Geoffrey Hawker, October 2003

Extracted from "Missing Cadres? List Voting and the ANC's Management of its Parliamentarians in the National Assembly, 1999-2003", Journal of African Elections, 2(2), October 2003, 97-113.

The ANC's goal of one-third female representation in its organs was adopted at the party conference of December 1994, six months after the election delivered a female membership of almost 30% in the National Assembly, and was probably reached in mid-term with those who replaced some of the early departing members of the Assembly. By the 1999 election the party lists allowed a substantial increase from the position of 1994, augmenting the female membership of the caucus by more than twenty women members, the proportion overall reaching 36%.

The proportion has increased slightly in the years since, following the pattern of new appointments reported generally in this paper, at least until the floorcrossings of March 2003 brought six members (all male) from the United Democratic Movement (UDM) and eight new appointments direct to ANC ranks to fill a then substantial number of vacancies. Table 4 summarises the period until then, distinguishing seniority, as between backbenchers and chairs of committees and whips, only for the current period when accurate data are available.

Table 4: Women Members ANC, Assembly 1994-2003

  1994 1999 2003
M F Total % M F Total % M F Total %
Cabinet Ministers 20 3 23 13.0 17 9 26 34.6 16 10 26 38.5
Deputy Ministers 10 3 13 23.1 3 7 10 70.0 3 8 11 72.7
Backbenchers (inc. chairs, whips) 149 67 216 31.0 150 80 230 34.8 143 78 221 35.3
Chairs, whips 31 19 50 38.0
Backbenchers (excl. chairs, whips) 112 59 171 34.5
Totals/overall % 179 73 252 29.0 170 96 266 36.1 163 96 258 37.2

Women members have moved upwards as well an inwards - one to Cabinet and two to the deputy ministry - and more generally to positions as whips and committee chairs, to the extent indeed that the ANC backbench is greatly diminished as a pool of female talent for promotion. The period of floor crossing and new appointments brought numbers only to the backbenches and accentuated the party's problem with maintaining the balance there. Fewer than twenty women from the national list were still on the backbench by mid-2003, a proportion that barely met the party's requirements.

Critics have pointed to the dangers of fetishising parliamentary numbers, arguing that women's 'now close to equal participation in government [sic] has come at the price of weakening the mass-based women's movement that was the driving force behind SA women's move into Parliament' (Geisler 2000, pp 626-27), and, as far as the ANC is concerned, it is not unlikely that there might be a 'straightline' projection from 1994 to 1999 and beyond (which might achieve parity in about a decade). Equally, the ANC's performance is widely scrutinised, not least by international bodies that have identified female membership as a key objective (Myakayaka-Manzini April 2003). It is certain that the ANC is committed to more that the 'minimum' of a one-third quota in its representation in Parliament, where the party's control of the lists and a desire to overcome 'resistance' to the quota must lead to an attempt at exemplary action (ANC 10 May 2003).

The provincial parliaments are not a source of recruitment, however, as there are relatively few women members there. What was intended as a scale of competence - from provincial to national parliaments, and from provincial to national lists in the Assembly - is stretched at both ends. The proportion of female members on the provincial list in 1999 reached 38.1% and the national list only 32.3%, giving support to the view that the provincial list is more easily managed for affirmative action than the national, where election is supposedly without regard to gender. It seems possible that an increased number of 'lateral appointments' will be made to the national list in the Assembly, with new members from civil society, perhaps, filling 'the vacuum that now exists between South African women and the parliamentarians who are expected to represent their interests' (Geisler, pp 626-27), or fulfilling 'commentary ... that the quiescence of ANC women MPs results from their allegiance to the party, their domination by male party bosses, and their need to retain their ranking in the list system to secure re-election' (Southall 2000, p165).


GEISLER, G 2000, '"Parliament is another Terrain of Struggle": Women, Men and Politics in South Africa', Journal of Modern African Studies, 38(4).

MYAKAYAKA-MANZINI, M 2003, 'Women Empowered - Women in Parliament in South Africa', IN 'International IDEA Women in Politics: Women in Parliament: Case Studies', 2 April, [www] [opens new window].

SOUTHALL, R 2000, 'The State of Democracy in South Africa', Commonwealth and Comparative Politics, 38(3), November.