25 February 2011

Progressive Women?

No Woman, No Revolution, Part 7

Progressive Women?

In relation to the previous text we asked: Is the Progressive Women’s Movement (PWM) supposed to be a subsidiary of the ANC Women’s League, and therefore a junior partner of the ANC? Or is the PWM a wider movement, open to all women, of which the ANCWL is only one part among many? To what extent have the problems and tensions of the FEDSAW period in the 1950s been solved? Or, have those problems not been solved?

The linked download is one document compiled of three documents. They are the PWM Base Document, the PWM Founding Document, and the PWM Declaration of 8 August 2006, from the founding gathering in Mangaung. All three documents were previously downloaded by the CU from a PWM page at the ANCWL web site, where the PWM logo, rather similar to that of the ANCWL, was displayed.

There is now (2011) a separate PWM web site, at http://pwmsa.org/. On this new PWM web site, it says, among other things:

“The Progressive Women's Movement of South Africa (PWMSA) is a Not-for­Profit Organisation registration number 051-728-NPO, launched in Bloemfontein on the 8th August 2006 to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of the 1956 march of 20 000 South African Women to the Union Buildings to protest against apartheid.

“After extensive discussions, as the ANCWL and Alliance partners we have agreed that a Women's Movement is a broad front of women's organisations, grassroots organisations of all kinds, feminist oriented groups, researchers, faith based organisations, traditional healers, women involved in policy formulation and programmes.

“The Movement was launched to create a broad front for development for the women of South Africa -one that would enable women to speak with one voice to address their concerns using a single platform of action irrespective of race, class, religion, political and social standing.

“To date, membership of the movement comprises more than thirty-five national organisations and institutions that represent civil society, labour, faith-based, political parties, business, arts and culture and professional bodies, non-governmental organisations, political parties, professional bodies and faith based organisations.”

A search of the new site did not reveal the list of the “more than thirty-five national organisations”. Perhaps this vital information will be coming later.

In the previous edition of this course “No Woman, No Revolution”, which has been run a number of times by the Communist University since 2006, we noted that on Thursday, 20 August 2009, the Progressive Women’s Movement’s third anniversary banquet was featured on the SABC glamour-and-fashion programme, Top Billing. It was a high-society occasion. The President of the Republic was a guest. Our picture is of Jacob Zuma being interviewed by Top Billing during that PWM banquet. We noted that it was not clear who was the leader of the PWM on that occasion.

Now, on the new web site, the names of the Working Committee are given, and a physical address is given at 77 Fox Street, Johannesburg, with other contact details.

The working committee members are: Ms. Baleka Mbete (National Convener; Former Deputy President); Ms. Aziwe Magida; Ms. Gertrude Mtshweni; Dr. Gwen Ramokgopa (Deputy Minister, DoH); Ms. Lulama Nare; Ms. Maria Ntuli (Deputy Minister, DSD); Ms. Sylvia Stephens-Maziya; Ms. Zukiswa Ncitha.

The PWM Base Document says, among other things:

“The ANC and the ANC WL… have held a view that there is a need for some kind of an organic structure that will take up broader issues of women in the South African Society.

“In October 2005 during one of its meetings the National Executive Committee of the Women's League decided it would be ideal if South African women to formalize a Progressive Women's Movement in 2006.

“After extensive discussions, as the ANCWL and Alliance partners we have agreed that a Women's Movement is a broad front of women's organisations, grassroots organisations of all kinds, feminist oriented groups, researchers, faith based organisations, traditional healers, women involved in policy formulation and programmes.

Character of the PWM: Organic - not a formal structure.

Objectives: Unite the women of South Africa in diversity; strengthen the relationship between the government and women's organisations.”

The Base Document therefore confirms that the PWM is an ANC initiative, that it is a combination of women’s organisations, not individuals, that it shall be “organic” and “not a formal structure”, and that it its purpose is to bind the women to the government.

The PWM Foundation Document says, among other things:

“Regular membership of the movement shall be open to any progressive South African women's organisation and formations that work with women that share the values and principles of the PWMSA.

National Steering Committee, Selection and Tenure: National Conference shall identify sectors for representation to the steering committee. After the Conference of the PWMSA the previous committee in conjunction with the newly seconded members will convene a handing over meeting within a period of a month.”

[Steering Committee members are “identified” and “seconded”. This formula is repeated at Provincial level. The word “elect”, or “election”, is never used. Terms are five years (National) and three years (Provincial).]

Powers and Duties of the National Steering Committee: The Steering Committee shall elect a Convenor and assign portfolios and responsibilities to the members of the Steering Committee; They shall carry out and monitor the decisions of the National Conference; They shall coordinate the establishment of Provincial Steering Committees”

Committees: There shall be such other Committee(s) and ad hoc committees, as the Steering Committee may from time to time deem necessary; Each Committee shall have a Coordinator.

“At any National Conference the only business that shall be discussed shall be that which has been specified in the written request lodged by the members concerned, unless the Steering Committee in her discretion otherwise permits.

