Chairperson of the session
President of the ANC Women’s League, Cde Angie Motshekga
Secretary General, Cde Sisisi Tolashe
Members of the National Executive Committee
Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Leadership of the Alliance present here
Leadership of all African and international progressive women’s movements here present,
I convey revolutionary greetings to you all on behalf of the National Executive Committee of our glorious movement, the African National Congress.
It gives me great pleasure to address this national conference of the ANC Women’s League, an organization that has earned through heroic struggles the right to be the legitimate voice of the women of South Africa.
This conference begins just three days before we mark the fifty ninth anniversary of the heroic women’s march to the Union Buildings in 1956 to demand freedom, justice and equality.
Women used their common rejection of the repressive pass laws as a rallying point for the struggle of women for a free South Africa.
That march became a milestone and one of the biggest demonstrations in the struggle against the apartheid regime in general and the pass laws in particular, having mobilized 20 000 women.
We continue today to celebrate the bravery of all South African women who sought to put an end to the triple oppression they suffered based on their race, class and gender.
We also remember women who laid down their lives so that this country could be free, such as the heroic and selfless Mama Victoria Mxenge.
We mark the 30th anniversary this year of her brutal assassination by apartheid agents. She will continue to inspire many generations of women in the pursuit of a united, nonracial, nonsexist and prosperous South Africa.
It is important to note from the onset that women’s month is a very important month in our political calendar and the general social life of our nation.
It was during this month that women from all walks of life consolidated their efforts to lay the foundation for a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa.
Responding to the clarion call Wathint’abafazi, wanthint’imbokodo, women assumed the position of being the backbone of our society and correctly defined their struggles in the context of the broader struggle for national liberation.
These visionary women knew that their emancipation would one day become the general measure of the emancipation of society as a whole.
The ANC Women’s League has a responsibility to teach especially the younger generation about this proud history of women’s struggles and the heroism of women leaders.
We must use this month to honour, salute and remember the immense contributions and sacrifices made by women in the struggle for liberation.
We salute all other giants of our struggle such as Charlotte Maxeke, Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Ida Ntwana, Amina Cachalia, Rahima Moosa, Florence Mophosho, Dorothy Nyembe, Ruth First, Getrude Shope, Winnie-Madikizela Mandela, Adelaide Tambo, Albertina Sisulu, Sophie De Bruyn, Ray Alexander Simons, Dulcie September and many others whose sacrifices led to the democratisation of our country.
We also pay tribute to the millions of other women whose names we do not know because they played an important role in the background ensuring that all oppressive policies of the apartheid regime were met on the ground with mass resistance and mass power.
We acknowledge the millions of women who continue today, under a democratic order, to play a pivotal role to ensure that the voices of women are heard as part of the bigger voice to move South Africa forward.
Indeed the ANC Women’s League has a very proud history and the many victories of women today in South Africa are direct consequences of relentless strugglesover a very long period of time.
We trace the roots of the ANC Women’s League to the illustrious Bantu Women’s League which was so ably led by Charlotte Maxeke who truly worked against all odds to inculcate a culture of resistance amongst women, especially against the pass laws.
The Bantu Women’s League was of such significance in the broader struggle against colonialism that the ANC, dominated by males, admitted it as its women’s branch in 1931 although women could still not join the ANC in their individual capacities.
It was only through the consistent struggles conducted by the Bantu Women’s League that women were finally allowed to become members of the ANC in 1943. However, their role was still limited by the male leadership.
Women, now formally organized as a league of the ANC, did not become despondent.
On the contrary, they continued to relentlessly pursue their struggles and actions independent of the male ANC leadership which was not always very supportive and at times vehemently opposed to such struggles and actions.
This is evidence of the fact that the ANC Women’s League has a proud history of militancy and radicalism.
It has never been a mere passive organization that simply rubberstamps whatever views brought to it by the male leadership.
The role played by women in the defiance campaign of 1952 cannot be overemphasized.
The formation of the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) in 1954, which was an umbrella body of all progressive women’s organisations, underscored the resolve of the ANC Women’s League to deal with the plight of all South African women and not just those found in the ANC.
