Cheryl Phillips

Jan. 21, 2020 (2 months, 1 week ago)

"We have diverse kinds of people, many nationalities and areas. Nevertheless, we need to become one because together we are going to be much stronger than if we are apart."


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

My first experience of politics was in 1992 during the Referendum for the "Yes" vote to change the political system in South Africa. I lived in a very conservative part of the country. The major party in the area was called the Vryheidsfront, the National Party, which I think was the forerunner of the Freedom Front Plus. A prominent FF+ politician in the area was campaigning very hard for a "No" vote and I was campaigning very hard for the "Yes" vote. The man said I will never win. We actually did win about 72% of the votes. So that is how I first got involved in politics. After that, there wasn't really a political party active in that area that I could identify with. So when I moved to Rustenburg in 2001, my next-door neighbour was a ward Councilor and then he came and spoke to me to join the Democratic Party. That was the first step. It wasn't the DA yet. I wasn't really active in it because I had a full-time job and my children were at school. So it was a bit difficult to be active on a full-time basis. In 2011, I was recruited to go on to a Wards Committee and I started getting quite active in the DA and on the Ward Committee. And then in 2014, we had a big problem in Rustenburg. The municipality didn't pay the service provider for the call centre. We reported all the faults and realised that something had to be done. So we set up a Facebook page and residents reported their faults on the platform and then I went to meet with all the Unit Heads because it was in December. A lot of people were on holiday and so people would report the problems on the Facebook page. I sponsored the project for about two years. Later on, there was a vacancy to stand as a Ward Councilor and I stood and was subsequently elected. We won 76% of the votes, and that was January of 2016. Everything progressed from there. I did more and more to change people's lives.

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

There is obviously lots of meetings, which I don't enjoy that much, but we do a lot of oversight to make sure that government departments are working the way they should. And that's quite enjoyable because you get to actually see the actual workings of the departments. You get to propose a vote on new legislation. There were some legislations that were never tabled and adopted. It was a different country in 1994 to what it is now. One of the things I enjoy doing the most though is actually helping the people and being able to make a difference to their livelihoods. Basically using Office to help.

What are your or your party's aspirations/plans for the Sixth Parliament? Our party's aspiration for the Sixth term is to firstly root out corruption because a lot of money that should be going to the people is actually funding corrupt practices. Meanwhile, we need to create an environment where jobs can be created. Unemployment is a huge problem. That is a huge concern for the Democratic Alliance because we firmly believe that there should a job in every home. That is very important and it was part of our election manifesto.

What obstacles prevent Parliament from doing its work and how would you fix it? I think red tape is a big problem, especially in the State Owned Entities that are not working. You have individuals, who go to the Board, who submits a proposal to the mother company's Board, which then puts a proposal together and sends it to the Minister. As we know in Minerals and Energy, we had five Ministers in the Fifth Administration, which makes it very difficult for any move to actually be done. I think I would like to streamline the process a lot more so that people don't have to necessarily wait around to see what the next Minister is going to say or what the next Committee is going to do. So that they can actually get on with the job that they've been employed to do. And if they don't do it properly, they must be held accountable and there must be consequence management if they are not doing their job. Corruption is a big problem obviously. What I find is that people at the bottom won't turn in somebody at the top that they know is corrupt because that person knows all their skeletons. And so they say, ‘well, if you turn me in, I'm going to turn you in’. And it goes all the way up the chain, from the municipal workers right to the top. So it's basically a policy of corruption and fear that perpetuates the cycle of corruption.

Which Constituency Office have you been assigned to? Can you give examples of Constituency work you engaged in? I'm assigned to the Rustenburg Caitlin River Constituency. I assist people who are not being helped by the local municipalities. I do take up their causes on their behalf in Parliament. I'm about to submit three petitions that were signed by the residents recently. And then also we have government departments in our constituencies. So it's not always possible for the oversight committees to get there. And so I try and do some oversight of those departments when I'm in my constituency.

Does Parliament do a good job of holding the Executive to account? If not, what can be done to improve this? I think it doesn't do a good enough job about holding the Executive to account. And the reason for that is the fact that the Executive knows all about the corrupt activities of certain parliamentarians and until we have things like lifestyle audit and other measures in place that are going to keep the MPs corruption- and crime-free, it's going to be difficult for them to hold the Executive to account. That's the one thing. Then the other thing is that we have MPs from the majority party, who basically tow the party line irrespective of whether it's right or not. And we saw that in the votes of no confidence against Jacob Zuma. There were three MPs that supported Mr Zuma until they finally realized that they couldn't carry on doing that, whereas if the first vote of no confidence had been done on a realistic basis, we wouldn't have dragged it for so long.

