South Africa elections 2009: E-campaigns, the "f' word, and new political movements

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, 14 May 2009 (Women'sNet)

Elections debate participants from political parties in South AfricaElections debate participants from political parties in South AfricaThe recent South African elections, held on April 22 2009 seem to be the most vibrant yet to grip the country. Political parties launched their manifestos and a striking issue was the absence of women’s concerns in the political parties’ agenda, in spite of the fact that women formed the majority of this years registered voters.

Politics 2.0

During these elections political parties went out all out to woo the electorate by employing new campaigning strategies. The Democratic Alliance (DA) their e-campaign strategy and put Helen Zille to work – she actively blogged and had some interaction with the bloggers too. The DA embraced Web 2.0 marketing in the most ambitious manner possible. This placed the DA at an advantage to leverage their reach to the traditionally affluent; well connected to the internet white voter who is their traditional constituency. The African National Congress (ANC) also upped their e-campaigning strategy by launching a campaign site and facebook groups. As the political parties flirted with the young voters using new media, the smaller parties kept to the traditional way of campaigning, although others used SMS’s to keep their followers updated.

Are you a feminist?

During the run up to the elections, Women’sNet took part in a series of debates and dialogues organized with partners to address gender issues and politics. On the 8th of April, we attended a debate organized by the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) in collaboration with its consortium partners (including Women’sNet). Interestingly, political parties sent only women to represent them at this forum. When the floor opened for questions, Sally-Jean Shackleton (Women’sNet Director) posed an interesting and yet simple question to the panel: Are you a feminist she asked. The politicians struggled with the answer, and almost all of them not wanting to identify themselves as feminists. Only the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) representative asserted that she is a feminist. Seems that in politics, feminism is still the ‘f’ word.

Violence against women

“Political parties in South Africa lack concrete strategies to address violence against women, a problem facing a huge number of their constituents and a significant challenge to the country’s development”. This was the message to political party representatives at a debate organised by Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre, Women’sNet and the Political Studies Department of Wits University earlier this month in Johannesburg. A point in case is the plight of Buyisiwe, who has been failed by the justice system and has had to go to court for her case to be heard, only to be told that it is postponed. Buyisiwe was gang raped in 2005 and her case has been postponed 23 times. 23 times she woke up early from a sleepless night to go to court and 23 times she returned home with her case not having moved forward at all. Buyisiwe is one of thousands of women who wait for the criminal justice system’s wheels to turn.

What hope do other rape survivors have if they are to report their cases and go through the same process as Buyisiwe? With all the political rhetoric that went on, no political party seemed to have concrete strategies to address issues faced by women in this country. Women’sNet interviewed Women Forward to hear if they bring new solutions to women’s issues.

Is Women Forward (WF) the new women’s political movement?Reporter during elections debate: photo by Women's NetReporter during elections debate: photo by Women’s Net

During our interview with Women Forward’s spokesperson, Sizile Ndlazi, she told us that the reason this political party was formed was because it had become very obvious women’s issues were not being addressed and that since the President of Women Forward Ms Nana Ngobese-Nxumalo worked within government it was evident that as much as there all these great policies in place for women empowerment the resources were not going where they should go and women were still being marginalized.

Is Women Forward feminist? We asked. Ndlazi told us the answer is a glaring no. A follow up to this question was: Is South Africa ready for a woman president, to which WF said this country has been through many things most of which a lot of people thought we were not ready for, so women for president is not a major thing, I mean we will not change the national flag to be pink, the only difference is that we will bring peace and harmony along.

The Paradox of Jacob Zuma

Gender activists are also concerned about what a Jacob Zuma presidency would mean for women and issues of gender violence. Even putting aside previous rape charges brought against him and questions of whether polygamy and gender equality can co-exist, activists argue that the conduct of the rape trial and stigmatising treatment of the woman involved undoubtedly further reduced women’s confidence in coming forward.

The voter may also wonder why Mr. Zuma feels the need to marry again. He has repeatedly championed his first wife who recently told a reporter that she ‘would love to be the first lady should he be elected’, and yet his marriage to a much younger woman whom The Mercury described as a ‘Durban socialite’ has raised questions about the motives behind the match. Has Mr. Zuma chosen a new, more youthful and attractive wife because he considers her to be a more suitable public figure, and if so, are these really the qualities that a leader should focus upon and extol?

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About Women’sNet: Women’sNet is a feminist organisation that works to advance gender equality and justice in South Africa through the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). We provide training and facilitate content dissemination and creation that supports women, girls, and women’s and gender organisations and networks to take control of their own content and ICT use.

Photos by Women’sNet

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