This means that the ANC Women’s League understood and appreciated the necessity to unite all peopleregardless of race and class even before the Freedom Charter was adopted in 1955.
Such is the foresightedness and the outward-looking character of the Women’s League that you delegates, gathered here, have inherited from the generations before you.
The preamble of the Women’s Charter aptly captures the vision of the Women’s League which justifies my earlier assertion that the many victories women enjoy today in South Africa are direct consequences of the League’s relentless struggles.
The instructive preamble states that:
“We, the women of South Africa, wives and mothers, working women and housewives, African, Indian, European and Coloured, hereby declare our aim of striving for the removal of all laws, regulations, conventions and customs that discriminate against us as women, and that deprive us in any way of our inherent right to the advantages, responsibilities and opportunities that society offers to any one section of the population.”
Through this radicalism of women and many other struggles, the male ANC leadership finally accepted women into the formal structures of the ANC and Lilian Ngoyi, who was President of the Women’s League, became a member of the ANC National Executive Committee in 1956.
I am reflecting on this brief history of the ANC Women’s League to demonstrate that the better position women find themselves in today in the ANC and in South Africa, is a result of struggle. The political consciousness relating to gender amongst ANC men which led them to finally accept that women have a very significant role to play in society as equal citizens did not descend upon them as a result of divine intervention.
They understood completely what is meant when we say “power concedes nothing without struggle”. The improvement in the status of women in South Africa came about because of the ANC Women’s League. Members of the League should never forget to celebrate this gigantic achievement.
The Women’s League struggled over many years against the backdrop of an established patriarchal structure of society which we are all victims of.
Fundamentally, the decision to embrace non-sexism as one of the critical and central pillars of the ANC’s vision for a future South Africa must be credited to ceaseless efforts of the Women’s League.
The adoption of a resolution in Polokwane imposing fifty/fifty gender representation in all leadership structures of the ANC remains one of the most decisive victories of the Women’s League.
The task that lies ahead for the league is to ensure that that Polokwane victory cascades to all levels of our society because the ANC leads society.
This conference must give us an opportunity to reflect on the progress we have made in the upliftment and empowerment of women since the dawn of democracy. In this regard, we must be proud that together we have successfully created a society with a non-sexist outlook.
Women, irrespective of race, creed, religion, level of education, and sexual orientation enjoy the same rights as their male counterparts guaranteed by our progressive constitution.
Our movement, owing to the unrelenting voice of the Women’s League, has ensured that government puts in place policies aimed at empowering women economically as part of the efforts to fight poverty, from which women suffer the most.
There are laws now in place specifically for the protection of women and there is a Commission on Gender Equality to continuously advance the cause of women.
The ANC has also established a new ministry in the Presidency charged with the responsibility to attend only to issues of women’s empowerment and development.
While we have registered tangible progress in the upliftment of women, we must never be too complacent because much more still needs to be done to totally eradicate the stubborn legacy of apartheid colonialism and its effects particularly on women.
We must readily admit that patriarchal relations of power and the consequent patriarchal attitudes even among younger generations persist.
These attitudes manifest themselves in our homes, our classrooms, in political parties, in our churches and at the workplace both in the public and private sectors.
We must intensify our efforts to educate our people that boys and girls are different only in so far as it relates to their biological make-up. They are otherwise equal as human beings. Men and women are different but equal.
The Women’s League must lead efforts to teach our people this important lesson against the background that this year we marked sixty years of the Freedom Charter which is the basic policy document of the ANC upon which the progressive constitution of the Republic is founded.
The Freedom Charter envisaged a society in which all laws which discriminate on the basis of race, gender and other prohibited grounds would be removed. It declared that all shall be equal before the law and that all shall enjoy equal human rights.
The importance of this task to conscientise our people is absolutely important because it is these patriarchal relations of power and attitudes which breed violence as well as the scourge of rape against women.
As the ANC we strongly condemn those who continue to rape and physically abuse women and children.
We also condemn the so called corrective rape targeted at lesbian women which now threatens to establish itself as a subculture in our society.
We encourage all our people to be inspired by the heroism of the 1956 generation to rise up and fight these ills against women.
