Winning the endorsement of the ANC Women's League (ANCWL) is useful, but not critical. Of the 4,500 voting delegates who will attend Mangaung, 45 will be drawn from the ANCWL, the same amount as from the Youth League and the Veteran's League. This is minuscule compared to, say, the 974 delegates coming from KwaZulu-Natal province. However, as the Daily Maverick's Ranjeni Munusamy pointed out on Wednesday, if delegates to Mangaung vote along provincial loyalty lines, "the margin of difference will be very narrow, with the leagues and executive committees able to sway the result". As such, those 45 delegates may come to be more important than you'd think.
There's every indication, however, that there will be little drama or mystery about who gets the leadership nod from the Women's League. For a start, the only choice, of course, is between two men: Jacob Zuma and Kgalema Motlanthe. The idea of pushing for a woman in the highest office is apparently unthinkable: to quote Moipone Malefane in the Sowetan on Thursday, "it seems their duty in whatever position they occupy is to support factions led by men". The glass ceiling within the top ANC structures for women seems to sit at deputy secretary general or chairwoman.
Despite the fact that official ANC policy is 50/50 male-female representation, this does not extend to the executive. As feminist writer Jen Thorpe pointed out this week, of 34 government ministers, just 13 are female. Of course, it doesn't help that some of those female ministers have done a terrible job (see: Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, who is also the ANC Women's League president). Even if the Women's League wanted to nominate a woman to top office, it's hard to see who they would pick - with the possible exception of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, now safely deployed to the AU.
Between Motlanthe and Zuma, all signs thus far are pointing to an ANC Women's League preference for Zuma. The Eastern Cape branch of the ANCWL was quick out of the blocks, becoming the first ANC body to endorse Zuma after the opening of the nomination process ahead of Mangaung. On Monday, it announced it wanted Zuma for a second term, Mantashe to stay on as secretary general and Baleka Mbete to stay on as national chairwoman.
The Eastern Cape branch would like to see the only other woman in high office, Deputy Secretary Thandi Modise, removed, along with Treasurer General Mathews Phosa. Nancy Sihlwayi, the provincial secretary for the ANCWL in the Eastern Cape, defended its choice of Zuma, saying, "The leadership should be given a second term With the challenges faced by the country and the continent, we support continuity and change." If you think supporting both continuity and change sounds oxymoronic, you're not alone.
The Eastern Cape Women's League Executive Committee also said it was throwing its weight behind Zuma because he inspires "leadership transparency", an astonishing statement about a man who seems to have done everything possible to keep the R203-million bill for upgrades to his Nkandla homestead from taxpayer eyes.
The executive committee didn't entirely renounce its feminist principles. Despite not nominating any women for the deputy secretary general or treasurer general positions, let alone suggesting a woman for the two top jobs, it nonetheless made it clear it wanted delegates attending Mangaung to fit the ANC's 50/50 gender policy across the board. "To be specific, if a branch has four delegates, we expect two of those to be females and the other two to be male comrades," the committee said. Or else what?
The Gauteng ANC Women's League, meanwhile, seems too busy floundering around to announce a favourite for Mangaung. It failed to elect new leadership in a provincial conference last Friday that was described as "chaotic". Motshekga afterwards put the blame on procedural problems and a conference organised in haste - unfortunate, given that she began her conference speech with the line: "This superbly organised provincial conference of the ANC Women's League in Gauteng bears testimony to our great achievements."
The major drama of the conference came when Paul Mashatile, ANC Gauteng chairman, arrived to address the delegates. Mashatile is thought to be opposed to a second term for Zuma; on Sunday he told ANC Youth League members that supporting leadership change was no crime. "We contested (the erstwhile ANC leadership) in Polokwane - why is it a sin now?" he asked. Upon taking his seat at the Gauteng Women's League conference, he was booed out of the room, with women singing "Umshini wami" after he left.
When he returned, SAPA reported that provincial Chairwoman Patricia Chueu attempted to calm delegates by reminding them that "this conference is not about any individuals but the ANC". When Mashatile attempted to speak, however, delegates broke out again in pro-Zuma songs and shouted "Zuma, second term!" Mashatile eventually left without finishing his speech.
While these events might show that the Gauteng Women's League is pro-Zuma, evidence of some factional schism is supported by the rumour that the reason the provincial league failed to elect new leadership was because "those supporting Mr Zuma attempted to prevent a change of leadership in the women's league in the province", to quote Business Day.
Those members of the Gauteng League opposed to a second term for Zuma are, however, likely to be stymied by key Zuma allies like Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane. When Gauteng eventually does get it together to declare its nominations, it's virtually assured it will follow in the footsteps of its Eastern Cape sisters and give the nod to Zuma.
Bar some astonishing coup from the other provincial committees, you'd be safe putting money on the ANC Women's League ultimately backing Zuma for head of the ANC. It has, after all, shown him unwavering loyalty, most recently by defending the comments he made about single women on People of the South, which earned him a DA complaint to the Gender Commission.
Figures like Motshekga, whose job as Basic Education Minister is already on the line after the Limpopo textbook scandal, also can't risk upsetting their big boss. The relationship between Motshekga and Zuma is mutually dependant: he needs her as a staunch ally to keep the Women's League sweet, and she needs him in order to hang on to her job. As long as dynamics like that are at play, don't expect to see the Women's League seriously advocating for change.
Of course, the real losers in all of this are women who hope that the ANC Women's League will act with their best interests at heart, as opposed to being motivated by factionalism and political expediency.
Motshekga knows the Women's League is in a PR crisis when it comes to perceptions of integrity. In her speech on Friday, she said:
"Contrary to perceptions, we have not lost the plot." It'll take more than mere assertions to the contrary to convince people.