Dr Mimmy Martha Gondwe

Aug. 17, 2020 (1 month ago)


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

Honestly, I do not have a lengthy political background. My first experience in the political field came through being employed by Parliament as a Researcher and Content Advisor for one of the Select Committees in the National Council of Provinces. During my employment at Parliament, I occupied the roles of Parliamentary Researcher and Content Advisor, both of which required I play a non-partisan role. The roles required me to provide research and content related support to the various MPs that sat on my Committee. I made it a point to stay clear of any direct political involvement. As such, nobody knew about my political affiliation. I later became a silent member of the DA. I originally applied to become an MP because in order to join the DA, you must have first applied to become an MP. It is not a position that is just bestowed or given to you on a silver platter. You have to actually earn the position. It is therefore based on merit, whether or not you qualify and if you further possess the attributes and the characteristics that are necessary to become a Member of Parliament. Honourable Dennis Joseph, and some other DA Members of the Committee I served on, noticed my potential as an effective legislator, parliamentarian and a person who could make a real change and difference in the lives of South Africans and who in addition to the above, could actually articulate the needs and wants of the people she represents in a forum such as Parliament. Honourable Joseph first approached me in 2013 and encouraged me to apply to become an MP. He kindly facilitated a meeting between myself, himself and Honourable Mmusi Maimane. However, at the time, I felt that my children were too young and that getting actively involved in the political space was not a good idea. I expressed my appreciation of the invitation to apply to become an MP as I was humbled that he saw a leader in me. Another Member of the DA, Honourable George Michalakis, who later sat on the Committee I served on, again approached me about the possibility of becoming an MP. He alerted me as soon as the application process opened up. The efforts by Honourable Josephs and Michalakis encouraged me to join the DA and to ultimately apply to become an MP under the DA banner and I have no regrets about doing this. As a woman of God, I cherish Apostle Paul's humility so I try to live by a personal motto that goes something like this: "The higher I go, the more humble I have to become". I continually acknowledge that God is all-knowing and all-seeing and we are just human beings. We are just the instruments in His hands and He uses us for his purpose. I applied to become an MP, and the application process was rigorous. The processes included written, online and oral assessments. During the interview process I had a face to face interview with an interview panel. I was given a speech topic right on the spot and I was given few minutes to give a speech before the panel. The panel asked me questions on how Parliament and government works. The questions had very little to do with politics per se. To my greatest surprise, I did quite well. I was initially placed third on the Western Cape list to go to the National Assembly and later, I was pushed to second place after the selection process was finalised. I am really glad I went through the whole process. I do not like being labelled a politician because, at times, the term carries with it such negative connotations. I prefer to be seen as a channel of blessings. I like to be seen as a channel of understanding and agreement where there is misunderstanding and disagreement. A channel that tries to eliminate poverty where it exists. A channel of equality where there is inequality, and a channel that creates employment for the unemployed.

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

As an MP, your job is to ensure that you articulate the concerns and needs of the people you represent at a national level. You also make laws, enable public participation, and ensure that members of the public can participate in the parliamentary processes. Additionally, a main yet little known role of an MP is to talk about and advance human rights. As an MP, you must fight to ensure that the rights of citizens are protected, rights such as the right to life and right to access socio-economic opportunities. Access to those rights is enabled by the Constitution, and your role as an MP is to ensure these rights are protected and not trampled on by the government and others. Members of Parliament have to also participate in and make significant contributions at the local, regional, national and global level. Furthermore, it is important that MPs have effective oversight of the Executive. The Executive has to spend the money entrusted to them by members of the public, in providing quality services and dignity to South Africans. South Africans were denied their dignity for a long time, including the right to access housing and water. These inequalities and bridges must come down. We must reduce inequality because the reality is that we live in one of the most unequal societies in the world. Measures must be in place to ensure that everyone has access to the same type of services and quality of life.

Let me speak a bit about my educational background. I have a BA in Political Philosophy from UCT, an LLB from Rhodes University, and both an LLM and an LLD in Mercantile Law from Stellenbosch University. The day I graduated from Stellenbosch University was when I realised that everything that I am and everything that I am yet to become is bigger than just me and my family. When I got my PhD in 2011, there was an announcement that I was the first African woman to get a PhD in Mercantile Law from Stellenbosch University. From this, I realised that everything that I had attained, everything that I was, and everything that I was yet to become was bigger than me, and that I was blessed to bless other people. I cannot allow myself to be educated and not try to make a difference in other people's life. Another passion of mine is mentoring and motivating young people to go to school to study. When you educate a girl child, you educate a nation. I know that is a very popular adage, but I think there is something about women and young girls - we think beyond ourselves. We always think ‘how is this going to affect and benefit my family and community and possibly my nation?’ It is very important for me to see women and young girls educated. I recognise that there are women out there who are not in the privileged position that I am to not only be educated, but to be fortunate enough to be as highly educated as I am. I recognise that it just can't be about me making money. I was fortunate, I got a lot of scholarships as well when I was still studying for my PhD including the Fulbright Scholarship. So I was able to go to Cornell University as a visiting scholar and this gave me the opportunity to meet various people, and I must say traveling has opened up my eyes quite a bit. When I was at Cornell, some of best performing and leading students, myself included, were from Africa. This furthered my belief in my continent and that the people of my continent are game changers. I am Africanist. I am a 100% black African woman. I always say to people, the one thing you don't have control over is where you are born and the circumstances under which you are born. I could have been born in Bangladesh or Europe but God chose for me to be born and raised in Africa. I believe that God does not make mistakes. So I thank God I was born in Africa, I love my country, and I love my continent.