Needless to say, such a struggle must be led by women who understand that their emancipation as women will not be given to them as a gift but will be a direct consequence of their continuous conscious struggle for it.
This conference is convened under the theme “radical transformation of women’s socio-economic rights.” This theme is important because we have now entered the second more radical phase of our transition from colonialism of a special type to the national democratic society.
The struggle for equal socio-economic rights for women is indeed a critical component of this second phase of our transition.
Already our country has made some great strides.
The ANC Women’s League must continue to work hard to build on the strides we have made to advance the cause of women since the dawn of democracy.
A few examples of the strides we have made in this regard are worth mentioning.
As correctly noted in the Gender Paper prepared for this conference:
- Women ministers constitute forty three percent of cabinet and women deputy ministers make up forty five point nine percent of the total number of deputy ministers as of June 2014.
- There is forty one percent women representation in the National Assembly and both the heads of the two houses of parliament are women
- There was only one white woman judge prior to 1994, whilst today women judges make up thirty six percent of the judiciary, and lastly
- Women make up almost forty percent of the senior management in the public service.
A lot more work must still be done. The numbers of women in cabinet and parliament is improving, but it is not matched by women in the boardrooms of private companies.
The private sector remains very male dominated and also very white in composition. The struggle thus continues to transform corporate South Africa to make it more responsive to women and black people at the leadership and ownership level.
This means that the ANC Women’s League must actively participate in advancing the position of women in the economy.
The ANC government has launched several programmes to promote the participation of women in mining, technology, agriculture, science, water and sanitation sectors and other sectors.
The new programme to promote black industrialists is another opportunity for women to participate actively in the economy.
Beyond these opportunities, socio-economic transformation also refers to women in the townships, rural areas and informal settlements.
They are looking for jobs, for housing, energy, water, better housing, sanitation, better education and health and other services.
The ANC Women’s League must ensure that these programmes of government reach women in every corner of the country.
To respond to the need to ignite and create jobs, the ANC government introduced a nine point plan in the State of the Nation Address, following the ANC NEC lekgotla which had identified a need to revitalise the economy.
The nine point plan consists of the following;
- Revitalisation of the agriculture and agro-processing value-chain;
- Advancing beneficiation and adding value to our mineral wealth;
- More effective implementation of a higher impact Industrial Policy Action Plan;
- Unlocking the potential of SMMEs, co-operatives, township and rural enterprise;
- Resolving the energy challenge;
- Stabilising the labour market;
- Scaling-up private-sector investment and
- Growing the Ocean Economy;
We will also intervene in the following cross-cutting areas to reform, boost and diversify the economy;
- Science, technology and innovation
- Water and sanitation
- Transport infrastructure
- Broadband rollout
- State owned companies.
Only a strong ANC Women’s League which speaks in one voice can successfully build on the great stridesmade and advance the status of women. We must bear in mind that no organization can ever be strong if it isnot united.
This is also true for the Women’s League.
You must use this opportunity as delegates to discuss and thrash out anything that serves to undermine the unity and cohesion of the Women’s League.
This must be done with the full understanding that the ANC Women’s League is an asset of the women of South Africa and that millions of these women look to it for reassurance that tomorrow will be better than today.
A strong, united, active and focused ANC Women’s League is in the best interest not only of the ANC but of all the women of this country.
This conference must strengthen and reenergize the Women’s League to relentlessly pursue the struggle for women’s emancipation from the shackles of patriarchy.
Efforts to re-energize the league must include the recruitment of young women who are members of the ANC into the ranks of the Women’s League and ensuring their full participation in the life of the organization.
This conference must also come up with creative ways on how to reposition the Women’s League to become the leading voice on women’s issues, equally capable of defending women against any form of gender discrimination and oppression.
You have a lot of work to do beyond the conference. The Women’s League must perform its role of leading all the women of South Africa. It must take women beyond the achievements of the past 21 years, to a future of prosperity. Decisions you take at this conference, and the implementation thereof, will be crucial for the country at large.
I wish this conference fruitful deliberations.
Igama lamakhosikazi malibongwe!
Speech by President Jacob Zuma