Ms Marian Shinn (DA)


What is your political background? How did you come to join your political party and become an MP? When did your activism political and otherwise start in South Africa’s recent history? My active political involvement started in Johannesburg in the mid-1980s. Much of my career was spent as a journalist on newspapers such as the Rand Daily Mail and Sunday Express so I was exposed to much of the political turmoil of the 70s and 80s.

For example, I reported for The Star on the ’76 student uprising when it hit the Johannesburg northern suburb of Alexandra, and co-authored for the Sunday Tribune an in-depth report into the shabby police investigation into the assassination of University of Natal academic and philosopher Rick Turner. When I left mainstream newspapers in the mid-1980s I decided to become politically active. I joined the Five Freedoms Forum, an alliance of civic anti-apartheid groups, that worked to bridge the communications divide between black and white South Africans.

We organized public meetings, protests, produced newsletters and a trip to meet the ANC in Lusaka in July 1989. This brought together representatives of civic groups, trades unions, journalists and local government politicians to find common ground with the ANC. Most of the photographs in a subsequent book produced after the trip are mine. Prized among these was a series of photos of ANC leader Oliver Tambo in earnest discussion with Dr Ronnie Bethlehem a leading economist. After the ANC was unbanned in 1990 and exiles returned home I ceased my involvement in the Five Freedoms Forum as many of the member groups focused on their individual bridge-building programmes.

The first election in which I voted was in 1994. I clearly recall standing in the early morning queue and hearing the bomb explode at (then) Jan Smuts International Airport, 40kms away. I was the only person in the queue of gardeners, labourers, domestic workers and home owners in my middle-class suburb that recognized it for what it was, and prayed a silent prayer that mayhem wouldn’t follow. It didn’t. I recall where I was when I heard the news of Chris Hani’s assassination a year earlier. We were holidaying in the Injasuti game reserve in the Natal Drakensburg. Having just returned from a day’s hike, I switched on the radio and started taking off my boots and sweaty socks when the news flash came. I was filled with dread. This was a shot that could ignite a bloodbath and ruin the negotiations for our democracy.

I am forever indebted to the ANC leadership at that time for the call for calm to quell the justifiable rage that I am sure most South Africans felt. Its success in averting a civil war assured me that, at that exceptional time, our negotiated future was in safe hands.

On moving to Cape Town in 1998 I joined the Democratic Party and became active in the Muizenberg branch. The decision to become active in a political party was motivated by my disappointment at the racial divide Thabo Mbeki was re-introducing into our discourse. By emphasizing our differences, rather than encouraging reconciliation and redress, he sowed the seeds of the fractious state we are today. It wasn’t the future I wanted.

I was a DA branch activist, with a number of stints as branch chairperson, before being selected to come to Parliament in 2009.

I initially served on the tourism and science and technology portfolio committees. In 2012 I was appointed the DA’s Shadow Minister for Communications. Since 2014 I have been the Shadow minister for Telecommunications and Postal Services.

What does your job as an MP entail? My work week is Monday to Saturday – and occasionally Sundays. I am usually at my desk in Parliament before 6.30 am. The early morning light on the precinct shows off the gracious buildings to advantage. It’s quiet – until the leaf blower comes along to tidy up the walkways. It’s a time to catch up on news, emails and administration before the phone starts ringing. My portfolio committee meeting anchors Tuesday mornings and Thursday usually starts with the DA’s caucus meeting. On some Thursdays the Western Cape constituency heads meet with provincial leadership at 7am. Afternoons are taken up with plenaries in the National Assembly and, with any luck, I can lock up my office at 6.30 pm and head home or attend meetings in my South Peninsula constituency.

Most of my time is taken up with research and reading to keep abreast of developments in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector in South Africa and abroad. It’s a consistent activity as newsletters, Google alerts, research reports flood my inbox. There’s a considerable amount of research and reading that needs to be done to understand the ICT sector to help me form a view of policies and appropriate legislation to meet South Africa’s information needs. I write my own press releases, opinion pieces and speeches.