Are you happy with the proportional representation system or are you in favor of electoral reform? The Democratic Alliance is in favour of electoral reform and I do agree with their policy in that way. We believe that the President should be elected by the people, not by the party that he/she represents. The MPs will be more effective if they are individually responsible to the constituents that voted and sent them to the Parliament. They should account directly to their constituents. I think we do need some proportional representation. I think the Democratic Alliance's breakdown was 75% direct votes and 25% proportional representation to ensure that it does go the way it should. I do believe that district municipalities are not really contributing to the residents that voted for them. They are actually just a financial burden on the residents. So the political structure must be reviewed.

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? I think we do need to get citizens interested in Parliament and the fact that so few school leavers actually registered to vote in the general election is an indication of the apathy on the side of people to register and to vote. I'm instituting an idea that involves bringing younger people to Parliament on visits. I'm also running a competition among my activists to see who is going to register the most members. And the winner of that will then come to Parliament with me. In addition to that, I think that Parliament could actually bring Political Science, Public Administration students and matric students to shadow Ministers and/ or MPs for a day or two and see what their roles entail. It doesn't have to be a lot. A lot of people think that the Parliament is meant for specific groups of people but not them. I used to be one of those people. I just decided to give it a try and I'm enjoying every moment of it. Hopefully, I would have made a difference at the end of my term in five years. I'm very passionate about lots of things. I get very excited. But I think in my political career, I'm very passionate about things being fair. Too often people will say to you that life is not fair. But I sincerely think that if each one of us tries our best to better our lives and the lives of those around us, we could make a huge difference. We should be fighting corruption because corruption is not fair to the people who are losing out on the money. I'm very passionate about the environment, but I'm most passionate about animals. I'm an animal rights activist. I rescue dogs and cats and all kinds of things. And before I became a politician, I used to go on Rhino counter-poaching patrols to look after rhino at night, just stopping them from being poached. And I'm also an activist against zoos. I don't believe that keeping an animal in a cage for the entertainment of humans is correct. I also don't believe that we learn anything by looking at animals in cages. We just say to other people that it's okay to enslave an animal, which it's not. One of the experiments that was done recently is that when children leave the zoo, they were asked about what they know about an elephant or a lion or whatever. We actually found out that they know more about dinosaurs than they know about the animals they have just seen. And none of them have ever seen a dinosaur. So it's not necessary for children or even adults to see an animal to know about them. And I think in a country especially like ours, we have so many Nature Parks and Game Reserves right on our door steps. If we just made the effort that this week, for instance, it is free for people to go into any of the National Parks and they don't have to pay. So if we had buses taking children from schools, they could then actually see what an elephant looks like in the wild and they could see what a lion looks like. And they might be lucky enough to see a lion actually catching some prey, which they would obviously never see in a zoo. In addition to that, I think that by closing down the zoos, we would be freeing up a lot of very valuable land, which is land that we need for our people. The land, at the moment, is a consumer of wealth because it costs us money to keep the animals in cages. If the animals were released to shelters and reserves where they could be looked after, then that land could be used for building houses, building businesses. This would create jobs. There would be more houses in the city. People would then be paying for services, rent and taxes. Contrary to the apartheid structure, people should be brought into the city where they can contribute to the bottom line. This way, they will not be a drain on the fiscus. So to me it's a no brainer. Close the zoos, put the animals back in the places where they actually can enjoy freedom. Obviously you can never put them back in the wild, but there are rehabilitation centres that will cater for them. They should have freedom to walk around and live in ways that best suit them. At the same time, we will be providing much needed housing and jobs.

What is your message to South Africa? I think my message to South Africans is something that I actually saw in America just recently. I went to shoot a short film in the Capitol Building, where they have their Congress. America actually started with towns forming States, which subsequently combined to form the United States of America. The same could be true of South Africa. We have diverse kinds of people, many nationalities and areas. Nevertheless, we need to become one because together we are going to be much stronger than if we are apart.


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