Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

African Philosophy for African Women's Leadership: An Urgent Project for the African Renaissance

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

African Philosophy for African Women's Leadership: An Urgent Project for the African Renaissance

Article excerpt

Background and Introduction

The African National Congress (ANC), a South African liberation movement-turned ruling party in 1994, took 31 years after its formation in 1912 to allow women to become full members with the right to vote (Hassim, 2014:91). It took women "considerable work within the ANC in exile to create an understanding of the importance of women having a separate voice, and of naming gender equality and non-sexism as a goal." (Hassim, 2014:95) Even though there were "some notable champions of [...] women [...] such as Oliver Tambo", ANC former president, even "Tambo had a very hard time convincing others" (ibid). Contextualising the marginalisation of women in the ANC, Ginwala (1990:77) notes that the "exclusion of women was neither surprising nor exceptional for the time.

The societies from which the white settlers originated and the indigenous societies they encountered in South Africa were male dominated and patriarchal." Ginwala is correct in associating patriarchy with Europe, but wrong in suggesting that male domination was an indigenous African practice. Such an assertion is Eurocentric in that it advances negative and biased historical narratives of European scholarship that has consistently sought to denigrate and distort the African image in the universe. Patriarchy was imposed by European colonialism.

Senior ANC leader and former Independent Electoral Commission's (IEC) chairperson, Brigalia Bam (2015:11; 39) who has "always regarded women's emancipation as an integral part of the struggle for liberation", falls into the same trap in noting that "[p]atriachy in the African context" has "meant the control of women, denying, excluding and relegating them to positions of inferiority". Bam (2015:11) also notes that "Apartheid was not the only vice to blame" in the oppression of African women, and thus, singles out "[t]raditional practices" as having been "as significant as racial barriers in perpetuating subordination and in attempting to isolate women from active participation in the public domain". Another ANC leader, Goldberg (2014:193), argues that there are "aspects of African culture, e.g. the role of traditional leaders, that are at times opposing democratic development, especially in relation to rights of elected bodies and peoples and rights of women". Reflecting on the "notions of leadership" which "profoundly influenced" him, Mandela (1994:18) notes that it was the "tribal meetings that were regularly held at the Great Place [in] Thembuland" in the former Transkei. Mandela "was astonished by the vehemence--and candor--with which people criticized the regent". He "was not above criticism--in fact, he was often the principal target of it" (Mandela, 1994:19). Mandela (ibid) notes that "no matter how flagrant the charge, the regent simply listened, not defending himself, showing no emotion at all". These proceedings were "democracy in its purest form" (Mandela, 1994:18). His critique, though, was that while "all men were free to voice their opinions [...] (Women, I am afraid, were deemed second-class citizens.)" (ibid) On the basis of Mandela's observation, it could easily be concluded that African democracy did not accommodate women.

To the contrary, Mqhayi (1981:63) argues that amaXhosa so highly regarded women, traditionally, such that women could be rulers, though he gives no specifics. Citing the case of Chief Maqoma, Mqhayi (2009:63) observes that in "Maqoma's court no opinion was barred" and with specific reference to women, he notes that "women were informed of the situation, and their opinion was sought". Mandela's experience and observation took place at a time when amaXhosa had already lost their independence and were subject to European autocracy. It is therefore erroneous to associate with, and trace women's exclusion in the ANC to African culture as Ginwala does. Attention is given to the ANC in this article for a number of reasons. First, due to its current dominance in South African politics, "the country's woman president can only come from the ANC" (Mtintso, 2007:27), and second, the African Renaissance project in South Africa was spearheaded by Thabo Mbeki, both as the ANC, and the South Africa' president. …

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