What is your political background? How did you become involved in politics and what drew you to your political party? The situation in the country and in ones surroundings, where you stayed, dictated that one needed to get involved in organisations. Mine goes way back to the 80s to community struggles, in particular, struggles around conditions where you lived – conditions such as proper housing, electricity, water etc. I was in what was called the Lotus River/Grassy Park Civil Association which had a youth wing and I was also involved in what was called the advice offices so I was involved in the advice centres of which I became the national secretary. I soon became involved in the United Democratic Front (UDF).
I was asked to get involved in the unions because I worked in the clothing industry and I was part of the biggest clothing strike (6 000 workers) where they simply wanted a R15 increase which was a lot of money at the time. The significance of the strike was that we were able to give an increase to workers in the entire clothing industry. That started my rise in the labour movement - starting as a shop steward to the Western Cape provincial deputy chair of what was called the Government and Allied Workers Union and when clothing and textile merged, I became the national treasurer and in 1993 I became the first female deputy president of COSATU. In 1998 I was nominated to become an MP by my branch - I was the ANC branch secretary at the time.
What does your job as an MP entail? As an ordinary MP during the week it entails having to attend a range of different meetings depending on the structures the Member sits on. If you are a Chairperson it entails having to manage the Portfolio both on the day that your Committee sits as well as making sure a range of different things are being taken care of such as the programme of the Committee, ensuring decisions taken were implemented, ensuring decisions taken by the Committee found its way to the National Assembly and ensuring the mandate straddled the legislation one was responsible for and any other national interest issues.
Outside of Parliament, Members have constituencies and in those constituencies you have to make sure you interface between the communities and you must make sure that people know and understand that the constituency office is an extension of Parliament.
What are your thoughts on the Fifth Parliament? The Fifth Parliament is an evolution of 22 years of democracy. The First Parliament was tasked with ushering in a new Constitution and ensuring the legacy of apartheid was dealt with, especially through legislation. What is interesting about the Fifth Parliament is that the effects of legislation passed over the years can now be felt - legislation passed many years ago can now be amended to better suit current SA in terms of relevance. I think the standing of the Fifth Parliament is quite interesting and exciting. I was part of the changes in the Rules which had been in the process for many years – what would be remarkable would be the test as to whether we can get this Parliament to have its own 'Africa flavour' and own South African uniqueness. The ANC continues to bring in the vast majority of women into Parliament. We have done quite a bit for women and children in the country and we are happy to see more cases in court speak to new legislation on the rights of children.
What constituency have you been assigned to and what aspects interest you the most about constituency work? Even before I came to the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, I have always been quite involved in education. In my constituency, I always make sure we give members of the community, young people especially, access to what government provides and get them to understand that education is an important aspect in their lives. I used to arrange career events along with schools to ensure that communities are exposed. Because of poverty levels in the country, the understanding of people was that they would not have money to study further but through such activities we can dispel this and make communities aware that government has done a lot and made facilities available to people.
There are also the daily matters that people bring to the constituency offices which vary. One also gets to meet a range of different people – it is important to understand the stakeholders in a constituency such as business people, NGOs etc. It is important to know one’s constituents to be sure on what to enagage and it is very important for an MP, MPL and councillor to work together.
What is your message to South Africa? We understand the messages young people are giving to us in Higher Education and those messages are not necessarily unreasonable. The messages are important as they are saying" 'yes government, you have brought us this far but the poverty levels still dictate we want to further education and all we want is to do so by government making available sufficient resources.'
One of the unique aspects of our democracy is the ability to bring people around the table to talk – this has brought us to our democracy. When Chris Hani and Oliver Tambo died, it was around the table that solutions were found. My message to the young people is that you are able to talk about these issues around the table and there is no need for any student to hold anyone hostage, put petrol bombs into a bin or to go to the lengths which we have seen, notwithstanding the rights they have to express themselves but these rights went together with responsibilities. You cannot burn the Olive Schreiner building who was a very important woman in our society. You cannot burn the historical books because that was our history – this is not the way to resolve issues.
South Africa has been a beacon of hope and so young people need to take the baton to become a beacon of hope for the rest of Africa. We have a large number of people from the African continent studying here in SA along with others from elsewhere in the world because SA is that beacon of hope. My message then is to also think about these people. We have to find a way of engagement and this might require legislation to regulate relationships. We are concerned that the relationships between Vice Chancellors, students, student leaders and student organisations have broken down so terribly and we have to find a way of finding some solution for co-existence.
The steps that government has taken to address challenges have been welcomed and are a move in the right direction – we also accept that all universities are not at the same level so we cannot compare UCT to Fort Hare or Wits to the University of Zululand. These challenges would have to be dealt with because the conversation about higher education requires for all to be spoken about equally. We must not forget the fact that we have colleges and community centres which too are as important as the universities. In oversight work we have seen the most remarkable work being done where adults have come back to class and they were thankful that we have opened up these colleges.
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