“The Steering Committee shall have the power to authorise expenditure on behalf of the Movement from time to time for the purposes of furthering the objectives of the Movement in accordance with such terms and conditions as the Member Organisation of the Steering Committee may direct. The monies of the Movement shall be deposited and disbursed in accordance with any Banking Resolution passed by the Steering Committee. Each member shall, on an annual basis pay dues for every five years.”

It appears that in order to be organic and not a formal structure”, the PWM was to be as tightly structured as a normal, constitutionally organised democratic body. The requirement to be “not a formal structure” is only attempted in this very formal document to the extent that there is a Convenor and there are Co-ordinators, but not Presidents, Chairpersons or Secretaries; that the basis of delegate status at conferences is not spelled out; and that there is selection, and secondment, but there are no elections.

Like FEDSAW in the 1950s, the PWM is not allowed to have a mass individual membership. It only has corporate members. Who they all are is not yet public information.

There is a desire in some women, and men, to flee from the mass-democratic organisational forms that are normal to the labour movement, of the kind that were championed by other women like the late, great Ray Alexander, for example. The desire to shun such democratic forms of mass organisation has a basis in the conflicted philosophy of feminism. It is related to the contradiction noted by Alexandra Kollontai a century ago, between bourgeois feminism, and working-class politics.

For these reasons, this series will proceed in the following two weeks with two classic reflections on the philosophical basis of the women’s movement, from Angela Davis, and from Evelyn Reed, and will then be completed with texts published by the South African Communist Party in “Umsebenzi Online” during the three years from 2006 to 2009.

Please download and read this text via the following link:

18 February 2011

ANC Women’s League

No Woman, No Revolution, Part 6

ANC Women’s League

“[The ANC’s] main fear was that, if the FSAW were constituted on the basis of an individual membership, it would compete against the ANCWL to the detriment of the latter. In taking this position, the ANC revealed a degree of ambivalence towards the FSAW that it would never entirely overcome.”

With these words of Cheryl Walker’s, we left the matter of the Federation of South African Women (FSAW or FEDSAW). Now we look at the ANC and its Women’s League, founded in 1948.

The Short History of the ANCWL on its web site recalls the formation of FEDSAW as the major turning point for the League:

“Organisationally, the Federation of South African Women, formed in 1954 as an umbrella body, helped the ANCWL's activities to spread. It was the first indication that the ANCWL wanted to be involved in improving the lot of women nationally, and not only within their own organisation. Federation brought together from the ANCWL, Coloured People's Organisation, Transvaal and Natal Indian Congress of Democrats.

From the writer’s point of view, the ANC Women’s League’s sense of ownership, verging on entitlement of monopoly, is benign and not problematic. The formation of FEDSAW was a stepping-stone, and FEDSAW’s disappearance was not a problem, if the ANC WL’s rise was a consequence of FEDSAW’s demise, according to this view.

“The impact of women's activities led the male leadership to recognise the potential of the women's struggle. Thus started the integration of women into ANC structures. In 1956 ANCWL President Lilian Ngoyi was elected the first women to join the ANC NEC.”

[Lilian Ngoyi was President of both the League and the Federation at that time.]

Women had been members of the ANC since 1943. Now, the male leadership “recognised the potential of the women's struggle,” but for what? Did it recognise the potential of FEDSAW to organise something that could be as powerful as the ANC but independent from the ANC? And did they therefore seek to subordinate FEDSAW to the ANC, thereby killing FEDSAW?

Or, did it recognise the potential of women as a conservative force within the ANC?

Or, did it recognise women as a revolutionary force, and if so, what did the ANC do to maximise the revolutionary potential of the women?

See the document linked below for more of this history, and for relevant points from the current (2003) ANCWL constitution. Here are some of them:

  • The Women's League is based on the policies and principles of the African National Congress.
  • [Members must] Combat propaganda detrimental to the interests of the ANC and defend the policy and programmes of the ANCWL and the ANC;
  • The Women's League is an integral part of the African National Congress and is part of its mobilising machinery.
  • The ANCWL shall receive an annual budget, together with the supplementary grants for specific projects and tasks from the office of the Treasurer General of the ANC.

It is very clear from the above that the ANC WL is intended by the drafters of this constitution to be a handmaiden of the ANC, without autonomy.

In the next session, we will look at the Progressive Women’s Movement (PWM) and ask: Is the PWM supposed to be a subsidiary, or junior partner, of the ANCWL, and therefore of the ANC? Or is it a wider movement, open to all women, of which the ANCWL is only one part? To what extent have the problems and tensions of the FEDSAW period been solved, or have they not been solved? To what extent have those problems re-appeared, in fact, and with greater virulence than before?

Please download and read this text via the following link:

11 February 2011

Organised as Working Women

No Woman, No Revolution, Part 5

Organised as Working Women

We have seen, by working through the readings of Kollontai, Lenin, the Comintern and the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW, or FSAW), that the class context, and also the South African liberation-movement context, makes the clear understanding of women’s mass organisation very critical.

To sum up: Women are not a separate class, which can be organised against men. Women are not exempt from class struggle, but are as divided by class as men are, and divided into the same classes as men are. Yet women, and working women in particular, do have a common basis for organisation as a distinct and self-conscious mass.

