South Africa's Political Parties Through a Feminist Lens

Partner Analysis

Using an intersectional feminist framework, the Women and Democracy Initiative (WDI) analysed both the manifestos and track records of the country's three leading parties, alongside that of Women Forward (WF), a small women-led party contesting the elections for the second time. The analysis considers not only what these parties say on issues commonly labeled as ‘women’s', but also applies a feminist lens to the parties approaches to unemployment, wages, land and home ownership, social security, education and health. Grandstanding on gender during elections is the norm, with parties often taking the over-promise and underdeliver route. This analysis can serve as a feminist barometer on how parties act on these promises after elections.

South Africa's Political Parties Through a Feminist Lens

ANC Party Analysis 2019


THE ANC –more of the same; lip service to womxn

The manifesto overall-The glaring gap in the ANC manifesto is the failure to explain, how it will shift its approach to the economy, and to fiscal and budgeting decisions, to meaningfully change the situation –the regressive 2019 Budget tells us that here we have more of the same, a refusal to engage with questions of the tax mix that favours the rich and punishes the poor, through increasing corporate and wealth taxes or lowering VAT and fuel levies. How can the ANC deliver something radically different or innovative while remaining committed to its regressive budget approach?

Overall the manifesto is weak in its recognition of or strategies to address the systematic and structural discrimination of womxn, patriarchy, sexism and male dominance, more information on this is provided below.

The ANC list their achievements of the past 25 years, and also recognise they’ve ‘made mistakes’ and that some areas are in ‘crisis’, but they’ve hidden the stagnation and regressions of the past five years in their claims of success over the past 25. The increased poverty, unemployment, and income inequality; the failure of their targeted strategies to improve basic education to deliver results, the unmitigated levels of gender based violence coupled with a disinterested criminal justice system are obscured.

Unlike other parties, with 25 years under its belt as the ruling party, the ANC has access to public resources, and has experience in the strategies and challenges that have bedevilled the delivery of programmes addressing social justice across sectors. This should come through in the party’s Election Manifesto. At this point, we would expect to see the ANC grappling in different ways with the rights violations,exclusions and failures of social justice that have persisted. It does not.

While the ANC demonstrate some new ideas and specific strategies on corruption, youth employment, and free higher education, overall their promises are more of the same, repackaged and renamed, there’s little that is new. Their introduction of ideas on land expropriation and GBV may be new to the manifestos, but both of these lack specificity and leave questions open. In basic education, social security and renewable energy, there’s neither new thinking nor any detail about the ANC’s plans. In health the ANC provide more specific targets, plans and time frames for its current strategies. The ANC acknowledge that both health and education are in crisis and ‘still need radical improvements’, but the manifesto’s proposals are not radical, and lack innovation.

Promises to address the monopoly of big business,including in agriculture,don’t weigh up against recently past laws that ignore the interests of small farmers in favour of large-scale plant breeders and while the ANC undertake to address apartheid spatial planning, this doesn’t follow through to addressing apartheid police resourcing models. Throughout, the ANC takes its traditional low approach to increasing regulation and requirements on the private sector, incentives, engagements and leveraging will not create the kinds of reforms needed in the private sector.

The ANC on womxn, patriarchy, gender and women-Unlike past manifestos,in this manifesto the ANC introduce the concept of patriarchy, and the words‘women’ or ‘gender equality’ come up at various points. But consistently,the words are used as part of lists of other groups, and without any specifics of the context or directed strategies that it will take to give meaning to this word use. This is contrasted against the use of the words‘youth’ or ‘corruption’ where the manifesto does demonstrate more specific thinking of context and strategy. Many sections of the manifesto, such as housing and education make no gendered reference at all.

In this year’s manifesto we welcome the ANC’s stronger approach to gender based violence than previously –but even there the commitments made are more of the same, broad with few specifics that fail to address 2 known barriers to delivering on prevention, policing and justice. Patriarchal, sexist and womxn-blaming norms pervading the criminal justice system are unaddressed.The ANC commitment to the 2018 GBV Summit outcomes are positive but given similar high level commitments by the ANC over the past twelve years we’ll wait and see... noticeably the February 2019 Budget didn’t follow though on those commitments.

The ANC have stood by the commitment to increase gender equality in government and the private sector over the past 25 years,it has improved women’s representation in government positions, this is good,but still far off a demographically driven target of 51%. Government reports on progress don’t tell us how many of the womxn in senior positions are Black womxn. BEE is all that is offered to address the dismal progress in the private sector on womxn’s representation. The manifesto makes no commitment to step this up, or to address the patriarchal, misogynist and sexist norms that limit womxn’s influence once they’re in positions.

