures.”

After being appointed, Kgoadi sat with chief whip Nathi Nhleko. “I said, what are the guidelines? He said, ‘you have to make them up yourself’. The ANC caucus is where we strategise as the ANC, both houses together, so that we never stray from an ANC policy position. That position must inform everyone, every committee.” A unionist by background, Kgoadi has put her organising and mobilising skills to good effect in her new job. “When I prepare for caucus meetings, I sit with the chief whips of the national assembly and that National Council of Provinces. We discuss what are the relevant issues. I said in 2003 it is critical that we come out after the state of the nation address, to say this is government’s programme of delivery, how are we going to follow up on it?

“We decided on theme areas and we have invited ministers to come and brief us. We have been proactive. I have said: ‘we should not wait to hear about things from the newspaper’. Our members must be clear on party policy. They should be able to articulate it, here and abroad. If they are outside the country, they should be able to say what is South Africa’s position on (the war in) Iraq.”

Kgoadi’s political activism goes back to the days of the world famous Sharpeville massacre, when her uncle lost a limb to the white police officers that opened fire on black demonstrators in 1961. “I was very angry. I felt bitter. I felt aggrieved. He was the breadwinner. I was only eleven. But these things were building in me.”

Only a few years later, Kgoadi had to quit school to support her two young brothers. She got a job in a factory in Johannesburg, where racial discrimination stared her even more blatantly in the face. Different racial groups “could not even drink tea together.” She joined the union and in six months became a shop steward. After a falling out with her employers, she moved to a clothing company. Tensions ran high there as well.

Her gender consciousness also began to develop. She clashed with her first husband, over his failure to help with the household chores: “I could not come home from the same factory, doing the same work, and then he sits down and reads the newspaper. I just felt there is something wrong here.” He, on the other hand, did not take kindly to her late hours and weekend meetings as a shop steward. “I said tough luck, either you understand what I am doing or we part ways.”

She entered her second marriage with a list of conditions: “I said, you found me in this thing. I can’t change. Either you take me with this baggage, or lets not go into it at all. If you don’t understand what I do, let’s call it a day here.”

Gender, she says, is mainstreamed in party caucus discussions: “When we debated Iraq, I raised the issue that those who are most vulnerable are women and children. If men saw the human face, perhaps we would have less wars.”

She cited the example of the Minister of Social Development Zola Skweyiya being called in and grilled on the child support grant: ” I wanted all MPs to know the details, so that they could go back to their constituencies and talk about it. They have a role to ensure that the electorate, and especially women, know about this grant.”

Another issue that had been thoroughly canvassed in the caucus concerned unemployment benefits for farm workers and domestic workers (the majority of the latter are women.)

The Minister of Forestry and Water Affairs has been called in by the caucus to explain what is being done to give women access to decision-making in water (see case study in Chapter nine). Says Kgoadi: “I believe that women have a passion for development, and that parliament must be responsive to the needs of society, but especially to the needs of African women.”

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