South Africa has experienced a long history of patriarchal leadership in the spheres of politics, economics and culture as well as in the sphere of religion, in particular. Many factors influence the current state of religious leadership and the accompanying identity formation. In post 1994 South Africa, women were seen as mothers and house wives, while subjected to many stereotypes, such as polygamy, unilateral repudiation for Muslim women, early or child and forced marriages, as well as being deprived of any form of education, let alone tertiary education.


Africa has been challenged for centuries by the crises facing this model. Volumes of books have been written on the topic and suffice it to say in this regard that patriarchy in its more general forms and in its diverse manifestations, within the context of the family. In this opinion, patriarchy is the most pervasive social institution in recorded history and consists of two elements, namely the dominance of men over women, with the family as the institutional core in which the dominant positions belong to the pater familias, and “compulsory heterosexuality”, where the influence of patriarchy extends far beyond family life and pervades all institutions of life, including religious life. In the new network society, there is a breakdown of the traditional patriarchal family and the consequent compensations and substitutes for this. It is not quite clear to what degree this is happening in Africa and South Africa. Some scholars are of the opinion that patriarchy is still alive and well, at least in some of the African countries.


Inculturation takes place, because “the Christian faith never exists except as ‘translated’ into a culture”. With the missionary movements and Western colonialism, it is obvious that the church and its leadership structures have been the bearers of culture. In this regard, cultural and religious perceptions of patriarchy and leadership have become what the churches practise, enact and preach. This silent acceptance of colonial modernity is typical of the entire continent of Africa and becomes most obvious in the leadership structures of the churches that originated from the missionary movements. “When Christianity came to Africa, it came as male dominated. Anything that was incompatible with this perspective was crushed.’’


On the 9th of August 1956, South African women staged the largest demonstration, with over 20 000 women of all races and marched to Pretoria Union Building to present a petition against the carrying of passes by women, to the Prime Minister J. G. Strijdom. The march was against the pass laws and was organised by the Federation of South African Women. The Federation famously challenged the idea that a ‘women’s place is in the kitchen’, declaring it instead, to be everywhere. Since then, South Africa has improved drastically in women representation, according to Apleni L. (2012). The Republic of South Africa has, since 1994, enjoyed much recognition as an exemplary where female representation concerned.


By 2008, South Africa had achieved 43 percent female representation in the Cabinet and about 33 percent in provincial Legislature, including the appointment of the first, female Deputy President, in 2005. The representation of women in the South African Parliament has increased from close to a third (27.8 percent) in 1994 to almost half (43.3 percent) in 2009. This puts South Africa amongst the leading countries in the world, in terms of the number of women in important, governmental positions.


Regardless of the many reported successes in empowering women, there are still numerous issues where female leadership is concerned, ranging from stereotyping, discrimination, lower wages and a reduced number of empowerment initiatives. A decade ago, De La Rey (2005) pointed out that, in South Africa, there were 41 percent women in the labour force but only 14.7 percent were executive managers and only 7.1 percent directors of companies.


Oppression against women is one of the major challenges in South African culture. According to (Naicker: 2013) South African women are divided by race, class, culture, and urban and rural situations, as well as education and language, amongst other divisions. For years, women have been excluded from public presence and were forced into marriages and motherhood, while culturally, family responsibilities remained everyday life for women, whereas men worked and earned a living. Women slowly started entering the workplace and some have even become primary breadwinners, however, due to gender discrimination and other challenges, women tend to be undermined and face inequalities within their workplace.


South Africa’s mission to advance women has seen the implementation of various policies to ensure fairness and equality, such as the Employment Equity Act, with the aim to achieve equity in the workplace through equal opportunity, affirmative action measures and equitable representation (Employment Equity Act No 55 of 1998); The Labour Relations Act that advances economic development, social justice, labour peace and the democratisation of the workplace (Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995: 9); as well as the Bill of Rights in the South African Constitution, the cornerstone of democracy in South Africa, which affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom (Republic of South Africa, 1996),these acts of law govern our society by acting in the interests of all people.



Societal conventions, regarding gender and leadership, have traditionally excluded women, and that top leadership is viewed as a masculine domain. Compared to females, males have better access to leadership roles and face fewer challenges in becoming successful in them. Traditionally, descriptors that identify with the male include rational, assertive, analytical, confident and ambitious, while the female is described as sensitive, emotional, cooperative and intuitive. This could be because of cultural background, since culture and leadership are interrelated; culture plays a significant role in shaping leadership styles because it can affect and justify the way individuals and groups behave at different levels.



Apleni L. 2012. Womens role in the transformation of South Africa.


De La Rey, C. 2005. Gender, Women and Leadership. Agenda Gender and Society 4


Naicker, L. 2013. The journey of South African Women Academics with a Particular Focus on Women Academics in Theological Education. Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae, 1