I maintain a fruitful network of ICT sector analysts, specialist lawyers, representative bodies and stakeholders. Much of this is done on line but I often travel to Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal to have personal interactions with them. Face to face meetings are always best in building good relationships, particularly when it comes to grappling with complex technologies.

Evenings and Saturdays are often spent at branch or constituency meetings, public events or rallies. In the Western Cape I serve on the DA’s Cape Metro council, as well as the Provincial Council, both of which meet quarterly to plan campaigns, discuss ideas, and interact with leadership.

I also serve on the DA’s Federal Council, which meets three times a year. This is the DA’s highest decision-making body between Federal Congresses, which happen every three years. This is a wonderful opportunity to meet colleagues from around the country, hear their activities, plans and share ideas. Our international representatives usually attend and it’s wonderful to hear how many branches are being establish around the world to maintain contact with South Africans abroad. I believe my main role as head of the DA’s South Peninsula 2 Constituency in the Cape Town Metro is to support local government councillors in the demanding roles at the coalface of voter interaction, and ensure that they bring the DA’s values of transparency and accountability to their work.

I also have the responsibility to ensure that all our branches are motivated to have regular activities that support the DA’s campaigns, grow our membership and activist bases, and support the councillors’ interactions with residents. When residents approach me for help when they feel the councilor has been unresponsive it is up to me to resolve the issue with councilor to ensure that our service delivery obligations are met. Sometimes I have to give residents answers they don’t want to hear because their request is outside the council’s mandate or is not in the community’s best interests, so a degree of firmness and diplomacy is needed.

What are you finding most challenging about the Fifth Parliament? The programme is inadequately structured which inhibits MPs doing a thorough job of interrogating the budget and annual report processes, for example. The documentation arrives late and insufficient time is allocated to properly engage with ministers and departmental officials. I fear we only skim the surface of what’s happening in government.

What obstacles prevent Parliament from doing its work and how would you fix it? We waste a lot of time having lengthy debates around soft issues, which are usually about the significance of public holidays. We need to concentrate on debating critical issues and legislation. There also needs to be more resources to support MPs to do a credible job.

Does Parliament do a good job of holding the Executive to account? If not, what can be done to improve this? Not nearly enough. Governing party MPs are reluctant to tackle cabinet ministers because they are beholden to the party line for their positions. It is rare to see a committee chairperson insist that a minister account to an opposition MP – unless the situation is really dire and the governing party MPs perk up.

Are you happy with the proportional representation system or are you in favour of electoral reform? I would prefer a hybrid system where there are MPs elected by the voters in their constituencies rather than appointed by political parties. This would make MPs bolder in executing their mandate to deliver to the voters and limit the power of party leadership to appoint loyal cronies who are beholden to leadership for their positions in parliament. But there must be provision for some proportional MPs to cater for political parties that have gained substantial electoral support nationwide but it is too scattered across the province or country to win a specific constituency. This would ensure a diversity of voices to be heard in parliament.

Is Parliament’s public participation model adequate/ robust enough that it affords enough public participation before a law is passed? The public participation mechanisms are there, but could be better used. For example, public participation is essential in the legislative process and MPs must be more receptive to ideas from the people whose interests will be impacted by laws than they are to the executive. We must not forget that we legislate for the citizens, not the executive.

Outside the legislative process petitions are useful in bringing issues that may not be prioritized by political parties to the attention of the appropriate committees for consideration.

What are you passionate about? This applies both in a political/professional arena as well as personally? Freedom of the individual to make informed decisions about life choices – and being responsible for those.

What is your message to South Africa? Be optimistic about our future. We’ve been through rough times before and triumphed – and we’ll do it again. The trough we’re in right now has re-ignited citizens’ engagement with people in power. I hope the lesson that has been learnt is that voters must not be complacent about their rights and holding power to account. A constitutional democracy - which is the best system for protecting citizens rights against the powerful - needs constant attention and commitment. We must not let it slip away through complacency, apathy or despair.

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