It has been a few decades since I witnessed the iconic picture of the day Nelson Mandela was released, walking hand in hand with Winnie Mandela who had her left fist held firm and high. At the time, this symbolised celebrating a milestone towards our independence and freedom.

After yet another commemoration of Women’s Month in August 2022, we still need to ask the question:” Are we there yet?”

I have had the luxury of being among women who have raised the bar when it comes to women leading in business and I always wonder and pry as to how they managed given the areas that women still need to overcome to gain equal footing in the world of business.

Thinking back to Winnie Mandela and her dream and ambitions for the women of this country, led to thinking about the political party she patronised, the African National Congress (ANC). What have they done for women in business? We can trace the response to theresolutions made in the 54th Conference of the ANC in 2017. The resolutions were much in the news given the recently held 55th ANC Conference of 2022. At his own admission, whilst delivering the Political Report to ANC delegates, very slow progress has been made on delivering the resolutions that were made in 2017.

The same concerns that I raised when delivering a talk to the ANC Tshwane Political Education Unit in August 2020, titled “Young Women Empowerment to Ensure Economic Freedom and to Shape the Future of the ANC and the Country”. A tall order as I presented to party and government leaders as well as members of Parliament.

When we look at how far women have come, since time immemorial, it is still shocking that we are not at a point where we can truly celebrate the emancipation of the women of South Africa. We have made some strides, but still have a long way to go. The presentation was also not about the isolation of genders but hoped to call on men to be fellow drivers on the road to fully emancipate women when we address issues that relate to empowering young women. 

With this in mind, we need social compacts that define how women should be included in all facets of society. The elevation of women in programmes is what we need to be looking at. How is it that we have fewer women-led companies providing services to the government if the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Charter (BB-BEE) provides leverage to women to be at the forefront of doing business with the government? This is but one question that we need to interrogate.

The ruling party was resolute to find sound, effective and sustainable structural mechanisms that ensure the full realization of women’s potential, especially in leadership roles. Because the full participation of women in the leadership structures of society will constitute a giant leap towards the total emancipation of women. Our fundamental task should be to lead a concerted campaign aimed at addressing the persistent challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality. The inclusion of young women in the economic and socio-development of South Africa will be determined by the policies that are implemented to address the key areas that affect or deter empowerment. As more women are brought into leadership, representation at policy-making levels should be strengthened. For who would better understand what women want, than women themselves?

We must touch on factors that affect women’s economic empowerment, as we also address how the role of women has changed over the years when we design the structures that emancipate. We should be clear in our discussions, that we do acknowledge the strides made and the opportunities presented to empower and develop young women. The question now is whether this is enough.

What are we doing to meet our National Development Plan 2030, in 7 years? Are we pursuing the right objectives to meet these? And how are we propelling women to the forefront to become the leaders we chant about when we celebrate the female forces who came before us like Maxeke, Madikizela-Mandela, Sisulu, Magau and many more?

ANC Policy for Unity, Renewal and Radical Socio-Economic Transformation

It is only logical to first speak to the policies of the ruling party about empowering young women, the Freedom Charter that speaks to a non-sexist society and the recent National Strategic plan on Gender-based Violence and Femicide which highlighted women’s empowerment as a key driver to eradicate gender-based violence and femicide.

Let’s also wrap our heads around the facts that South Africa has, according to the mid-year estimates of 2019, youth (aged 18 – 34) who constitute almost a third of the population (17,84 million) with 9.04 million males and 8.80 million females. The total number of women in the country is 30.75 million out of a population of 60.14 million people. Of this number, we have 7.2 million households headed by females and just over 100,000 are headed by children. Then we learn that 43.5% of females in this country are unemployed. This is no longer just numbers, but this highlights the extent of the problem that faces us.

Women’s participation is not a new phenomenon for us. It is only recently that we have noted the importance of women participating in the formal sectors of our economy. In the 1900s, women were seen as drivers behind the success of men in the market place and this gave rise to the adage “Behind every great man is a great woman”. This was to honour the wives and mothers of the men of those times and to recognise the contributions which had gone unrecognised in most instances.

The history of women fighting for emancipation is well documented and we are the generation that has reaped the rewards more than those who came before us. It is now necessary that we continue to take this fight to the next level where we can have more women participating in developing and structuring the economy for real emancipation. It is now, more than ever, that we need to have these critical discussions about our policies and look at how we will rise above the complexities faced by women.

We should also be mindful that this is a global phenomenon and just as there is a global drive to reach 50/50 gender representation by 2030, South Africa is well within policy to drive this goal. Empowerment should be taking place in all tiers of government and as an expected action point in most institutions under the radar of the ruling party.

