"If I were not a politician or a teacher I probably would still be working with people as an activist in trying to make SA a non-sexist, democratic country."
What is your political background? How did you come to join your political party and become an MP?
My political awareness emerged in 1988 when I was attending Mjokwane Secondary School where I was President of the Learner Representative Council (LRC). Someone who had recently returned from exile came to us to conscientise us on the politics of the ANC and the struggle for liberation; although the work was underground. In the same year my older brother went into exile which deepened my understanding of the political situation, because we received visits from the police and Security Branch at ungodly hours.
After high school in the kaNgwane homeland we received bursaries to complete teaching diplomas which I completed and I returned to teach in my village. After the release of President Nelson Mandela I became the first chairperson of the ANCYL and secretary of my regional branch. A challenge at the time was that one could not hold two leadership positions within the AN, but we struggled to get our elders to buy into the politics of democracy and the ANC. We campaigned until they joined the ANC and when we launched Nkomazi region at the time I was elected as the first regional chairperson of the ANCYL around 1991.
At Mgwenya College of Education around 1992/1994 I chaired the South African Students Congress (SASCO) and ended up being elected as the Sports Education Convener of SASCO in Mpumalanga as a whole. I was also the provincial secretary of the federation of SRCs in South Africa in Mpumalanga where six colleges were in operation at the time. The national president of SASCO at the time was the now Gauteng Premier, David Makhura.
During my teaching years I was elected into the ANCYL Provincial Executive Committee (PEC) and Provincial Working Committee (PWC) from 1998-2002. In 2002 I was elected as provincial treasury of the ANCYL until 2008 when I graduated into the mother body. I left teaching after four years and served as Parliamentary Liaison Officer (PLO) for one of the current Deputy Ministers of Rural Development and Land Reform, Ms Candith Mashego-Dlamini when she was the MEC of the Department of Public Works from 2003 to 2005 in Mpumalanga. Within a year I became Chief of Staff at her office with more responsibilities.
In 2005 I was deployed in to the National Assembly (NA) and in 2009 I went to the NCOP. In 2014 I was deployed to be the House Chairperson of Committees in the NCOP.
What does your job as an MP entail?
On Mondays I am at my constituency where I am assisted by an administrator and volunteers to see to complaints, proposals and other challenges facing the communities in my constituency. Generally we deal with referrals to departments including career guidance exhibitions from State Owned Entities (SOEs) and funding agencies like the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) as we have recently done. The Minister of Public Service and Administration (DPSA), Ms Ayanda Dlodlo also shared what government opportunities there are.
Amongst the challenges I deal with is that Nkomazi municipality is bordered by Maputo in Mozambique on one side and Mbabane in Swaziland on the other. People move in and out of South Africa without being documented. A recent government policy effected in 2018 barred people from participating in job seeking or schooling if they had never been documented. I am therefore faced with a task involving the Department of Home Affairs and the security cluster as the high rate of unemployment of youth in my constituency mixed with being undocumented pose a serious security risk to the country as a whole as the border is quite porous where I live. I am seeking to get government to develop a special dispensation for people that attended school from grade 1 until grade 11 without having ever needed a birth certificate. When reaching grade 12 it would appear that said learners now were deemed illegal immigrants when in fact were South Africans. Hopefully the Ministers I have written to will assist because failing that we will have to escalate the matter to the Presidency as it is a ticking time bomb.
What are you finding most challenging about the Fifth Parliament?
Institutional memory is a big concern for me. The introduction of new political parties within the precinct brought good and vibrant energy into committees and the House, however, I feel the previous Members of Parliament could teach us all how to conduct ourselves better.
What obstacles prevent Parliament from doing its work and how would you fix it
Previously everything was done on hard copy or printed documents but with the Fourth Industrial Revolution all communications including presentations are sent via e-mail, but Members would attend committees bemoaning not having received documents when everything would have been circulated electronically. Members are being trained on the use of technology annually at the beginning of every year; however they do not readily avail themselves for the Information Communications Technology (ICT) training which then slackens the pace of committee work. In addition, the media tends to portray Parliament as if it is the NA only when it in fact includes the NCOP.
Which constituency office have you been assigned to?
In 2008 my constituency was in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga. My current constituency is in Kamaqhekeza where I attended secondary school.
Does Parliament do a good job of holding the Executive to account? If not, what can be done to improve this?
Yes and no, in that there are committees in the NCOP that are performing extremely well, but others that struggle to get departments to come and account. The NCOP is unique in that there is no way that Members could come to Parliament without ever taking the podium whereas in the NA one can come and leave parliament having never debated in the House.
Are you happy with the proportional representation system or are you in favour of electoral reform?
The system has good advantages but there certainly is room for improvement in terms of making the voter appreciate what the differences and complementarities are between ward councillors and proportional representatives.
Is Parliament’s public participation model adequate/ robust enough that it affords enough public participation before a law is passed?
The NCOP has flagship programmes such as ‘Local Government Week’, where the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) and council speakers come and engage the NCOP. There is also the ‘provincial week’ where all NCOP members go back to their respective provincial legislatures; ‘Taking Parliament to the People’; and ‘Oversight Week’ where the different select committees do physical oversight on the departments they are responsible for. The only improvement I would make is to continue with the branding exercise for the NCOP Mam’ Thandi has started and done quite well so that it can be further recognised as the Second House of Parliament. If it was up to me I would also have more broadcast television of committee work so that the country could see that Parliament is not only the NA Chamber and that law making takes place across committees of the NA and the NCOP.
What are you passionate about? This applies both in a political/professional arena as well as personally?
If I were not a politician or a teacher I probably would still be working with people as an activist in trying to make SA a non-sexist, democratic country.
What is your message to South Africa?
The ANC has done a lot of good work although there is room for improvement - South Africans need not lose hope. During my tenure as chairperson of the executive undertakings I met a pair of men that had been incarcerated for 19 years falsely, having then resolved as a committee to assist in getting them their freedom as they had been imprisoned during Apartheid, that made me appreciate the work our democracy had made possible. The country is way better now, although it may not be how we all envisaged.
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