Emerging Women Power

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South African president Thabo Mbeki appointed Mrs. Mlambo-Ngcuka as his new deputy replacing former deputy president Jacob Zuma who was fired after being implicated in a bribe-taking scandal. But despite the achievements, the presence of women in politics is still far below the expectations of the 1997 Sadc declaration on Gender and Development which sought to at least ensure that 30 percent of women were in political decision making structures by 2005.

The recent historic appointment of mines minister Mrs. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka to the position of deputy South African president is a hopeful symbol of women empowerment in the entire Southern African region which is aiming to have at least 30 percent of women in political decision making structures. South African president Thabo Mbeki appointed Mlambo-Ngcuka as his new deputy replacing former deputy president Jacob Zuma who was fired after being implicated in a bribe-taking scandal. The move also demonstrates clearly South Africa’s determination to caste off the media image of African countries as tolerant of corruption. “We thought this would give us an opportunity further to strengthen the participation of women in the executive,� Mbeki said. “That’s part of what influenced the decision that we took.�

The firing of Zuma who enjoyed grassroots support within the ANC party structures caused rumblings within Africa’s oldest political party. Mlambo-Ngcuka, 49, has joined the small, but growing army of women who have assumed powerful and influential positions within the South African Development Cooperation (Sadc) region. She held the minerals and energy posts since 1999 and has been hailed for promoting the empowerment of Blacks in this sector widely dominated by whites. She is the second woman to become a deputy or vice president in this 14-member Sadc grouping after Zimbabwe Vice President Joyce Mujuru. Others who have scaled the heights in the male dominated political field include Mozambican prime minister Luisa Diogo who was elevated by former Mozambican president Joachim Chissano in February last year. She replaced Pascoal Mocumbi who resigned after serving as prime minister for a decade.

The Mozambican’s appointment is viewed by analyst as passing the baton from the generation that fought for independence to the one trained since independence. Diogo was born in 1958 and holds a masters degree in financial economics and between 1989 and 1992 was the national budget director. From 1993 to 1994, she was the World Bank program officer in Mozambique. Mujuru of Zimbabwe was elevated to the position of vice president last December in a move that was widelyseen as empowering women and the opening up of the country’s politics.

But despite the achievements, the presence of women in politics is still far below the expectations of the 1997 Sadc declaration on Gender and Development which sought to at least ensure that 30 percent of women were in political decision making structures by 2005. In Zimbabwe, 60 women joined the fray in the race for parliamentary seats in the March polls. A total of 36 were from the ruling Zanu PF party and 16 from MDC, six from Zanu and two independents. After the results were announced, only 19 were voted in–13 Zanu PF and six MDC.

Supporters of the women elevated to power believe strongly that Diogo, Mujuru and Mlambo-Ngcuka were strong willed women, approachable, efficient administrators and influential women that could easily act as rallying points to win support for their respective parties.

Critics charge that the appointment of these women was being done more out of political expediency rather than any real desire to advance the status of women in the region. Others see the move by both Presidents Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Mbeki of South Africa as a political strategy to quash power struggles by males within the ranks and file of their parties.

Tsiko is The Black Star’s Southern Africa correspondent based in Harare. For more reports please call (212) 481-7745 to subscribe to the newsstand edition of The Black Star News, the world’s leading Pan African news weekly.

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