By: Gillian Schutte
By Gillian Schutte.
The presidential race is underway and for the first time in our democracy a woman, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, is presented as a definite contender. An interesting by-product of this is that the matter of the ongoing underrepresentation of women across society and in government is back on the table and being hotly discussed on social media.
Though it is said that women enjoy more cabinet representation in South Africa than many other countries on the continent, there is still a long way to go. Statistics show that despite the fact that women outnumber men in South Africa we have remained a male-dominated society. Women in business, in politics and in institutions still earn less than men. Few top positions are filled by women as the glass ceiling is still firmly in place. In this system black women are the most compromised as witnessed in the low numbers of black women in leadership positions across the board. Those who are black, female as well as poor are most unable to enter the neoliberal market and are forced to eke out a living on the margins of society.
All this came to mind as I watched Lindiwe Sisulu give the keynote address at the annual memorial lecture in honor of struggle stalwart, Lilian Ngoyi, in Khayelitsha last weekend. Her feminist and pro-poor delivery was resonant and this got me thinking about what sort of President she would make and how hard it would be for a woman of her stature to run for this position in an administration that remains male dominated.
Feminists from across the political spectrum have been hopeful for some years that a woman president would be elected in South Africa. Thus far all the political parties remain headed by men or have an overwhelmingly higher number of men in office. This means that despite a constitution that promises equality between the sexes, the issue of institutional patriarchy still remains. Until we see equal representation of women in business and in politics, we cannot argue otherwise.
It was revealed in the media recently that Sisulu may also join the presidential race and has been on the receiving end of death threats as a result. Though she has not verified her involvement political writers have indicated that she has the backing of key branches in the Eastern Cape as well as many struggle stalwarts and MK Veterans. Student leaders such as Mcebo Dlamini have publicly declared their support of her saying that students will not be ashamed to march beside her.
But in a male dominated administration it is clear that if Sisulu does campaign she will not only have to run the gauntlet of men in power, many of whom would no doubt resist her efforts, she will also have to deal with the lack of support from women within the ANC ranks since she is effectively running against the Women’s League choice of candidate. To complicate matters further it has been said that Dlamini-Zuma is also Number One’s number one choice.
With a Women’s League that has been harshly critiqued as an organisation that has lost its way and spends its time and resources spin-doctoring on behalf of President Zuma instead of fulfilling its mandate around women’s rights, it seems inevitable that Sisulu will not get support from those quarters within the cabinet. Some have said that they take their instruction from the men on top and lack the feminist agency that one would expect from a movement with its roots in the struggle for justice for women. In fact many say that the Women’s League’s dismal track record shows exactly how little they do to address the multiple injustices meted out to women in South Africa, particularly those surviving on the margins of our economy. Feminists have written on social media that they have become a useless entity there to serve the patriarchy instead of their own constituency.
There have also been strident voices on social media intimating that it is no surprise that Zuma is campaigning for Dlamini-Zuma in the succession race, insisting that she remains beholden to him via relationship and history and is his ‘stay out of jail’ ticket as well as a conduit through which he can maintain his network of patronage and his fingers in the Treasury coffers. Her current campaign tour, on which she has been given presidential security despite not being Member of Parliament nor a registered VIP, has been criticised and she has already been accused in the media of spreading divisive politics. This all compromises her own track record and as a woman in her own right. Dlamini-Zuma, who attained her medical degree at a time when to be black and female meant exclusion, is not the empty vessel that some chauvinistic writers have described her to be. She has held top office in the ANC government and has just completed her term as the first female chair of the AU.
But the fact that she is backed by The Women’s League in cabinet seemingly means that no other woman except the one selected by Zuma himself, will receive the much needed backing and lobbying from them – a matter that sources say, has created tensions within the ranks of the ANC. Apparently since Sisulu has become a potential contender the gloves are off and she is being undermined and disparaged by many of her female colleagues who say she is more of a fashion model than a leader and other such demeaning insults.
If this is true it is an all too familiar scenario that occurs in any environment where patriarchy has taken root and women are forced to play second fiddle. I’ve heard stories from other political parties, progressive social movements, universities and NGO’s that there are always exploitative men who will subject young women to sexual misuse and manipulate more susceptible women to wage war on the strong women leaders who pose a threat to their boys club.
This was a conversation that occurred throughout the Fees Must Fall Movement for example, when female students contested the domination of leadership spaces by men, decreeing that there could be no revolution until patriarchy falls.
Some independent studies suggest that until all women recognise systemic and attitudinal patriarchy as the thing that thwarts their career progress, chances are they will turn on each other in the workplace where patriarchal approval is often the only thing they can rely on to get ahead. Instead of uniting with other women to deal with this institutional chauvinism that continues to undercut them, creates glass ceilings for them and systematically sets them against each other these studies suggest that women will often internalize patriarchy as a way to survive this inequality.
