What is your political background and what attracted you to your political party? I’m a bit of an accidental politician. It’s not something I had always intended to be. In fact, I was going to be an academic. My academic background is in political history and the history of ideas. I did a doctorate in History and my area of specialisation was in South African politics in the early part of the 20th century. I’m interested in ideas about nationalism, citizenship and identity, and how they intersect with the political project of liberalism. So my PhD looked at how the concept of “South Africanism” was constructed between the 1920s and 1948, when the apartheid government came into power. Some of the thinkers and politicians who talked about South Africanism equated it with white civic nationalism that excluded blacks from the body politic. Others, like Leo Marquard, wanted to take it in a more ‘radical’ liberal direction.
By the time I’d finished my Phd, I’d decided that a career in academia was not for me. I wanted to be involved in a think tank or a policy research outfit outside of academia. So when I came back to SA from Cambridge, I started job hunting, and I landed a job as a researcher at the South African Institute of Race Relations. I was there for about 8 months when I met the then leader of the DA, Mr Tony Leon. I was appointed his researcher on the 2004 Election Campaign, and after that I ran the DA’s Research Department in Parliament for a couple of years. We produced discussion documents, position papers, policy documents, and other forms of political communication. At some point I was commissioned to write a biography of Peter Brown, the former leader of the Liberal Party of South Africa, so I left the DA, but I eventually returned as a speechwriter when I’d finished writing the book. I’d say I came to politics through my interest in South African history and my passion for liberalism, which is aligned with the DA’s philosophy and values.
I also spent some time working for the Western Cape Government as a Director of Research and Policy Analysis in the Department of the Premier. But when the 2014 elections rolled around, I thought I’d like to go into active politics and that’s why I decided to try and become a Member of Parliament.
Which constituency office have you been assigned to? I was assigned to the Overstrand Municipality, which covers the area from Betty’s Bay in the West to Pearly Beach in the East, but its headquarters are located in Hermanus. I visit the area at least once a week and conduct oversight over various government entities – schools, hospitals, police stations and the like. I meet with local residents to hear their concerns, address public meetings, and engage in campaigning activity. Nowadays, my constituency is the Helderberg region in the City of Cape Town, which covers Somerset West, Strand and Gordon’s Bay.
What are you most passionate about in your constituency work (professional) and personal life? I am passionate about making sure that this country becomes a success story. What we are trying to do in South Africa hasn’t really been done successfully anywhere in the world. We are a complex, plural society, with an incredibly divisive history of racial oppression and exploitation, struggling to become a non-racial constitutional democracy. We have a huge amount of work to do to ensure that the rule of law, a culture of accountability in public life, and a capable state all become entrenched. And we need to work towards a future where people’s opportunities don’t depend on the colour of their skin.
What does your job as an MP entail? Besides my constituency work, I’m a member of the Portfolio Committee on Economic Development. I’m also the DA’s spokesman on the subject. Our committee exercises oversight over the Economic Development Department, the competition regulators, the Industrial Development Corporation and the International Trade Administration Commission. I use the parliamentary mechanisms at my disposal – questions to the Minister, motions, Member’s statements and speeches in the House – to drive issues in my portfolio.
What is your message to South Africa? We have to ensure that the Constitution is upheld, defended, protected and promoted. For many people, the importance of the Constitution is very abstract in their own lives. But the Constitution is the framework for a successful nation and if it’s undermined and neglected, we as a society will suffer the consequences.
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