South African women have made great strides in all sectors of society – the economy, science, technology, academia, media and many more. In politics, South African women have come incredibly far. Women in the country have played an integral part in calling for change that has led to policy shifts. Before the arrival of democracy in South Africa, there was a minimal representation of women in government, but since then things have changed. The Solomon Star caught up with the youngest MEC in the province, Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba to gain insight on what it takes to be a woman in politics and her views on what it takes to make it in the male dominated industry…
Q: You are currently the youngest MEC in the Executive. How would you describe your time in the hot seat so far?
A: There’s nothing easy about it, obviously it’s got its own challenges. Remember not only am I the youngest MEC in the executive that has got people that are older than me, but I am also a female so it has not been an easy task. I always make sure that I treat everybody around me with respect and I know that I can’t force anybody to respect me in turn. When I speak I always make sure that I really just assert my authority. I make it a point to let those who I serve within the executive know that we are colleagues. I’m not their child and I always tell them that. They know that when I am there I am there to work, and I can’t help them when they say I must bring them something, I’m there to sit and have a discussion with them.
Q: How have you been coping, as you said you are not only the youngest in the executive but you are also a woman in politics. How have you managed to cope as a female politician, especially given the fact that our society is infested with patriarchy, sexism and racism?
A: You must first accept the situation as it is. The situation is patriarchal, the situation is sexist and then you must decide what you are going to do about it. There are serious challenges within the system. In fact, in everyday life women are continuously challenged. When I was availing myself to stand for the position of ANC Youth League chairperson it was not an easy task; and I mean for the first time in the country a woman was contesting the position. I told myself that I will take this chance because I had been the deputy chairperson for two terms, so I availed myself because I knew we are in a patriarchal society and even our organisation to some extent is patriarchal. I decided to let my male comrades lead my campaign and then I would carry my female comrades with me. I sacrificed my children, I sacrificed my husband, I would go and be where they are to lobby so that things don’t change overnight. In politics it happens that things change overnight so I sacrificed my house to make sure I’m on the ground with them. If they go and camp in the districts like ZFM or Namakwa or Pixley, I’m there! One thing that is exclusive for males is that they would go and socialize at night and because they are comrades they would ultimately speak politics. So at that moment I knew that I would have to guard my space so I could be there to make sure decisions don’t change at night.
Q: MEC your term as the ANC Youth League Chairperson in the Northern Cape is coming to an end in the next few months. Tell us how have you managed to juggle your duties as ANCYL chairperson and MEC of your portfolio?
A: I must confess that it has not been easy. You must remember the PEC is a 35 people PEC and you’ve got different characters and different people that you need to lead and you always need to remain humble with them, but at the very same time you’ve got government duties that you need to run every day, so to link that is not an easy thing. Although I must say I’ve had a provincial secretary that has been there for me throughout, I’ve also had officials in the youth league that have been there for me throughout and they have assisted me. We have had our differences because we are human beings. I mean we would have serious differences to an extent where we would not call or even speak to one another but when we must sit and deal with organisational issues because of backlogs in the organisation we would sit down and discuss that and reach a consensus on how to move forward. So it has not been an easy thing but at some point one has to sit down and always make sure that both duties are functional and without any serious hassles. I think I’ve only managed through the support of the collective that I have served with.
Q: What are the chances of having yet another female elect as your successor in the Northern Cape ANCYL?
A: As things are, the only names you see are unfortunately male. And I must say it is unfortunate because in one way or the other, whatever happens in the youth league provincial congress is going to be my legacy as the chairperson. People might be under the impression that I did not want other females to lead but the reality of issues of contestation in the ANC is that there must be people that identify you to lead and you must accept, they must then avail themselves to run your campaign. I think in this instance it is unfortunate that both comrades that are contesting for the seat of the chairperson are males and they have been identified by the people that are doing their lobbying and I have not really heard that there is a female that is standing for the position. So it’s very unfortunate.
Q: Your department plays an integral part in renaming the Kimberley Airport. What are your views on the renaming process?
A: We are leading the renaming process in the province as the Department of Sports Arts and Culture. And you would know that ACSA has opened nominations for all the citizens of the country to rename about four airports of which Kimberley is one of them. We received our mandate from the ANC first and foremost to rename the airport Ulyseses Goge Modise. This is a matter that had started in the structures of the ANC a very long time ago, and this matter was raised at his funeral in 2007. In fact, it was raised by the late Zola Skweyiya that we need, at some point, to rename the airport after him. Since then it’s a matter that has been in the structures of the movement at every Lekgotla. We have made the nomination, we have lobbied the structures, we have lobbied civil societies structures that we can lobby to make nominations. On the 8th of June we had a meeting with ACSA because we thought as the province and as the department we must state it clear to them that we would want the process to be as fair as possible. We are preparing to have public hearings in Sol Plaatje Municipality so the people can also express their views or propose any other names. When we agree on the dates because there are different stakeholders involved we would then publish that in local newspapers so that every citizen is able to know where public hearings would be hosted and everybody must then be invited to partake in them.
Q: Do you have any words of wisdom for the readers of Solomon Star? Especially young women in the Northern Cape.
A: Young women must educate themselves. In my view education is not going to school and getting qualifications. Education is about being aware of your surroundings. Educate yourself about all the things that you go through in life and young women must know that the reality for us whether you are young or old is that if you want to lead you need to take that decision alone and if you want to be strong to need to take that decision alone. You need to know that there will be times that you would just have to stand alone as a person and it is not easy. Young people must know that we are the future and we need not be fearless of anything. We need to learn from the mistakes we make and accept that we are not perfect but we need not be afraid to make mistakes and take responsibility when we have made them.