Tag Archives: ANC

Come on ladies, can we all just get along?

6 Feb

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By Bekithemba Mhlanga

The patriarchs and the macho men must have been rolling on the floor with laughter watching the dramatic fallout between Dr Mamphela Ramphele of Agang SA and Hellen Zille of the Democratic Alliance (DA) political parties in South Africa.

Last week the two sisters, one black one white, agreed to gang up against that cultural polygamist and leader of the ANC, Jacob Zuma, at the forthcoming general election with the ultimate political ambition of ‘usurping’ power in this hot bed of a democracy bequeathed to them by Nelson Mandela.

The merged party was billed as creating the strongest challenge to the ANC since it came to power in 1994 and aimed to tap into voter dissatisfaction with President Jacob Zuma and the ANC, under fire over corruption scandals and stubbornly high poverty levels. Ms Ramphele, a medical doctor, was the partner of the late Steve Biko, one of the leaders of the anti-apartheid movement.

On the day of the announcement of the partnership the two sisters were all over each other, sealing the agreement with a kiss – a smacker almost at par with those exchanged by Madonna and her fellow female stage artists in the past. “We are going to take away the excuse of race and challenge the ANC to be judged on its performance,”  Zille announced confidently.

The ANC quickly dismissed the partnership as a “rent-a-black face” arrangement. The sniggering males on social media were even louder and will ring irritatingly for some time to come. “It won’t last,” they said, “what can two women cobble together that lasts?” Others quipped smugly, “Wait until the hormones take over and that will be the end of this relationship, black girls don’t get on with white girls – this will unravel in no time.”

As fate would have it five days later came the announcement – it was all over! The agreement was buried in a slew of personal recriminations and political point-scoring. “Dr Ramphele has demonstrated – once and for all – that she cannot be trusted to see any project through to its conclusion,” said Zille furiously. Ramphele retorted, “Some people cannot or will not transcend party politics. We see people trapped in old-style race-based politics.”

It’s not hard to imagine the discussions that went on in many pubs, offices, homes and political offices across the continent. “That Dr Ramphele and Zille – they say it’s not working,” says Mathew to Andile. “Women – what can you expect …don’t know how to play nicely with each other,” responds Andile, “pass me the beer, will you?” End of story.

Is this a fair assessment?

Perception and fact can be quite different, so let’s get the facts out of the way in the first instance before we settle into the more fun stuff of perception. Corporate research shows that 40% of all workplace bullies are women and that women bully other women 70% of the time. While male bullies take an egalitarian approach in this respect, mowing down men and women in pretty equal measure, women on the other hand prefer their own kind. In the name of Joyce Banda and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf what is going on here?

So what is the perception out there about women’s ability to get along? Not being a fan of laboratory experiments or desk bound research, I did what nature expects one to do when confronted with such nature related questions – I asked others, male and female, why we have this jaundiced view of female relations. There seems to be five major themes to explain this and perhaps not surprisingly in all of them it’s the women’s fault.

  1. Women are under pressure to adopt aggressive behaviour to get ahead and once they’re in a leadership position they still maintain this behaviour. My discussions suggest that this is perceived to be the case in many different contexts and therefore cannot be said to apply to the corporate world only. Whether it’s in a burial society or church group the agro just seems to pop out. It’s just that the intensity rises in direct proportion to the anticipated rewards.
  2. Women see other women as potential threats and competitors. As a man I’ve known lots girls, women, ladies and wives who hate each other for the most smallest of things. The light skinned hate the dark ones, the natural hairs hate the processed, the fat hate the slim, and the intelligent ones hate the not so intelligent ones. So deep seated is the animosity that it can wreck even the most noble business, social and political projects. No need to elaborate on this one then.
  3. The third explanation seems to be of a cultural making – the lack of opportunity for advancement of women thus making women more competitive. This is more so in the African context were women are to be heard not seen and must walk one step behind the men, where their assumed position is to be poor, powerless, pregnant and hungry. As a result every little opportunity to break away from this mould will be pursued with vigour and energy, and woe betide any female who threatens this opportunity. So it’s possible that in their chase for the opportunity to take on Jacob Zuma the two ladies were blinded to some of the basic capacity building steps and consultative exercise, political strategising needed to ensure the success of mergers. Perhaps males would have been more calculating, retreating into some bush and disfiguring locals to build up support before proceeding to engage in any discussions, as was the case with Renamo in Mozambique or the situation in South Sudan.
  4. Another common explanation I was given for the perception that women cannot get along was that women are stereotyped as bullies when that is not necessarily the case. We all know that no one wants to work with bullies so women approach other women with an assumption that they’re bullies and it’s not going to work out which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  5. Finally it’s said that women are insecure in their leadership positions and feel the necessity to sabotage other women in order to maintain their position of power. I once worked with three women who had such a deep rooted hatred for each other it was unbelievable. The trio, of equal rank, would brief on each other sometimes knowing fully well that the message would ultimately get back to the person they were gossiping about. Unbeknown to them the senior boss knew this and took pleasure in assigning them projects where they had to work together on a routine basis. I never found out whether this was to help them get along or just to create more opportunities for them to inflict more pain on each other.

So back to the story at hand, did the good Dr Mamphele and Zille fall out just because they are females? Probably not, but it’s most likely that many males latched onto this reason precisely because they are females and this explanation played into the hands of gender stereotypes.

Would males have fallen out? Most likely and with one of them left for dead in the process!

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