The Joburg Post Interview: Women Forward President Nana Ngobese
By Musa Mdunge
I sat down with Ms Nana Ngobese, the founder and President of Women Forward.
During my sit down with Ms Ngobese at the Slow Lounge in Sandton, her warm welcome put me at ease for what was to be an interesting interview with a leader of a small party, hoping to make its mark in the upcoming elections in South Africa.
Q. So to begin if you can tell us about yourself and where you come from?
Nana Ngobese is an ordinary South African Lady who grew up like any other South Africa like all of us but early on one could see that the way we are treated in South Africa is not the same. Moreover, only later did I note that men and women were treated differently. I was lucky to go to an Inanda Secondary, which just turned 150 years old, an only girls’ schools. One was able to see how when you are girls you are treated differently to boys. Nonetheless, only until I started working did, I note the pay parity was different between men and women. I lectured at Mangosuthu University at the same time, but the pay was different until in 2008 when we started a political party. After I worked in government for three years and realised how difficult it was for rural women to make. Most of the projects are was in were rural community level and that is where I heard stories of the difficulty of women to gain access to water and electricity.
In 2008 we started, and we learned a lot, but we did not get a seat, but we see that exercise as a dry run on what we can do in these elections. Nonetheless, it has been tough specially to gain media attention. I understand it because the media space is maintained for a certain agenda and so as you come to shake up things it could be seen a threat. Moreover, we feel we will have a better chance when we have registered the party for the elections which are very expensive as you may know. But this time we are fortunate due to social media unlike back then.
Our agenda is not a complicated one. It is to bring the women into politics. We know that women are unable to meet their own needs in their current political spaces. So, the key for us is to ensure that women are a priority especially poor woman.
I believe that when you empower women, they will pull hard to make sure things work.
Now, this brings me to the land issue, which we believe is quite central so that the inequality issue addresses itself through land reform in rural areas. So, we must prioritize the most marginalised people, which women. Imagine if women got even a hectare of land that they could tilt and cultivate and thus provide for their themselves and the communities they are in. The spread of poverty will drop as people are empowered by land. So central to our target is people in rural areas.
Now another key policy for us is how municipalities work. You know there are regional structures called districts. These districts can help the Auditor-General a lot in monitoring how municipalities spend their budgets, in order to streamline payments. People tend to think the money given to municipalities is their own money but no it is the taxpayers' money and must be used for service delivery. So, you need monitoring and evaluation at the regional level. This will make sure suppliers are paid and this is impacting small businesses and service delivery is compromised. This will need more attention from the government. I know personally of friends whose business have been closed due to lack of payment by the government. Africans don’t have other means but to work with the government because private businesses doesn’t want to work with African businesses, thus it is still a closed space.
Q. So borrowing from that point, the current structure of the economy is such that it is closed to black businesses, so they are forced to work with the government. What would be the Women Forward policy in changing the structure of the economy? In order to increase black and women-led businesses in rural and urban areas?
Let me tell you, SA is divided, and we need to speak a language of a common path that is going to co-beneficiate these groups in SA. If we don’t, we run a risk of almost going over the cliff and I think the president is trying to do that. What is important is that we want to create a relationship with people who want to speak the language on what we can do with willing partners. The land issue says there are millions of hectares in the hands of white people. Many white farmers have said we are prepared to share the land with those who work for us if a plan can be derived. That way we can create goodwill for further engagement. For example, a gentleman I know had a security issue on his land, so he decided to give them 10% of the land and this resolved the security issue because they also had a stake in the security of the land, they work on but also own. This shows that there is some willingness to go on the middle path.
So, for us, we believe in doing what is doable, and we are looking at the microeconomic challenges.
So, I believe beyond the changing the legal framework to ensure transformation we need to tug to the heart of people in order to ensure a workable solution between the haves and have nots.
When industries want to invest, they must go to the communities where the people are, so that people get employed nearer to their homes. So, in the end, we are ensuring a spread of economic activities.
Q. How then do you convince people and convince industry rather do that?
Our president is on the right path, you work on the hearts and minds of people. For the longest time, we have had a racial story, but we have not taken advantage of it to make a new narrative around the interracial project. I believe we were not given the race issue by accident. The world wants to see SA work. So, we must get people to understand the future and thus you need to deal with the hearts and minds of people.
Q. To play the devil’s advocate, one could argue whether you look at President Mandela and President Mbeki they have tried to create this social contract, but evidence points out that the economy is still skewed towards white economic dominance. Many businesses have been stuck in their conventions against government efforts to bring about transformation. What is your parties’ policies to move the needle especially as it comes to woman empowerment like Rwanda?
South Africa as the best policies in the world yet our failure to implement is stopping us and we don’t have the heart. We cannot take away land from people, we need to build collaboration. We need to tug the heart. Look at the division between EFF and Afriforum but we need collaboration, not political grandstanding.
Q. Continuing the theme of speaking to the hearts, your manifesto speaks towards removing traditions and cultural practices that oppress women, how would you do that? Given the drama surrounding the Ingonyama trust where women involvement has remained limited. How would you convince women who are steeped in traditions and cultures that these practices are to their detriment?
Well, that takes times. We need to go back to pre-colonial times. Nobody owned land at the time. The land was in the custodianship of the ruler so the time. They did not have the capitalist incline of self-interest. The chieftaincy was very benevolent, and Kingship was about serving the people. The act that established the Ingonyama trust has changed to the point where people now must pay a lease fee, which is foreign to African tradition. My own approach when I worked in the Premier office (Sbu Ndebele) was when projects were being done that had women at the centre, I would ask the traditional leadership for some women representation in the room. You see you need to have an angle with these things as to not insult anyone. As I said these things take time, but we need to again speak to the heart of traditional leaders and showed them involving women will only enhance the work they are doing for and in communities.
What I took out from the interview was the importance small parties can play in diversifying the issues as they tend to represent special interests. Moreover, they can be key players in bringing issues often ignored by bigger parties that have to worry about balancing contending interests. Her view on tugging at the heart of people is a noble but how realistic is it? In a country where nation building was used to try and forge a new transformation, is this not simply rehashing failed policies?
Refreshing for me was the WF’s take on local government and how district structures can be used to improve monitoring of how budgets are used. The WF’s local approach is interesting but I do question whether they should not have contest local government elections rather than the national elections, which they would have better chance in getting some ward seats and implement some of their plans, especially in the rural areas.
Nonetheless, this proved an informative interview!