Speech on Women's Day by UDM President (09 August 2006)
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today I'm addressing two events, the first being the UDM Women's Conference in Polokwane, Limpopo and the other a rally in Khutsong. The UDM in Limpopo has demonstrated before the crazy politics of floor-crossing caught up with us, that we have the strength to be the official opposition in Limpopo. I appeal to the UDM structures to work towards regaining that position.

Today is an important day in the history of our country. Not only for the historic women's march that happened on this day 50 years ago, but also because it represents the entire struggle for freedom by women.

We must be honest about our history. The domination of men, black and white and every other race, has been a feature of South Africa. When the women of all races in this country participated in that historic march they made more than a political statement that South Africa belongs to all who live in it. They also signalled that discrimination on racial grounds is just as unacceptable as gender discrimination. Their dream contributed to, and eventually culminated in, the new democratic dispensation when we attained our freedom in 1994 and later adopted our Constitution.

The challenges remain immense. The vast black majority of this country are still relegated to physical, economic and social backwaters of society with inferior education and health. Among these poor and marginalised masses women are often the poorest of the poor. Any government or institution that is part of the transformation of South Africa has had to execute a balancing act of empowering all South Africans irrespective of race and gender.

We are still far away from empowering all South Africans, it is a huge challenge. But so far the people of South Africa have managed to put many systems and policies in place and to change the legal frameworks, be it the criminal, economic or social laws.

However, where many people have been disappointed has been with the implementation of those laws and policies, such as the continuing challenges of crime, jobs, or even education. For example, how many times have we heard about government departments not spending the money that has been allocated to implement the very policies aimed at uplifting women and other intended beneficiaries?

The justice system is failing, because cases take too many years to be heard. It is not the law that has failed but the implementation.

Yes, there have been some improvements, in certain areas, but unfortunately there seems to have been a new discrimination in the implementation of policies meant to empower women. For instance in the economic sphere, if you don't belong to the ruling party you don't get contracts. Just like has happened with BEE in general, the empowerment of women has been the empowerment of a few. Whilst some of the few are women, it is still only the few that are benefiting whilst nothing has changed for the masses.; Unfortunately the same small group of people and families with ANC credentials seem to benefit repeatedly from major BEE deals.

The question is: Where does the problem lie? We are all taxpayers, whether we are men or women. Shouldn't we all equally benefit from the economy?

The Constitution makes us all equal, but in practice many of the old regime's habits continue with an elite benefiting at the expense of the majority.

We will always come to these public rallies and complain about insufficient change and inequality because our political system is flawed. Our electoral laws are dependent on the PR lists of political parties, so the voters have almost no idea - and very little say in - who their public representatives are.

If we introduce a mixed electoral system with constituencies then public representatives will be far more accountable to voters and then their concerns will be addressed more regularly and properly. Then the implementation of all these nice laws and policies will occur because the public representative will know that his or her re-election depends on the voters in their constituency and not just the whims of their political party. It will also act as a defence against the current free-for-all where nobody is accountable and politicians and business people can simply pick so-called "empowerment" partners from their pockets before awarding government tenders.

It is this same insufficient electoral system that gives rise to debates about who the next president will be. For instance, some people have said the next President should be a woman. Indeed whilst President Mbeki has said the nation must debate this issue, there is no mechanism for the nation to participate in such a process. Currently the strongest faction in the ANC will decide and the rest of us might as well jump in a lake for all they could care. In the ruling party there are many people vying for the spoils and we might get a bad candidate because of backroom deals and shady machinations between factions and cabals. Compare this with an electoral system that would give voters the last say and that would ensure that all candidates are publicly known and openly debated by the entire nation. Now tell me, which of these is a better expression of the principle "the people shall govern"?

Political parties with more than one prospective candidate could hold primaries, such is happening currently in Tanzania and the USA. These primaries could be open to the public and this would give an equal opportunity to worthy candidates who might not necessarily be supported by the strongest faction in a party. Indeed in such a process the best candidate, man or woman, would be chosen.

This is why we are saying that the process that is now starting - to scrap the floor-crossing law - must be expanded to accommodate other electoral changes that will give the voters a greater say in who their President will be. After all, even the poorest countries in the world have done away with the system we have in this country; they elect their Presidents directly because it brings in further checks and balances to protect democracy. A President directly elected by the people, not solely chosen by a political party, would respond much quicker to serious allegations about millions of Rands being channelled to the ruling party in Arms Deals, tax avoidance, oil deals etc.

It is this same lack of constituencies and accountability that has led to the situation where the people of Khutsong were ignored when the decision was taken to incorporate them into the North West against their will.

These are the issues that the women, and indeed the entire nation, must debate. The women of this country must again join in the campaign to change the political landscape of this country for the better. You must realise that as long as the current system allows shadowy factions in the ruling party to manipulate the entire socio-economic framework of this country we will never realise true equality and freedom for all men and women no matter how good the Constitution, laws and policies that we have in place.;

I thank you.

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