Derrick America (DA)

April 25, 2017 (2 years, 7 months ago)

Derrick America

What is your political background? My political awareness started in 1976 when I was in high school. We decided to raise awareness about the student action in Soweto. As we sought permission to go to class to organise a mass meeting we were chastised and thrown out of the principal’s office, but the the mass meeting occurred nonetheless. In 1978 when I started work at the South African Post Office (SAPO), I immediately had a confrontation with management over the separate amenities for employees at that time. Eventually I left the same year and went to read at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), being vocal and expressive about students' opposition to the status quo at the time. I was delegated to be CPUTs representative on the committee of 81, as there had been 81 schools and institutions present at the founding meeting. That committee then coordinated student activities around the then political resistance. In 1983 when I started teaching I became very involved in the anti-apartheid teacher unions, specifically the Western Cape Teachers Union (WECTU). In 1985 a group of us as teachers were then charged with misconduct by the then Western Cape Education Department (WCED) for not wanting to administer the exams and inciting students to resist authority. In 1991 I found myself in Johannesburg at the discussions for the formation of the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU). I was also the first chairperson of the ANC in Ravensmead when it was unbanned. I also was involved in the United Democratic Front (UDF) formation and subsidiary structures.

How did you become involved in politics and what drew you to your specific party? I had always been an ordinary branch member of the ANC. In 2006 I felt that there needed to be a strong opposition for the sake of democracy and in that year’s local government elections I voted for the DA. In the 2004 national election I had voted DA provincially and ANC nationally. In the 2009 general elections I voted DA nationally and provincially. What drew me to the DA was a strong belief that for SA to succeed and thrive as a democracy there was a need for strong alternative voices. The options available at the time was the Independent Democrats (ID) which I felt was an ethnic party which focused on a particular ethnic group strongly centered around an individual leader and the other smaller parties simply did not have support in the Western Cape. When I looked at the DA its policies resonated with my own values and beliefs because the party stands for constitutionalism, the rule of law and zero tolerance to wrongdoing.

How did you then become an MP for the party? In 2011 one of the DA MPs approached me and asked if I wanted to make myself available as ward councilor for the DA and I declined. He called me two weeks later requesting me to just submit my CV. I submitted and was then called by the party where I joined and started campaigning in Kensington. In the same year I was elected as a DA ward councilor. In the City of Cape Town Metro I was elected as chairperson of the corporate services portfolio and in 2014 I applied to become a Member of Parliament. I went through the tests and other processes of the DA and was favourably placed on the provincial and the national lists. After the elections I then came to Parliament.

What does your job as an MP entail? On Sundays and half of Mondays I am at Prince Albert where my constituency is based. On Tuesdays I do my administrative tasks in the morning so that I attend plenary in the afternoon. On Wednesday mornings my committee (Labour) sits and by 15h00 I attend plenary again. On Thursday mornings we have party caucus and then plenary in the afternoon. On some Fridays we do sit in committee sometimes, but when there are no committee meetings I catch up with whatever outstanding administration I still have.

What are your thoughts on the Fifth Parliament so far? I rarely followed Parliament when I was still a councillor such that I cannot compare what happened then with my current experiences so far. In terms of the robustness of debates, Parliament allows more time for engagement though a lot of grand standing and posturing takes place in the chamber. We as parliamentarians certainly can display greater respect to the people that elected us to Parliament. Committee grandstanding is quite limited and holding departments to account on their mandates happens quite well.

What constituency have you been assigned to and what constituency work have you been involved with? My constituency is at Prince Albert. We are busy with establishing a Prince Albert Educational Trust so that we can support students who want to pursue higher education learning. We are also planning to have an economic indaba where the farming, business, religious, civil society, provincial and national government so that we can draft a plan to address the abject poverty in the area with long term objectives.

What are you most passionate about? This applies both in a political/professional and personal arena? I would like to play some golf but I still struggle to find the time. I am also working on completing my PhD.

What is your message to South Africans? It is going to be rough and uncomfortable but SA often finds itself at the edge of a cliff without never really falling off/ jumping off. We simply need to be resilient because the downgrade will affect employment rates but I am hopeful we will get out of the situation stronger. South Africans need to keep the hope alive, because the DA is committed to bettering the lives of this country.

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