Organisations such as the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA), the National Development Agency (NDA), the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and the Department of Trade Industry and Competition (dtic) are among those that need to be earmarked as implementers to ensure that women are empowered to develop and sustain South Africa.

Women Empowerment

First, we need to look at What Women Want and how we will fulfil the needs of women to become positive contributors to our societies. A lot of what is presented in this article is drawn from what is already in existence and known to all members of the ruling party as it emanates from policy resolutions of the 54th ANC Conference of 2017. The ANC has well-documented the challenges that it faced with the breakthrough it realised when it took power from the apartheid regime. This regime left many blacks disempowered. but more so, more women.  The systems were not designed for women to participate in.

Women need to be a part of the conversations and implementation agents of raising credible leadership with the ANC and the deployment of cadres who will ensure the implementation of the NDP 2030, which largely impacts women.  The ANC needs to establish a concerted effort to increase the participation of women as agents of change from within the ranks of close to 1 million comrades within the party. This is all to drive the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) which in turn leads to reaching the goals for 2030.

It is not unknown that the ANC has a great challenge, and is struggling with attaining political hegemony in the current heavily contested political terrain and with the recent decline in membership. Liberation is its bedrock but now needs a clear focus area to rally around – to win the hearts of the people it governs. As we determine that single point of focus, why can it not be pulling all stops and resources to empower more than half the population – women?

This idea of empowering women is not foreign to us. It is entrenched and underpinned in the Freedom Charter, our Constitution and the National Democratic Revolution. In the Freedom Charter, there is a commitment to build a more equal society. We should start with the implementation of the policies that have been established to do so. Poverty, inequality, unemployment, land and spatial disparities, infrastructure and service backlog are areas that we need to address to ensure that we have an equal society. 

Making Policies Work

We should take seriously the implementation of the guidelines as pointed out in the Freedom Charter which states that “the people shall share in the wealth of the country”, therefore, women shall share in the wealth of the country. Our focus and drive should be to enforce the implementation of known programmes such as Operation Phakisa which aims to fast-track the implementation of solutions in critical development areas such as education, health, agriculture and the ocean economy and forestry to name a few. We need to not only speak about but implement action programmes to intensify women contributors and participants in state concessions such as minerals, petroleum, spectrum, land, water and energy.

We need to clamp down on industries that are mainly white and male-dominated where blacks are challenged to enter into the fray because of the barriers that are imposed, which further makes it impossible for young women to participate in those industries. In most instances, it is the government led by the ruling party that keeps these industries afloat as they revel in the financial rewards from the government as a customer. We need to eradicate the barriers to market that women-owned SMMEs experience.

Mineral beneficiation should become more than a politicking slogan as its benefits do lead to self-sufficient communities where we can bring in more women into the ecosystem and have them participate in the downstream industries. The beneficiation of minerals is one area that we should finally reach a consensus on as we have been driving this conversation for eons now and this is impacting negatively on women and the youth in the areas that could benefit exponentially from beneficiation and the introduction of the communities into the downstream industries.

Women-owned businesses and cooperatives should now be prioritised over a period so that we have an enforced inclusion timeframe to bring these businesses on par with their male and white counterparts. South Africa has frays of its society living in rural and underdeveloped areas. A concerted effort to develop these areas as hubs for production should help us to alleviate the current challenges faced by the communities and the divide we have between the “haves and the have-nots”. Farming is a known element that will support the country’s food basket and ensure food security. The move to have more women and youth participating in farming, agriculture and related industries should be stepped up and this will happen once government includes agricultural development and land distribution as an apex of its development programme. Land ownership for women is currently 14%, yet we have 30.5 million women in South Africa. We need to be rolling out title deeds to women at a faster rate than we are doing now.

It should never be forgotten that the role of State-Owned Entities (SOEs) is to drive the broad socio-economic development plans of the government. We must find a place for women at this table when we address the current challenges that SOEs face.

The remuneration of women has been a problem for a while since women entered into the fray of employment. Commonly, women are paid far less than their male and white counterparts. It is the ruling party that needs to address this as a key to driving equality of genders. This is a much-needed action item that must come out of the National Income Policy. As we massify workers’ share ownership in companies that have set up shop in South Africa, we should insist on the shareholding of more women.

