20 October 2012

The Women's National Coalition

No Woman, No Revolution, Part 6b

The Women's National Coalition


The “Women's Charter for Effective Equality”

In the history of women’s organisations in South Africa there have been many attempts to create enduring structures. The table below, compiled from searches on the Internet, lists some 15 of the principal ones.

Another source is a book. Twenty-four years after Cheryl Walker’s 1982 book “Women and Resistance in South Africa”, Shireen Hassim in 2006 produced “Women's Organizations and Democracy in South Africa: Contesting Authority”, published by University of Wisconsin Press. Useful parts of this book can be read through Google Books.

Hassim’s book contains a lot of detail on the way that these and other women’s organisations came about, who was involved, and those relationships and problems that motivated their formation, and those that led to their demise.

FEDTRAW Calendar, 1987

Hassim notes that Walker’s book was well known to important actors during the UDF period, when problems arose that were similar to those that Walker described as existing between the FSAW and the ANC Women’s League in the 1950s.

The table lists six different organisations that were formed between 1981 and 1991, not including the FSAW (Fedsaw), which was also the subject of an attempted revival. These seven attempts, which were not the only ones, corresponded in time with the rise and fall of the United Democratic Front, the UDF.

In addition, the ANC and the SACP were legalised in February, 1990, and the ANC Women’s League was quick to return to the country and to re-establish itself.

Of all these, total eight, organisations, established or re-established in the country between 1981 and 1991, the only one that survives in 2012 is the ANC Women’s League. None of the others survived beyond the early 1990s.

Bantu Women's League (BWL)
Founded by Charlotte Maxeke
National Council of African Women (NCAW)
First President: Charlotte Maxeke
The ANC officially admits women members
President, A B Xuma
ANC Women's League (ANCWL)
Ida Mtwana, President
Federation of South African Women (FSAW)
Ray Alexander, Dora Tamana, Josie Mphama
Black Sash (Women's Defence of the Constitution League)
Jean Sinclair, Ruth Foley and others
Black Women's Federation
Fatima Meer, Winnie Mandela
The United Women's Organisation (UWO)
Dora Tamana, Mildred Lesia, Amy Thornton
Natal Organisation of Women (NOW)
Phumzile Mlambo, Nozizwe Madlala, Victoria Mxenge
Federation of Transvaal Women (FEDTRAW)
Sister Bernard Ncube, Jessie Duarte
United Women's Congress (UWCO)
From UWO
Federation of South African Women (Fedsaw) re-launch
Cheryl Carolus, Secretary-General
The UDF Women’s Congress
Frances Baard
Women's National Coalition (WNCSA)
Frene Ginwala, Anne Letsepe, convenors
Progressive Women’s Movement (PWMSA)
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Mummy Japhta

The organisation that the attached and linked document relates to is the “Women’s National Coalition”. It was a vehicle for intervention in the CODESA talks and for the creation of a set of demands or suggestions that were used to lobby the ANC prior to the 1994 elections, and then after the elections, as an input to the Constitution-writing process that followed.

The creation of the Women’s National Coalition was driven by Frene Ginwala, who became Speaker of Parliament after the elections, and later by the academic Sheila Meintjes. The structure was more like an NGO (funded from Canada) than a democracy, and the method of collecting a mandate, described in the document as “focus groups”, was a difficulty and a source of acrimonious internal strife, according to Hassim.

The document includes a description found on the Internet, and the Women’s National Coalition’s “Women's Charter for Effective Equality”, taken from the ANC web site. As noted in the document, there is no reference to the original Women’s Charter of 1954, or to the Federation of South African Women that created it, and which organised the women’s march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria on the 9th of August 1956. This conspicuous omission has continued.

In between the mid-1990s when the Women’s National Coalition faded, and 2006, there was no claimant to the status of a national South African women’s organisation.  In 2006 the Progressive Women’s Movement was launched, claiming to fulfil the requirement. Whether it does so, or not, is the matter that is set out for examination in the next item of this part of the course.


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