Nowhere is this divide and rule approach more visible than when women are vying with men for political power. In a world where women still have to work doubly hard to gain the same approval as men or to secure social and political power, it is no surprise that this often materialises in hostile marginalisation of women by women. And sources close to Sisulu say that she on the receiving end of this syndrome and is thus being frozen out by the pro-Zuma faction of the women’s league, in response to her possible campaign for presidency.
Sisulu’s arrival as a potential contender in the presidential race has destabilised many it seems. This inimical response could have a lot to do with her stellar track record, not only as a former liberation fighter and senior in the MK, but also because she holds a very senior position in the NEC being one of the longest serving ministers in the cabinet. She also has an impressive record in good governance, an impressive academic record and has published several academic articles pertaining to women’s contribution to the struggle, women in the agricultural sector, and worker women’s rights amongst others. This will endear her to many women from across the sectors especially if her campaign highlights her contributions to knowledge-production around issues that affect their lives. Her CV is studded with global awards and currently I am told, she is doing her second PhD with Leeds University.
It is possible that she is recognised as the dark horse in this race? Could this be why she received death threats even as a comrade who has held the office of Minister of Defense and Military Veterans, Minister of Public Service and Administration and who is currently serving as Minister of Human Settlements.
Not only that but her work on the proposed anti-corruption bill will stand her it good stead with many voters who are sick and tired of the news around endless corruption and patronage within the ANC and the business sector.
If the rumours around Dlamini-Zuma and her inextricable ties to President Zuma hold any truth it would seem more prudent and progressive for the ANCWL to back someone of Sisulu’s stature. This would provide an ideal opportunity for women to become a united front to take the women’s cause forward, independent of the patriarchy. If anyone is up for this it is more likely to be Sisulu, who would come in as an independent candidate without any of the tribalism and benefaction baggage that Dlamini-Zuma has allegedly been coerced into dragging into her campaign for presidency.
This could be the ideal point in South African history for women to band together and vote a solid woman candidate into presidency. It could well be that Sisulu is exactly what the South African voting constituency is looking for after the Zuma and Marikana era, and she could well be the ideal candidate to win this race and to stitch back together the ANC’s tattered image.
By Gillian Schutte
I am an ardent supporter of ‘profane tongue’ as a protest performance tool when used to challenge and interrupt the violence inherent in the dominant discourse. I am also a supporter of the shit wars and regard the unfolding of the port-a-potty protests as the most potent disruption of elitist hegemony in a post 94 South Africa – followed by the Rhodes must Fall campaign.
At a time in our history where the collective is brutally suppressed and black anger is presented on mainstream media as the ultimate violence, the marginalised masses find new and inventive ways to make their grievances heard. If this means spewing the human waste that they are forced to live in, into the sanitised public spaces of the well heeled, then we should applaud their bravery and inventiveness. In a neo-colonial world order where democracy and human rights for the rich means “shoot to kill” for the poor, it stands to reason that protest becomes a desperate cry for the recognition of the collective and individual humanity of the disenfranchised.
Like it or not, defecation is the most visceral and inevitable aspect of being human no matter what your class, race or gender. By importing the unfettered faeces of the poor collective, who live with dismally inadequate sanitation, into the deodorised spaces of those who are able to flush their own faeces away in actual toilets, they are successfully exposing the extreme and dehumanising cruelty of a Capitalist system that privileges some and entirely de-privileges others.
By the same token using so-called ‘dirty language’ to express frustration at enduring white hegemony or at political elitism is an equally valid form of insurrection, as is stencilling profanities onto monoliths of race-based power rooted in a protracted history of colonialism and representative of entrenched white male privilege – such as Jameson Hall at UCT.
Of course the common sense response from the privileged class to the use of the profane in protest is usually shock and outrage. They decry the animalistic behaviour of the filthy bodied, filthy mouthed, uneducated poor. They criminalise their desperation. They cover their noses, eyes and ears and demand that ‘these people’ are taken in hand and disciplined, incarcerated and even massacred if needs be. They consent to the militarisation of the police force to keep the ‘unclean’ out of their pristine spaces.
Sometimes they use elitist theory to delegitimise the intellectual premise for black protest in supercilious articles brimming with white supremacy masquerading as academic thought.
Or they just shut off the mic.
Theirs is an infantile semantic reaction. They decide how things ought to be and transpose their own set of meaning and values onto the poo protests, onto Rhodes must Fall and onto the defacement of Jameson Hall. Instead of engaging the semiotics of this protest action from the subaltern perspective they insist that this is just bad behaviour. They develop top-down arguments to criminalise black struggle and to silence black Rage.
Italian theoretician, Antonio Gramsci, argued that Capitalism maintains its control not only through state violence but also through a hegemonic culture, which propagates its own values and norms into a ‘common sense value system’ that is imposed on all. Its managers are enacted through lobbying and political funding into the realms of political influence, the mainstream media, the judiciary and the academy. Through this well-oiled network they work together to maintain the status quo.
