South Africa needed a change of leadership to be able to talk about gender issues properly again, former ANC treasurer-general Mathews Phosa has said.
Phosa, who was a candidate for the ANC's presidency in 2012, told a seminar on men and gender equality hosted by the four Nordic embassies in Pretoria on Thursday that President Jacob Zuma was only interested in serving his own needs.
"When you want to make purposeful strides towards the transformation of society, you can only do so on a platform of moral strength and leadership that moves from the point of view that the needs of those that you serve are more important than your own," he said. "We do not currently have that in South Africa."
"Unfortunately the current leader of government has diminished the status of a country that was hailed, through the exemplary leadership of [former] presidents [Nelson] Mandela and [F.W.] De Klerk, as the rainbow nation and as an example to be emulated by the world."
He said only when the "current status quo" of leadership was changed, "and we will", would South Africans be able "to find our voices again and accelerate our efforts towards finding the natural balance in our approach to all gender and LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] matters".
He said a leadership change would "create the necessary oxygen in our society for real transformation to flourish".
He said South Africa had policies in place to reduce inequality between men and women, and he quoted a recent World Economic Forum gender report saying that, at the current rate, it would take 170 years for the gender gap to be closed.
"It is, I believe, political will and not altruism, that will address effectively issues around gender in those countries where these are lagging," he said.
"The fact of the matter is that men not only need to be convinced of the need for gender equity, but they also need to be emancipated from beliefs, mindsets and practices which in practice hamper both personal flourishing and human development."
Phosa said apartheid and migrant labour have made men feel disempowered in a society that is largely patriarchal, and this has resulted in rage and violence.
He said although South Africans do care about the family, "our inherited legacies of both colonisation and apartheid, not to mention the current fragile state of government, have contributed in a fundamental way to the destruction of the family unit over many, many decades".
He said men, in particular, still had a lot of healing to do.
"We have a long way to go, but there comes a time in every country's history where the tide turns for the better and I am of the view that for South Africa, that time is imminent.
"I am not afraid of transformation. South Africans are not afraid of transformation. In fact, we embrace it. What is required is leaders of moral stature and standing, who can provide the necessary example, and who will be prepared to be held accountable, not only as leaders, but as partners, spouses, fathers and men of good standing. Such leadership is currently lacking at the highest level in government. Words become poisonous if not backed by deeds," he said.
Phosa in August won the African Man of the Year Award from the Washington DC-based NGO African Women in Leadership Organisation and he is currently a businessman.
The discussion also centred around how men, too, should be encouraged to play an equal role in parenting and should be encouraged to speak about their feelings on sexual violence and equality.