The Presidential Years

Now I had delusions about what I was going to do. I wanted to go into Parliament and I wanted to do research, I wanted to do a lot of things that I had missed out on, I think all of us in exile did. We had the Women’s National Coalition, we had a women’s group in the ANC, and we had already planned what we wanted as a collective. I very much wanted a woman speaker because I felt, if you saw at that time all the old rules of Parliament about bowing to the speaker, I thought, ‘Look at what it would show, to have a woman sitting there’. The person I had in mind was Ivy Motsepe-Casaburri. I had seen her chair a big session of the ANC national conference and I saw how well she managed it. That’s what put in my head that we need her sitting in Parliament as the speaker.

And we wanted a large number of women in the Cabinet. When he announced his Cabinet I called him, now I was an MP, and said, ‘Tata, I am calling you because we are shocked by how few women you have put in your Cabinet.’ I think he was attacking me because he was defensive, I don’t know. ‘But I want you to be speaker,’ he said. I said, ‘Tata, I am not talking about me.’ I was horrified, I had seen that suggestion in the media but I didn’t take it seriously. He said, ‘Why are you and Kathy the only ones who always disagree with me when I want you to do anything?’ ‘Look,’ I said, ‘I’m not talking to you about what I am doing, I’ll come and talk to you about that, but I am telling you I think we are very disappointed with your Cabinet about women.’

Frene Ginwala

TT - He recalls that conversation in his manuscript!

He was already aware of tensions in exile and so on, and I told him, ‘Look, I was very unpopular because I speak my mind.’ I made it very clear, it was on the issues and I didn’t try to undermine people. That’s the first time I realised, ‘Oh my God, I have all my plans, but what’s going to happen?’ because I knew him to be very stubborn and very determined in getting his own way. The trouble was his way and my way didn’t always agree. But it was a losing battle as far as I was concerned. So that was the lead up to Parliament.

On the night of the caucus, when the choice came to elect our candidate for speaker, he had told me that some of the exile problems had come up, and so on. He had once asked me and I said, ‘There are all sorts of reasons and I think we’re going to face more in the country, we have already. When you get the prisoners, you get the UDF, non-prisoners, you get the exiles coming in, exile leadership and other exiles – those are the differences.’ And he laughed and said, ‘So you mean I have still got negotiations.’ I said, ‘I don’t know about negotiations, but you’re going to have to reconcile, with Oliver not being there, because very often Oliver had to resolve issues, even in Lusaka when there were problems.’ It was a casual conversation but I hoped that I had sensitised him.

When we got to caucus Thabo comes to me and says, ‘I have been sent by the leadership. We want to nominate you as speaker. Are you going to accept?’ I thought about it and that, ‘If I say no, what am I going to achieve, I’m going to create unnecessary problems.’ And by then I had come to terms with it and I respected them for asking because until then nobody had asked me anything, I had just been told. So I said, ‘Okay proceed, I will.’ To my joy somebody else was nominated and we were both sent out. I have never wanted to lose an election but God, did I want to lose that one because I was out and nobody could blame me. And that was the way I became speaker.

Frene Ginwala