The chattering class’s superficial discourse is influenced by this ahistorical, depoliticized dominant discourse and is, for the most part, lacking in underlying wisdom. Its logic is built on debating skills, personality cults, common sense fallacies and individualistic narratives constructed to push the illusion of a bourgeois social superpower.
It is through social and mainstream media chatter that the middle classes amplify their outrage and become the self-appointed arbiters of norms and standards as they move towards being the new dictators. Whilst paying lip service to progressive values they demand from the system, often in silent complicity, that more fascist methods are used against the poor collective when it challenges their sense of decorum.
State, as it becomes increasingly corporatised and oligarchical, readily obliges. They rely on this middle class consent to keep the masses down – ensuring that the collective is broken, abused, and fractured to avert real possibility of mass revolt.
Civil Rights activist, educator and author, Dr Cornel West, talks of this syndrome in the US context in his critique of President Obama. He calls it the co-opting of black individuals by neoliberalism. As West has written “We live in a time of ruthless ambition and individual upward mobility. This has largely obliterated the collective fightback and basically the black elite class have betrayed the black poor.”
The black elite class is what Left critics refer to as those neoliberal blacks who are useful to white hegemony, because they can easily pay lip service to the black cause in convincing language – but when it comes down to it, it is clear which master they serve. In South Africa this is also seen in black protectors of white hegemony – social and media gatekeepers who perform as if they are critical of systemic issues, but scratch the surface and it is nothing more than self-serving empty rhetoric that is ‘well adjusted’ to the status quo.
It is they who snatch the mics off expressions of black anger when their masters become uncomfortable.
In an entrenched hyper-capitalist system such as South Africa, the dominant discourse enduringly emanates from white monopoly capital bolstered by the black elite who benefit form it. It remains a “Master Narrative’ based on bourgeois norms and values. This narrative is often at loggerheads with the wider black narrative – especially when the black elite chooses to rebel against this white cultural hegemony, as happened around “The Spear” debacle. But for the most part the state is complicit in the white cultural and economic hegemonic in this country.
It is no wonder then that a young black audience member would shout out “Fuck whites” at the Ruth First Memorial Lecture – in utter frustration at the constant pushing of systemic whiteness in public spaces as well as the co-option of radical spaces by an increasingly corporatized liberal academic echelon. It is also no wonder that in an epoch where rampant individualism has taken the place of the collective, as observed by West, that a black liberal celebrity compere would take it upon himself to cut off the mic held by the frustrated interjector.
Switching off the microphone that amplified black anger, metaphorically and literally, is just what is expected of them. They are willing to be the mascots of what West calls the ‘superficial spectacle and hyper-visible celebrity born out of the culture of raw ambition and instant success. They are co-opted and incorporated into the neoliberal regime’ and are used to legitimate the ‘colourblind’ capitalist agenda.
But when they are exposed for doing the master’s bidding and reveal themselves to be complicit in the liberalist anti-black agenda, they quick-talk their way out of it using debate tricks and duplicitous discourse inherent in the Nature of neoliberalism. They play host to a non-existent radicalised consciousness and claim that white supremacy is high on their agenda.
Yet you will be hard pressed to find a radical critique of Capitalism and its reliance on the violence of white hegemony in their body of work.
As Angela Davis has warned: “Since the rise of global capitalism and related ideologies associated with neoliberalism, it has become especially important to identify the dangers of individualism. Progressive struggles—whether they are focused on racism, repression, poverty or other issues—are doomed to fail if they do not also attempt to develop a consciousness of the insidious promotion of capitalist individualism.”
The act of switching off the microphone of a Black person expressing his anger and pain which is rooted in a brutal colonial history, is the violence of whitist complicit bourgeois hegemony. It is racism by proxy. It decides on what the rules of engagement will be. It decides on the parameters of “freedom of expression”. It decides on what is acceptable or moral behaviour. It trivialises Black protest voice as fraudulent or labels it as violent.
If it is called out it will easily use the progressive struggle language available in its arsenal, to deny this conservatism and appease a black constituency.
The new liberalist trend is to push the dominant discourse and then attack dissenters with self-serving platitudes about their own ‘progressive’ agenda whilst dictating the terms and policing black rage.
You can’t push whitist cultural hegemony and then claim, in debate savvy doublespeak, that you are doing the opposite.
Oh wait – apparently you can in this slippery neoliberal epoch which relies on forked tongue discourse to maintain the status quo.
Who but the chattering class is buying it?
If you use the master’s tools to manage ‘Black rage’ or shut down counter-hegemonic language then you are working for the master – no matter how much you bleat the opposite.
An edited version of this was published in Sunday Independent 30/08/2015