Mr Ghaleb Cachalia

23 Jun 2020 (2 years ago)


Question 1: What is your political background? How did you come to join your political party and become an MP?

I have lived an interesting, varied and enriching life. I grew up in the ghettoes of Vrededorp, Fordsburg and Nugget Street in Johannesburg, South Africa. My parents were full-time political activists. They suffered spells in jail and served scores of years under banning and house arrest orders. My father died in 1995, shortly after he saw his life’s endeavour fulfilled by the advent of democracy in South Africa. My mother died four years ago, after a lifetime of championing the cause of the struggle of women under apartheid and thereafter. My parents struggled to educate their children and sent my sister and I to Waterford School in Swaziland, so as to escape the indignity and shoddy education that was offered under the apartheid system of Indian Affairs. No sooner than I had settled in and was embarking on the final year of my O Level examinations, the sins of my parents were visited on me and my passport was under threat. My parents took the painful decision to send me abroad (they had no access to travel or passports) to stay with my uncle and aunt who had left for Britain on an exit permit to a life of exile – where they both died relatively recently. I completed my O levels and won a scholarship to the United World College of the Atlantic in Wales where I encountered young people from all over the world who were committed to work, study and service towards the ideals of international understanding – the driving motive behind the United World College movement. I then went on to University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies where I read history. Those were the days of universal free education and I received a grant from the Inner London Education Authority, which paid for my studies. When I completed my degree, I was granted a passport of six month’s validity by the South African authorities and I returned home. Six months later my passport was refused again.

I immersed myself in the politics of struggle against the government of the day and took a job with Capital Radio as a newsreader/writer and then went on to the University of the Witwatersrand to read law. I joined the Black Students Society and served a Vice President of the organization. Those were heady years and more time was spent in student and national politics than study. I did not complete my law degree.

I chose to join my father in a business he had started many years ago and that had grown into a successful endeavor. It specialized in the provision of school uniforms to the black community and was the first business in South Africa to provide six months’ interest-free credit to customers.

My father schooled me in business. I began at the bottom, served behind the counter, wrote the books, ran retail outlets, was apprenticed to a manufacturing facility in Johannesburg and opened up such facilities in Malawi and Mozambique. When he died in 1995 I ran the business for a few years but saw the challenge from mainly Asian countries in terms of price and supply alongside a period of intensely turbulent labour relations. I sold the businesses, retaining one retail outlet whose shareholding I transferred to the employees of the company. The company still runs in the Johannesburg CBD.

I resolved to move on into areas that were hitherto the preserve of white South Africans and forged a relationship with an American (ex US-based Strategic Planning Associates who was resident in Geneva) and a Belgian who was resident in France. Together we formed a management consultancy in Zurich, Switzerland and in Johannesburg, South Africa. In due course my partners moved on – one to become CEO of the Swiss-based Zuelig Group and the other into Private Equity in France. I persevered with the consultancy and forged successive relationships - first with two ex-McKinsey engagement managers who had started a successful consultancy in Hamburg and Nuess in Germany and when the consultancy was bought out by Deloitte in Germany I took the South African company – which I owned – and joined the US-based Monitor Group as a partner.

After a number of good years at Monitor, I began to consult in the area of Private Equity and sought to move into this domain. I joined a listed Private Equity Fund as an Executive Director where I learnt much about diverse industries on whose boards I served. I also raised a Private Equity Fund for women entrepreneurs. I was subsequently offered a position by De Beers to head the portfolio of Existing Businesses that morphed into Corporate and External Affairs – which I headed. I also served as Chairman of De Beers, Namibia. I left when the managing director who employed me retired.

Thereafter I served successively as Executive Director of Baird’s – a substantial Communications Consultancy, as Managing Director of Interbrand in South Africa and as Chairman of Live Moya – a behavioural change consultancy. I also formed Mentisfactum – an advisory firm that concentrated on local investments and inward investment from India and China into Africa – which I still run.

I am now at a stage in my life where I feel I can use my varied experience and skills to contribute to businesses, individuals and organizations in the broad area of sustainable impact – Politics, Public Service, Finance, Industry, Education, Organization, Policy, Civic Rights and other. These areas are clearly pivotal to the future of this country, continent and beyond and I am keen to contribute my skills and experience gained over many years. My track record in strategy, activism, industry, commerce, brand, communications and finance – underscored by a sound global geo-political understanding, stands me in good stead.

I have, additionally, had an abiding interest and involvement in the field of education, having served on the International Board of United World Colleges, on the Governing Council of Maru a Pula School in Botswana, as Chairman of the South African Rural Development Foundation, as Chairman of the South African United World Colleges Trust and I continue to serve as a member of the advisory board of Birmingham University’s Business School in the UK.

On a more personal note, and by way of additional background, I was born in Fietas (Vrededorp) in 1956 – the year of the Treason Trial. My parents were immersed in the struggle for freedom. My father was secretary of the South African Indian Congress and joint secretary with Walter Sisulu of the action Committee of the Defiance Campaign. My mother was a life-long activist and champion of womens’ rights – they suffered imprisonment, banning and house arrest; in my father’s case for a cumulative period of 27 years. Both my grandfathers were close associates of Gandhi and were joint initiators of the passive Resistance campaign – both suffering incarceration and lamentably early deaths – I didn’t know them. Successive generations of my family on both sides have served in the struggle and in public service, post 1994.