The lifting of entry barriers in the Financial Sector should be made a pivotal action point as part of the process to empower women.  Access and ownership of financial institutions should become a pivotal matter to ensure that we increase control of assets by women who most likely end up managing more households than men. These are aspects that needed to be addressed by the Financial Sector Transformation Summit and the upcoming Banking Sector Summit taking place in 2023. We need to address this and start rolling out clearly defined action plans. Women must gain entry to these former white male-owned entities. The development of women-owned business and cooperatives need to be included in the country’s enterprise development programmes by way of creating private-public partnership-led incubators to fast-track entry into various industries. The strengthening of BB-BEE should also be at addressing the prioritisation of women-owned businesses where a percentage of companies with more female ownership and employees are given an increased stake by the preferential point system. We need to have our reward systems in place for such programmes to succeed. 

If State Procurement is an empowerment lever for society – how is it being adopted to empower more women in the country? Do we know how many women-owned companies were contracted to provide personal protection equipment in the debacle with the Department of Health in Gauteng? Just a thought. How are we doing in ensuring that women are participating in the industrialisation of South Africa? The black industrialist conversation should also start focusing, with intent, on women industrialists as we address the challenges that many new black entrants face – the challenges of exorbitant licensing fees and access to land. 

The industries that we need to start having a look at are the Creative and Tourism industries where the contribution of women should be upscaled and where the government should be intentional on the programme it supports that lift women up and set them up to run successful corporations in these industries as hoteliers and owners of production studios. 

When we look at enforcing women’s participation and acceptance into the fold we need to ensure that this is translated into programmesand policies such as the Mining Charter and the Oceans Economy and Forestry. Women need to lead in developing these programmesnot only as suppliers of soft services, such as catering and cleaning but more technical services that are the core business of these programmes.

As we discuss the formats of how the wealth tax will be structured, we should be mindful that this does not impact negatively the land tax and the redistribution of land and property to the previously marginalised, especially women. Tax considerations should be noted and explored that could affect women and youth as we work towards the implementation of the NDP 2030.

It is critical never to leave women behind in any conversation of policy. Women need to be included in all spheres of society and more so in Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) from the grassroots level. Access to technology is one of the key drivers in adopting faster the fourth industrial revolution and ensuring that will address all our challenges by adopting the technology that will help us do so. The ANC is a think tank of ideas and policies that can empower women from all walks of life. We need to look into the empowerment of younger women who will focus on the fourth industrial revolution to disrupt the current economic and social structures into the next decades. We need more collaborative efforts with role players such as the CSIR, academic institutions and our communities. We need to design local solutions for the problems we encounter to grow our digital economy. It is without a doubt that South Africa has the brains needed to adapt the current systems to the future through innovation and entrepreneurship. We now need a more concerted effort to grow a more tech-savvy generation of women who will be leaders in finding the solutions that science, technology and innovation present.

Our health system was under immense strain with the advent of COVID-19 just as the National Health Insurance Policy was to be implemented to ensure those residing in South Africa would have access to health services. There is no doubt that the ANC as the ruling party has made significant strides into providing a service that a majority of the population cannot afford. We can proudly state that we have women who are role players in the health system. How many are we including to drive the economic pillars of the system by creating a conducive business environment for women to establish businesses as service providers and manufacturers of the health system? Are we also looking at practical ways of bringing such services close to the communities where women reside by capacitating women-led businesses to provide the auxiliary services that assist in monitoring our biggest health issues such as the management of HIV/Aids, female reproductive health, screening of cancer, diabetes and other lifestyle diseases? Establishing women in health-related businesses through social entrepreneurship programmes will lead to the promotion of a healthier nation while we empower women financially – these are but a few ideas.

We have touched on taxes that could impact women and their advancement into the economic terrain. Attributed to this is the pink tax that most women have to pay for essentials that they have to procure because of their genetic makeup and the extra personal care that becomes synonymous with being a woman. If we think about this, we can also delve into areas where we create manufacturing plants led by women as we still debacle when and where we will have a state-owned pharmaceutical company.

We need to unpack the policies to find solutions for women’s empowerment. South Africa, through the ANC, is ready to fast-track all its policies to fully emancipate women, starting with the younger generation. We are the ones that must account for future generations – let us be the ones that many will talk about, the same way we do about those who came before us.


About Shantall Ramatsui

Shantall Ramatsui is the founder and Chief Implementation Officer of Shantui Solutions, an enterprise development agency.

She has over 10 years of experience in corporate marketing, business development, public relations and management. A public relations maven and serial entrepreneur who has served on various executive committees of business associations in South Africa, she aims to influence small businesses to succeed in becoming sustainable entities. This is evident in her support of the Township Economy Revitalisation Programme.

About Shantui Solutions 

Shantui Solutions is an enterprise development agency that services the SME market by providing high-quality data and services that lead to confident decision-making and improved processes. The services include Brand Management, Business Development, Business Planning, Business Process Management, Company Registration, Digital Marketing, Funding Solutions, Marketing, Public Relations Coaching, Research and Restructuring.