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Farber-Cohen breaks stereotypes as ANCWL executive

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“I was getting pretty irritated with being in South Africa and everyone complaining about the African National Congress government and, quite honestly, doing nothing about it,” said Gabriella Farber-Cohen, 25, who last week was voted onto the provincial executive committee of the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL).

“Everyone was complaining about this at the Shabbos table while just going on and enjoying their privilege. I wanted to change this narrative. If I’m going to be part of South Africa, I’m not going to live here so that I can have a big house and a nanny, rather I’m going to live here because I want to make change in South Africa and use my privilege to uplift others and bring them to that same privilege.”

Farber-Cohen matriculated from Yeshiva College and is in her fifth and final year of an LLB at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). She was previously head of the South African Union of Jewish Students at the university, however found that “no-one was really talking to us because they already saw Jews as an enemy. I decided I wanted to change this perception.

“Being someone’s enemy, you’re not going to make real change. Being someone’s friend, you’re going to be able to make the change. All of us have the power and responsibility to implement the change we want to see in the world,” she said.

The first time she got involved with the ANCWL was during the COVID-19 pandemic. “They were doing a prayer service for the country, and there wasn’t a Jewish person participating in the prayer session, so I sent them a message on Facebook saying that I was a Jewish student and part of the ANC on campus, and would love to run a prayer on behalf of the Jewish community.”

From then on, she began getting more involved in the Women’s League.

“I started to love it because we were making real change and I was able to break stereotypes, have a real influence, and go out in the true South Africa and learn about what it means to be a white South African in a majority black impoverished country.”

She later began working on the Student Representative Council as an ANC deploy, and then started getting involved in the ANCWL’s Young Women’s Desk, leading the mental health subcommittee and doing programmes which addressed mental health in South Africa from a multiracial and multicultural perspective. She continued her involvement with the ANCWL, getting involved in court cases, lobbying for women’s rights, doing sanitary pad drives, and going into schools in townships and running education programmes.

In April 2022, the ANC’s national executive disbanded the ANCWL because its mandate was up, not having gone to conference in five years. Provincial task teams were then elected to hold a Gauteng provincial conference under the leadership of Maropene Ramokgopa, who at the time the ANCWL national co-ordinator.

Farber-Cohen was elected with 24 other members from different provinces. She became the spokesperson for the provincial task team, and the youngest member of the team.

Leading up to the conference, she decided that she wanted to run for a position in the provincial executive committee of Gauteng.

“Around the province, each branch of the ANCWL had to send in nominations for you to be elected to the PEC [provincial executive committee]. I ran together with a group of people who I affiliated myself with, some of whom had the ambition of being elected to national positions, some into the provincial executive, and others in the regional executive,” she said. “Our slate was called the Renewal Slate.

“This all involved a lot of work,” she added. “We had meetings until about four in the morning, we ran the campaign across the province with all different women. We ran the conference and eventually got to the provincial conference, and it was highly contested. It ended up being a four-day conference.

“I look forward to progressing in my leadership role and uplifting the women of our province by partnering with both private and public sectors so that we can bring equality, equity, and justice to all women in Gauteng,” she said. “Fifty-one percent of our population in Gauteng is made up of women, so I feel it’s essential that, in order to uplift the province, we need to uplift the majority of the population in the province.”

As a recently married religious woman, she had to keep the law of Shanah Rishonah, which states that a married couple has to sleep in the same household for the first year. Therefore, her husband was obliged to come with her to conferences and meetings. “No matter where we are, we should never compromise on our religious beliefs and religious practices,” Farber-Cohen says. “I feel extremely grateful to be in an organisation which encourages that. It feels really good to be able to tell the real story of what a Jew represents”.

Farber-Cohen hopes to continue her work and hopefully end up in Parliament, to “be involved in the real changes of our country”. Her ambition is to help merge the private and public sectors, and create solutions “from the bottom up”.

“You don’t become a member of the ANCWL if you’re not a member of the ANC in good standing,” said PEC Secretary Teliswa Mgweba. “As a person, Gabi speaks to our character as an organisation in terms of making sure we’re striving for the emancipation of women as well as combatting any form of racial, tribalist, and ethnic discrimination or sexism.”

Community leader Benji Shulman congratulated Farber-Cohen on her achievement. “There are so many women’s issues that we need to handle, and I hope that a platform like this gives her the opportunities to address them. Gabi has a really good record of working on these sorts of things at a university level.” He also said that he “would really encourage young women in the community, whatever political party they have an interest in, to get involved because it’s an effective way of changing South Africa’s future for the better”.

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  1. Robert Mancusso

    Aug 17, 2023 at 2:30 pm

    As the saying goes: If you can’t beat them, join them.

    So now as an ANC member she supports indirectly at the very least, the ANC’s crime, corruption and incompetence…how nice, Mazel Tov to her!

  2. Gary Selikow

    Aug 17, 2023 at 10:22 pm

    “”If I’m going to be part of South Africa, I’m not going to live here so that I can have a big house and a nanny””, oh really? So ANC mebers dont have things like that! The top ANC’s ALL DO Being a member of the ANC , Gabi, does not make you “”clever and classless and free”” like you think it does,

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