Moses Kotane, a remarkable patriot who was a defendant in the Treason trial was a friend of my father; on hearing that I was to be named Ghaleb – meaning Victory – he gave me my middle name – Ka’ ene, meaning Through Him, in Tswana. Nice touch, but despite some activism and about ten years of involuntary exile, I had little to do with the victory they fought for and after which they poetically named me. At a familial level, the struggle against Apartheid was the bread and butter at the formative table of my upbringing. My father died in 1995 – having lived long enough to see ushering in of the democracy he fought for. My mother died some four years ago. Her memoir, When Hope and History Rhyme is a poignant testimony to their lives and struggle.

I have been privileged to be educated at remarkable schools – Waterford in Swaziland and Atlantic College in Wales – they were international in composition and I still have many intellectual spats with my cohorts! I then went on to read African History at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. The post and neo-colonial world I grew up in was reflected to some extent in my studies. Just as well because, after all, I had to compete in that milieu. That was not to say that my education at a formal and informal level, did not include the seminal works of literature, history and philosophy, penned by some eminent non- white scholars.

Yes, there was some sense of dislocation and alienation but I countered it with a quest for knowledge, fashioning my views and interpretation on everything from Gibbon and Goethe through Gandhi to Ade Ajai and Ali Mazrui. I was privileged to be taught by scholars like Shula Marks and Richard Rathbone, Eric Hobsbawm, Walter Rodney, David Birmingham and the legendary and pioneering Roland Oliver, who was one of the founding fathers of the study of African history. He built up the discipline in the UK from scratch, while criss-crossing the continent in search of forgotten kingdoms and oral records. Until then the history of Africa was seen only as the story of its western explorers and colonisers who mapped its lakes and mountains. He was white. Others not, and it mattered not.

Armed with this exposure, I never felt inferior and consequently never played the card of the victim. I stood and stand for a global understanding that factors in race, class and more in the quest for an appreciation and grasp through analysis that advances that very search. I sought to understand history; not to re-write or erase it.

As we are poised now, in the trajectory of our nation, I am ready to take a decision to help salvage the future of the country I love and am committed to. I have therefore taken the decision, more than to be part of a coalition of the willing, to raise my head above the parapit and to break with the African National Congress under which I grew up. I have resolved to join the Democratic Alliance in the hope that I can serve my country, imperiled as it is by the dire course the ANC has charted over recent years.

The time has come to assist in building a strong opposition that will act as a bulwark to the disastrous policies and practices of a party that has lost its way.

Question 2: What does your job as an MP entail? What do you enjoy about being an MP?

My job as an MP involves serving the official opposition in Parliament, participation in committees and in the deliberations of the national assembly. This involves oversight of the presidency (my portfolio) and serving on the Ethics Committee of Parliament.

Question 3: What are your or your party's aspirations/plans for the Sixth Parliament?

To hold the executive to account, to influence legislation in line with party policy, to help ensure that payers monies are spent wisely, accountably and transparently, and that the ruinous trajectory of our country is stemmed by diligent application and responsible service.

Question 4: What obstacles prevent Parliament from doing its work and how would you fix it?

The role of the Speaker of the house needs to be revisited and impartiality restored. The Speaker needs to be appointed on a revolving basis that includes the opposition. Minority reports in Committee need to be included in all deliberations.

Question 5: Which Constituency Office have you been assigned to? Can you give examples of Constituency work you engaged in?

Kwa Thema/ Duduza in Ekurhuleni. Environmental/ mining issues, corruption in the municipality, health facility oversight, safety and security issues, voter education.

Question 6: Does Parliament do a good job of holding the Executive to account? If not, what can be done to improve this?

Issues are raised, but the follow-through mechanisms are often thwarted by the governing party’s protection of the executive. The primacy of rules and procedure need to be upheld, and ought not be swayed by majoritarian whim.

Question 7: Are you happy with the proportional representation system or are you in favor of electoral reform?

Some reform is necessary and a move to a more constituency-based system would enhance accountability.

Question 8: What can be done to get citizens more interested/ involved in Parliament? Is this an area where Parliament can improve and if so, what recommendations do you have? What are you passionate about? This applies both in political/ professional arena as well as personally?

A more constituency-based approach would go a long way to involving citizens in parliament. Greater transparency of public spending, and a more robust process for the public’s consultative input into pending legislation/ changes would be welcome.

See also answer to question 1.

Question 9: What is your message to South Africa?

We are in crisis – economically, ethically, socially, and more. The country is funded by a narrow tax base, and profligate spending will result in dire economic consequences. The time has come for a significant overhaul of how the country is run, and steps need to be taken to ensure that our fiscal apportionment has the requisite impact. This would mean a radical change and the curtailment of the enhancement and protection of elites – the politically connected, the racially favoured, and the labour aristocracy. We need to grow our economy, and given the poor rate of domestic savings, we would need to entice foreign investment. To achieve this, we need an investor-friendly environment – the current swathe of industry charters – achieve the opposite. We need to give attention to growing our competitive advantage internally and our comparative advantage externally. Labour flexibility must be introduced, and the knee-jerk predilection for increased regulation must be viewed with caution. The time has come for the centre to stand firm, for non-racialism to be enshrined with renewed vigour, and for the equality of opportunity to be responsibly fostered. This requires statesmanship and a non-partisan approach. It’s never been more necessary to build this than now.


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