24 August 2009

Progressive Women’s Movement

[CU for Tuesday 25 August 2009]

Yesterday we asked: Is the Progressive Women’s Movement (PWM) supposed to be a subsidiary of the ANC Women’s League, and therefore a junior partner of the ANC? Or is the PWM a wider movement, open to all women, of which the ANCWL is only one part among many? To what extent have the problems and tensions of the FEDSAW period in the 1950s been solved Or have those problems not been solved?

Today we carry one document compiled of three documents. They are the PWM Base Document, the PWM Founding Document, and the PWM Declaration of 8 August 2006, from the founding gathering in Mangaung. All three documents are from a PWM page at the ANCWL web site, where the PWM logo, rather similar to that of the ANCWL, is displayed. There is no separate PWM web site.

Last Thursday, 20 August 2009, the Progressive Women’s Movement’s third anniversary banquet was featured on the SABC glamour-and-fashion programme, Top Billing. It was a high-society occasion. The President of the Republic was a guest [Picture: Jacob Zuma being interviewed by Top Billing during the PWM banquet], yet it was not clear who is the leader of the PWM.

The PWM Base Document says, among other things:

“The ANC and the ANC WL… have held a view that there is a need for some kind of an organic structure that will take up broader issues of women in the South African Society.

“In October 2005 during one of its meetings the National Executive Committee of the Women's League decided it would be ideal if South African women to formalize a Progressive Women's Movement in 2006.

“After extensive discussions, as the ANCWL and Alliance partners we have agreed that a Women's Movement is a broad front of women's organisations, grassroots organisations of all kinds, feminist oriented groups, researchers, faith based organisations, traditional healers, women involved in policy formulation and programmes.

Character of the PWM: Organic - not a formal structure

Objectives: Unite the women of South Africa in diversity; strengthen the relationship between the government and women's organisations.”

The Base Document therefore confirms that the PWM is an ANC initiative, that it is a combination of women’s organisations, not individuals, that it shall be “organic” and “not a formal structure”, and that it its purpose is to bind the women to the government.

The PWM Foundation Document says, among other things:

“Regular membership of the movement shall be open to any progressive South African women's organisation and formations that work with women that share the values and principles of the PWMSA.

National Steering Committee, Selection and Tenure: National Conference shall identify sectors for representation to the steering committee. After the Conference of the PWMSA the previous committee in conjunction with the newly seconded members will convene a handing over meeting within a period of a month.”

[Steering Committee members are “identified” and “seconded”. This formula is repeated at Provincial level. The word “elect”, or “election”, is never used. Terms are five years (National) and three years (Provincial).]

Powers and Duties of the National Steering Committee: The Steering Committee shall elect a Convenor and assign portfolios and responsibilities to the members of the Steering Committee; They shall carry out and monitor the decisions of the National Conference; They shall coordinate the establishment of Provincial Steering Committees”

Committees: There shall be such other Committee(s) and ad hoc committees, as the Steering Committee may from time to time deem necessary; Each Committee shall have a Coordinator.

“At any National Conference the only business that shall be discussed shall be that which has been specified in the written request lodged by the members concerned, unless the Steering Committee in her discretion otherwise permits.

“The Steering Committee shall have the power to authorise expenditure on behalf of the Movement from time to time for the purposes of furthering the objectives of the Movement in accordance with such terms and conditions as the Member Organisation of the Steering Committee may direct. The monies of the Movement shall be deposited and disbursed in accordance with any Banking Resolution passed by the Steering Committee. Each member shall, on an annual basis pay dues for every five years.”

It appears that in order to be organic and not a formal structure”, the PWM has to be almost as tightly structured as a normal, constitutionally organised body. The requirement to be “not a formal structure” is only attempted in this very formal document to the extent that there is a Convenor and there are Co-ordinators, but not Presidents, Chairpersons or Secretaries; that the basis of delegate status at conferences is not spelled out; and that there is selection, and secondment, and no elections. The PWM fails to be unstructured, but it also fails to achieve formal incorporation. One consequence is that the PWM has no internal democracy - like COPE. Indeed, some of the founders of the PWM did go on to become founder-members of COPE.

Furthermore, an organisation that is not a juristic person cannot make contracts, own property, have a bank account, or employ people. This is the position that the PWM now finds itself in. Three years after its Mangaung Declaration, the PWM has no physical or postal address, no telephone number, no web site, no employees, and no publicly-visible or identified office-bearers. It held a large public banquet, only by virtue of its relationship with the ANCWL. Only the ANCWL is keeping the PWM afloat.

Like FEDSAW in the 1950s, the PWM is not allowed to have a mass individual membership, but only corporate members. Like FEDSAW, the PWM is closely watched by, and practically owned by, the ANC. The PWM is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the ANC, via the ANCWL. It is explicitly designed as a vehicle for co-opting otherwise autonomous organisations to be close to the ANC government.

Yet this is not the whole matter.

From February through May of 2006, the Communist University held a major series of discussions on women, at the Women’s Jail on Constitution Hill, Johanesburg. The PWM was founded in August of that year. The CU’s interactions, at that time, with some of the women who were leading the process of formation of the PWM clearly indicated that the idea of Organic - not a formal structure” had support, and that this "organicness" was supported in particular by the then gender officers of the main working-class formations, the SACP and COSATU.

There is a desire in some women to flee from the organisational forms that are normal to the labour movement, of the kind that were championed by other women like the late, great Ray Alexander, for example. The desire to shun such proper organisation has a basis in the conflicted philosophy of feminism. It is related to the contradiction noted by Alexandra Kollontai a century ago, between bourgeois feminism, and working-class politics.

For these reasons, the CU will proceed to air two classic reflections on the philosophical basis of the women’s movement, from Angela Davis, and from Evelyn Reed, and will then complete this current series on women with texts published by the South African Communist Party in “Umsebenzi Online” during the last three years.

Click on this link:

PWM Base Document, Founding Document, and Declaration, 2006 (5303 words)


Post a Comment

Post a Comment