The manifesto does not recognise womxn’s unpaid labour and is silent on the persistent gendered wage gap between men and womxn. The ANC celebrate the new minimum wage act which reinforces the lower value placed on ‘women’s work’; sectors targeted for economic investment are all sectors dominated by men, with no commitment to increasing womxn’s representation in those. Plans to increase the number of community health workers are presented, but the low wage is not addressed.

Targets and priorities for womxn are absent on land and home ownership, restitution claims or title deed strategies. There is some focus on rural womxn’s access and tenure on communal land but the question of farm womxn and womxn’s access to urban land is left open. The social factors that keep girls out of school are ignored in the manifesto,as is the extremely high proportion of children with disabilities who are not in school. Responses to sexism, womxn’s academic advancement, or GBV in higher education are missing.The manifesto is silent on decriminalising sex work and increasing protections and services to sex workers.

The ANC make no commitment to re-build South Africa’s gender machinery,and although they commit to mainstream gender equality in planning, budgeting and monitoring, this is not new and despite past commitments it hasn’t been done –will it be any different this time?

Internally, the ANC do not take a strong, consistent and demonstrated stance against sexism, misogyny, sexual violence or harassment in the party; there’s strong evidence of the ANC protecting people accused of sexual misconduct in the past,and the party still has no specific policy on gender based violence or harassment, sexism or misogyny.

The ANC’s party list has only three womxn in the top ten, and nine in the top 20. The top 20is peppered with female candidates who have all been in positions where they could have made a significant contribution in mainstreaming gender and reframing the feminist discourse within government and the party structures. Sadly, their track records show they mostly failed in doing so and that women’s representation on party lists alone does not necessarily translate into a sound feminist agenda for the party.The men on the ANC’s top 20 list generally fail to inspire confidence in their commitment to address the structural violence and inequalities women face beyond just gender-based violence. In framing their positions narrowly around GBV and “real men” as protectors of women, they run the risk of falling into the trap of benevolent sexism.The top 20 also includes womxn and men, who have made seriously problematic victim-blaming statements in the past.

DA Party Analysis 2019


Democratic Alliance –Deliberately gender blind

The DA describes itself as a political party with liberal values and principles that supports a market-based economy. Their slogan for this election is One South Africa For All and the manifesto covers three areas: Economic Growth and Jobs, Now; Building a Caring, Opportunity-rich South Africa; and Creating the Capable State. DA dedicates considerable space in the manifesto to the economic section. Striking in the DAs manifesto is the extent to which the ANC is named and blamed. Throughout the manifesto the DA points out what they have identified as the considerable failures of the ruling party.

The notion of two South Africa’s are raised a few times in the manifesto in relation to economic opportunities, access to health and education. The DA identifies race redress under economic justice but makes it clear that their plans will never take from the one to give to the other. The DA rejects the idea of race quotas in this manifesto and gender quotas in their constitution. The DA rejects the idea of land expropriation without compensation and proposes that land reform is possible without changing the constitution. They also reject the NHI and proposes an alternative that includes the private health sector. The DA acknowledge the need for a sunset clause to support race redress but is at pains to explain that any sunset clause provisions will be temporary.

The manifesto is written from the perspective of a government in waiting with many of the headings starting with: A DA national government will... This makes the promises and plans come across as unrealistic at times. It would have been useful for the voters if the DA included plans for South Africa in its role as the official opposition. Even though it is accepted that a manifesto cannot provide in depth detail, most of the DAs plans and promises do not have targets, timeframes, fiscal consideration or implementation plans.

A key observation about the DAs manifesto is that it is completely gender blind because it totally disregards gender in its understanding and planning. Womxn are mainly considered in the section dealing with gender-based violence (GBV) and are often mentioned in their normalised role as the carers of children. This indicates a lack of understanding or a refusal to acknowledge womxn as a category deserving full consideration and inclusion in plans and promises throughout the manifesto.

EFF Party Analysis 2019


EFF: The Red berets a ‘Jack of all trades or Master of none?’

The EFF is successful in addressing issues of concern in a social-justice sense.They are less successful in giving a fair and well thought out analysis from a gender perspective and although an attempt is made at gender mainstreaming;they are inconsistent and miss the mark on critical issues impacting their constituency. They do not seem to value gender parity beyond very limited specific targets in the financial sector, and a vague mention of a quota system across the board.

They do generally well with social justice analysis and diagnosis and the party has been consistent in championing their flags hip issues around land and economic justice but lacked a strong gender mainstream approach.Overall, the EFF have done well in taking advantage of the popularity of the feminist movement among young people by ensuring that they give platform and space for young womxn to influence and lead the party across structures, and their list is no different to this growing trend among and within the party.

The 170-pagelong manifesto appears to be in a league of its own when it comes to the culture of electioneering and over promising. It lacks clarity on policy positions and commitments and does not state how these will be implemented.The EFF’s manifesto offering and policy proposition focuses on Land and Jobs-two critical socio-economic and political issues which have a gendered narrative,but which is missed or deliberately ignored in the manifesto.

Even where they do extend a sufficient feminist-leaning analysis, this is undermined by their lack of budgeting considerations, which would lend their stance to the side of genuine commitment as opposed to more political rhetoric, as is the expectation with most parties. The EFF also unfortunately still largely view issues concerning womxn as matters of ‘empowerment.’ This narrative continues to undermine womxn’s struggles in so far as patriarchy is not rightly understood and responded to as a system of domination which is pervasive to the lives of people who are not white, heterosexual males or somewhere along that spectrum.

Women Forward Party Analysis 2019


Women Forward: on the rise?

Women Forward, is one of the few women-led political parties contesting the upcoming 2019 elections that has no track record of governance. From the onset, Women Forward aims to be an intersectional party that names patriarchy and recognises the challenges facing LGBTQI people, disabled women and poor women. However, it is to be noted that it fails to name capitalist norms that hinder women’s access to basic services and their living standards.

WF realistically recognises themselves a possible opposition to government and frames its manifesto as a set of demands on government.

What is commendable about the Women Forward party is that they make use of a bottom up approach whereby they aim to ensure that women are active participants in the economy by creating ‘community development forums that will work for the women and children’ in areas where women live and advocating for women leadership at all levels.

They note that the system of oppression can only be dismantled once women have the freedom to self-determine what their issues are. This provides women with the power to actively contribute and have their views heard, however this must be followed by having more women leadership in critical decision-making positions in government, which the party aims to combat by having gender parity by 2025.

Women Forward takes a strong line on their commitment to ending all violence against women and girls and demand that government enforce laws against perpetrators of domestic violence. While WF take a strong line gender-based violence, they miss the mark by not addressing specifically the high levels of GBV in schools and universities.

The party makes no distinction of the different realities affecting schooling of boys and girls but do advocate for ‘robust sex education’ to boys and girls in order to reduce the rate of teenage pregnancies, however there is no support programme for pregnant girls and young mothers. There are no targets around early childhood development.

WF acknowledge corrective rape and marginalisation based on sexual orientation. The party assures voters that perpetrators of ritualistic hate crimes will face the full might of the law. The manifesto is strong in commitments to addressing women’s vulnerability in conflict areas, commiting to supporting peace and stability. It is not clear if this extends to women who face xenophobic attacks within South Africa.

WF rightfully proposes the enforcement of constitutional provisions and spcific responses for different groups of women including women with disabilities, widowed, elderly women and single mothers – but the manifesto doesn’t provide more detail on what programmes would be put in place to address the context of each of these groups. WF is silent on sex work, domestic work and women farm workers, leaving out a critical group of women that often bear the brunt of the worst human rights injustices.

The manifesto misses the mark on providing direction of how they will end poverty, review economic policies and ensure that women are active participants in all levels of economic decision-making.

The party strongly identifies the lack of land ownership by women and thus purports to work towards providing lease security, stabilising rent control, the elimination of informal settlements and discriminatory bank lending practices.

Regarding traditional leadership and women in rural areas, WF plan to challenge cultural practices that discriminate against women, by engaging with government and traditional leaders. What is surprising is the lack of position on controversial pieces of legislation such as the Traditional Courts Bill and the Traditional and Khoisan Leadership Bill.

Overall WF have very strong positions on the issues they focus on, and the manifesto has attempted to address critical concerns of women. If the party were to get a seat in Parliament, the question wouldbe how they would use their strong voice to impact on male-dominated decision making.

With no track record in government, and as with many of the smaller parties, limited information is available in the public space about WF. We could not access more information about the party, including its previous manifestos or constitution.


For the detailed research underlying this brief go to