Today’s text (see the link below) is an excerpt from Cheryl Walker’s 1982 book “Women and Resistance in South Africa”. It concerns the position of FEDSAW as related to the regime, and also as related to the African National Congress Women’s League (ANCWL), in the period following FEDSAW’s founding in 1954.

The ANCWL had been founded in 1948; and the ANC was an Africans-only organisation until the 1969 National Conference of the ANC in Morogoro, Tanzania. There was therefore an objective need to organise women on a wider basis than that of the ANCWL.

As we noted, the 1954 formation of FEDSAW, intended as a non-racial women’s movement in South Africa, and the simultaneous adoption of the Women’s Charter, prefigured the Congress of the People and the adoption of the Freedom Charter which happened in the following year, 1955.

All of that was to the good, but it is also clear from Walker’s account that the relationship between FEDSAW and the ANCWL was problematic in the 1950s; and it is equally clear that very similar problems continue, more than half a century later, to arise between, for example, the ANCWL and the Progressive Women’s Movement (PWM) that was launched in August 2006. In the 1950s and again in the 2000s, the question of whether to have individual membership, or not, was at issue. Here is some of what Walker has to say about this:

“There were two alternatives. Either the FSAW could seek its own mass membership or it could base itself on a federal form, acquiring its members indirectly through each of its affiliated member organisations. The matter was not settled at the inaugural conference. A draft constitution proposing the first alternative – a mass, individual membership – was circulated but failed to win overall approval. Ray Alexander, and later the NEC based in Cape Town, supported this constitution, but Ida Mtwana and, it would seem, the ANCWL in the Transvaal, wanted a federal structure.

“In opposing Alexander, Mtwana spoke on behalf of the Transvaal ANCWL, acting, apparently, on the instructions of the provincial ANC. Their main fear was that, if the FSAW were constituted on the basis of an individual membership, it would compete against the ANCWL to the detriment of the latter. In taking this position, the ANC revealed a degree of ambivalence towards the FSAW that it would never entirely overcome. While supporting and welcoming the entry of women into the national liberation movement, it was anxious to retain control over their activities – a control it could exercise effectively over the Women’s League but not so successfully over an independent FSAW.

“At the heart of the debate between these two alternatives there thus lay a matter of central importance – the relationship between the FSAW and ANC; the relationship between the women’s movement and the senior partner in the national liberation movement. The ANC was adamant on the issue and finally, reluctantly, the individual membership group yielded towards the end of 1954. They conceded not because they had been convinced by the other group’s arguments but because they realised that without the support of the ANC, the women’s movement would be isolated from the Congress Alliance.”

Please download and read this text via the following link:

04 February 2011

Women’s Charter

No Woman, No Revolution, Part 4

Women’s Charter

On 17 April 1954, fourteen months before the Freedom Charter was adopted in Kliptown on 16 June 1955, the Federation of South African Women adopted the Women’s Charter (linked below).

Following on from what we have read in the last three weeks (from KollontaiLenin, and the Comintern), we can see the same thread re-emerging several decades later here in South Africa, as for example in this short passage from the Women’s Charter:

“We women do not form a society separate from the men. There is only one society, and it is made up of both women and men. As women we share the problems and anxieties of our men, and join hands with them to remove social evils and obstacles to progress.”

The Women’s Charter was not directed against men; nor did it hold out women as a separate class of people as compared to the men. It opposed such a separation.

Thus it placed the question of women in the mainstream, and then went on to say:

“It is our intention to carry out a nation-wide programme of education that will bring home to the men and women of all national groups the realisation that freedom cannot be won for any one section or for the people as a whole as long as we women are kept in bondage.”

It is very sad to read the following, from the women of 55 years ago, knowing that it is still as true today as it was then:

“We know what it is to keep family life going in pondokkies and shanties, or in overcrowded one-room apartments. We know the bitterness of children taken to lawless ways, of daughters becoming unmarried mothers whilst still at school, of boys and girls growing up without education, training or jobs at a living wage.”

On the question of forms of organisation of women, a matter to which the CU will return tomorrow, the Women’s Charter as such has little to say, except for the following items from the list of demands:

  • For the removal of all laws that restrict free movement, that prevent or hinder the right of free association and activity in democratic organisations, and the right to participate in the work of these organisations.
  • To build and strengthen women's sections in the National Liberatory movements, the organisation of women in trade unions, and through the peoples' varied organisation.
  • To co-operate with all other organisations that have similar aims in South Africa as well as throughout the world.

The 1954 Women’s Charter was non-committal on the question of women’s organisation. This was perhaps a sign that the matter was already controversial. The ANC Women’s League had been founded in 1948; we will see in later sessions that the ANC WL had its way in the 1950s and again in the 1990s and in the 2000s, obstructing the growth of a general women’s democratic mass movement.

The Women’s Charter of 1954 stands alone as a monument to South African women’s determination to organise independently as women, but this is an aspiration that has yet to be realised.

[The image above is of a 1987 FEDSAW Western Cape poster]

Please download and read this text via the following link: