Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Picture: AP

In The News Opinion

NDZ: what’s in a name?

The Road to Gauteng, December 2017 has begun without any official announcement from Luthuli House. This marks an elective year that appears in full swing if we judge the number of people claimed to be involved in the contest for high office.

Among those contesting is Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, or for many simply NDZ.

Let me be clear in saying that this opinion is not in any sense an attempt at campaigning for a NDZ candidacy. I am also not asking for NDZ to be given a free pass or an easy ride to high office. I hold that if are you willing to contest you must accept what goes with that. Yet blatant chauvinism and stereotyping for being a woman cannot be condoned.

Mine is an attempt to ask why a worthy candidate no different to all others is held hostage by her last name. This when names and surnames remain the weakest form of a person’s true identity.

I light my proverbial candle from the flame of Hillary Rodham Clinton, when she shares with young women this concise though very provocative advice: “To all little girls who are watching, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”

Solani Ngobeni’s article in the City Press dated January 22, 2017 was headlined “Could SA stomach another Zuma”. He makes the point that according to reports Dlamini Zuma was part of the ANC National Executive who argued against Zuma’s recall in November 2016. He proceeds to frame President Zuma’s support of a woman candidate as purely self-serving. Whilst this may or may not be the case, my focus is on what these deductions say and for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Barney Mthombothi, with his article in the Sunday Times of March 5,2017, again confirms this uncomfortable reality of a woman president for some when he says “we’ve never had a woman run for such high office”.

He remonstrates her relationship with President Jacob Zuma her ex-husband is germane to the political discourse. I almost felt like saying, it’s only very recent, as little as 23 years ago that we had black men run for president.

It appears Mthombothi conveniently fails to appreciate the basic reality that Jacob and Nkosazana have children together therefore they are family, at least if I understand the cultural prism of family correctly.

Perhaps the strongest overtures to this stereotyping of her identity as woman is evidenced when he in a veiled sense almost subliminally accuses her of “riding on Jacob Zuma’s coat tails” which he dovetails with “anybody who wants to lead this nation should therefore be committed to hauling Zuma before the courts… Dlamini-Zuma cannot honestly fulfill such an obligation.”

In the mind of Mthombothi she is incapable to run her own campaign and needs to ride on the proverbial coat tails of a man, in subservience. He brushes her with broad strokes as complicit to what and who Jacob Zuma is. A trained ear can hear Mthombothi apportioning blame on NDZ for JZ issues, despite her record being clean. This sounds much like the typical story of those who think women should shoulder the blame for philandering men.

The premise for this is another Zuma is borne from a scripted and conditioned narrative that the name Zuma is innately cancer for the SA the chattering class claims as theirs.

Those who share these sentiments have in this season sought to strip NDZ from her own identity as an individual and replacing that in convenience with what we can call the Jacob Zuma identity. They afford themselves a right to do so.

An adumbrated profile of NDZ confirms she is a duly qualified medical doctor by profession. She previously served in at least two major portfolios, namely health and foreign affairs. She has over an elongated period served in various structures of the ANC, including its women’s league. Her most recent assignment was to serve as chairperson of the African Union, a post she- under the usual dosage of testosterone gerrymandering – served with distinction and integrity.

One may fault her on some of the AU programmes as conceived, defined, managed and implemented yet in fairness one cannot read her tenure as a failure. Today the question is asked, could SA stomach another Zuma? We are then told we don’t need another Zuma as a generic swipe at NDZ.

This question is perhaps misplaced, maybe the better question is can SA do without her skills and expertise commitment to ethical standards?. Can the ANC overlook someone who meets the necessary requirements as articulated in its philosophy of through-the-eye-of-the-needle standards as prescribed for branches to engage in electing leadership?

The axis of the thinking of those who tell us they don’t want another Zuma or SA doesn’t need another Zuma has the following as frame:

These will forgive me to read a blatant denial of a woman her rightful claim to contest for a position in a democratic organisation and country that she has consistently served with distinction and honour.

It appears her intrinsic worthiness and identity is bludgeoned for the sins of a man she married and has a family with. A man she equally later, for their own personal reasons divorced, no different to many in our society. She is therefore in this season in narrowness of convenience only classified and categorised by a surname. She is by extension labelled for the wrongs of her former husband, and declared not to be trusted.

Her identity as an equal human being is sacrificed at the altar of maleness, because she is a woman that has no mind of her own, lacks the capacity to lead outside a former husband’s name. She is, in a veiled sense, questioned to suffer of a loyalty in blindness to her former husband.

We hear those who protest SA does not need another Zuma, attempt substantiating their claims in asserting NDZ is being used to ensure Jacob Zuma does not go to jail. This reasoning has its own flawed premise for it argues her election to office of ANC president and by extension an SA presidency would see her manipulating judicial systems and structures to ensure her former” hubby” escapes prison. The assumption of mistrust in her character, is untested if her record and only her record stands.

Why do people find it so easy to cross a proverbial line through the ANC’s, perhaps, first true woman contender for high office in presidential claim? They do so because some in our society refuse to let the non-racial and non-sexist democratic South Africa count.

This narrative of a helpless woman who is controlled by a man who fathered her children in recognised marriage finds further emphasis when recently a Xhosa king afforded himself the luxury to tell us as was reported “South Africa is not yet ready to be led by a woman, women are sensitive by nature. The country’s problems have overwhelmed leaders who are man, how much more (so) for a woman”. In fact, he was intimating it’s not the right time given the many challenges.

This paternalistic mind arrogated a right in the superlative to prove this sexist and patronizing. His statement is in stark ignorance even indolence to the fundamental foundation of the society we seek to build. According the logic of the Xhosa king, males have the inalienable right to determine when is the right time for a woman to lead.

I have not heard a public berating of the Xhosa king who clearly was out of order and warrants sanction. The feminists across the gender divide were silent. The feminists across the class divide shared that same silence. The feminists across the age divide confirmed a deafening silence.

Another reason why twenty three years into our democracy we have this behaviour is due to the fact that we have as I earlier postulated, a convenient sisterhood enclave of feminists who in South Africa either fail to act as conscious defenders of other women’s equal humanity because they are calibrated to defend a set political agenda understood in camps. They congregate behind convenient picket fences in silence not to defend a fellow woman whom they plausibly, for direct or indirect reasons, associate with her former husband.

The feminists do no see the naked and crass sexism on display by those who refuse to see Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma for who she is: a full human and proud woman who needs no approval of a man be that in description of a former husband or another tribe’s king.

Chauvinists, regardless of gender, deny NDZ her identity by telling us SA can’t handle another Zuma. They sacrifice her equal humanity to contest because she is only to be understood in a prism of a Zuma.

Her entire history, contributions, work, ethical leadership, and input in various spheres that define our SA society is reduced to a man’s surname that some dislike.

We must call out these misogynists. The silence of the vocal feminists is therefore convenient, attesting them an enclave of convenient sisterhood.

Clyde Ramalaine
Political Commentator

Clyde Ramalaine
Weekly Xposé
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