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

I think I'll speak for myself and my party. I joined the DA because most of the values that the party ascribes to I resonate with me – especially our party motto which is "One South Africa for All". What I think also drew me to the DA was that this is one party where one can find a black person and a white person, a coloured person, an Indian person, all working together towards common values and goals. It is not a polarised party in the sense that you find members of a particular race dominating the discourse of the party and determining the course of the party. We are all equals in this party. It is quite amazing. When I am on the ground, I go to my constituency office. There is an amicable relationship among most of us in the party. They call me Mimmy. I call my leaders by their names. There is a mutual respect amongst party members and a general respect for party processes. We make sure that we do things the right way. One of the things that we really want to do in this Parliament is to ensure we continue to hold the Executive accountable because we endeavour to be the alternative party that holds the solutions for our people. The ANC has failed our people time and time again. There is no denying it. You only need to look at some of the things currently taking place in our country, such as the xenophobic attacks in Gauteng and the increased violence against women and children. I am worried about all these things, and my fellow South Africans ought to be worried too. We must ensure that all the Ministers - Ministers of Police, Social Development, Finance, Public Enterprise and other role-players perform effectively to meet the needs of the people of South Africa. People need jobs right now. People need to feel safe. And that is what we stand for as a party. We want a South Africa where the police force is effective, where people who deserve to be in the police force are the ones there. The criminal justice system is in such a mess because the people in it are rotten. They cannot serve a good purpose in the current state. And so our focus would be to continue to hold the Executive accountable so that we can root out corruption. Yes, we can root out the malfeasance and all the other ills plaguing our country. All the rot that has been taking place in the previous Zuma administration has to go. And that will be our emphasis as the DA. We will hold Ministers accountable. We will continue to push for debates around jobs, push for debate around ensuring that our students are safe. Our children and women should feel safe. We must sensitise our young men when they still are young about respecting women and respecting their mothers and their sisters and respecting those women in their lives. The safety and protection of women must be prioritised. We must strive to boost their self-esteem. The most successful countries in this world have exceedingly low levels of gender-based violence because they start at a young age. It is unfortunate what we experience as gender-based violence in the country. As politicians, we have to go back and talk to our communities and teach them how to respect women. I am also really passionate about teaching our young people to care for their environment. We have a problem, especially in the informal settlements, of illegal dumping. We have to teach them about climate change. It is real. That is why we are having colder winters and warmer summers. Places such as Greenland, where you would previously never have seen a lot of sunshine, are now becoming tourist attractions because they are now warmer. The ice is melting. We have a problem here and that is our focus in the Sixth Parliament. We have a Jobs Bill that we want to push. There is a youth service component to the Jobs Bill. Nigeria has similar legislation in place and it is working in terms of getting young people into the system. The important thing is for us, as the major opposition, to exercise this fundamental role. We must continue to hold the Executive accountable and ensure that they do what they are supposed to do. Create innovative solutions and deliver jobs and security to the people.

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

Unfortunately, the Executive does not take Parliament seriously at the moment. Some ministers do not attend parliamentary meetings, but instead send their DGs to attend these meetings. This is unfortunate because the individual Ministers are responsible for whatever his or her Department does or does not do. At times, some officials of the departments feel they are not answerable to Members of the opposition. But when you are sitting as a Committee, you must remember that you are a Committee of Parliament. You forget about political affiliation and your job is to ensure that you hold the Executive accountable and answerable for its actions. I think the patronage within the ruling party is problematic. It has prevented them from really holding some of the government Departments accountable. Corruption is another problem. Some of the corruption is hidden. In some instances, what government Departments report to Parliament is, more often than not, not a reflection of the reality on the ground. Leaders should be on the ground to see what is happening, to be in touch with the people and articulate their interests, needs and concerns in the House. Therefore, more time should be allocated to constituency work, which is why it is important to prioritise a constituency-based system over the Proportional Representation (PR) system. This allows Members to get close to those they lead and do a thorough job. The community should be able to elect the people they want to lead and political parties should shy away from imposing leaders on communities. In the PR system, the same set of people rule all the time. Having transitioned from an employee of Parliament to become an MP, one of the best compliments I got was from a young lady who works at Parliament. She said it was the first time in her life that she will know somebody serving in Parliament because she is used to seeing the same people being elected to serve in Parliament. She added that it is was not about the party that I would be representing in Parliament but rather about the fact that I used to be one of them – I was once in the trenches supporting MPs just like them and now I had become an MP. For her, that makes me a role model for young people like her who aspire to be leaders. I take this with me every day. When I walk around Parliament, people ask if I am a celebrity because many people will recognize and greet me. I feel as though seeing one of their own who has become an MP gives them hope that one day, they too can do the same. I want to be a channel of hope to others who aspire to also serve as leaders and say that if I can be here, then you can also be here one day representing your people. It is not impossible.

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

I have been assigned to George and I am serving as one of the two constituency heads in George. George is a huge constituency and as such it had to be split into two constituencies. I have 12 wards that I look after and that effectively means I work with 12 councillors. Being a new MP, it was very important for me to try and always be on the ground and build solid relationships with the people in my wards. One of the first things that I consciously did, after being allocated George as my constituency, was to try and ensure I visit all the 12 wards assigned to me. I spent time with my councillors and tried to get to know them better and their reasons for joining the party. I have been striving to work closely with all of them and to build relationships with them. I also try to encourage them to share best practices. I encourage them to work together, not in silos. One of greatest challenges that we have as a country at a local, provincial, and national level is the lack of cooperation among the various departments. To handle crime, for example, the Police, the departments of Health, Social Development and Justice must work together. I encourage my councillors to break away from the traditional ‘silo’ way of doing things and to work together. We have many councillors who are very experienced and others who are still struggling. Yet, it is not a competition. We are here to serve the people. That is why most of the time I do not like being labelled a politician. I am just fortunate to be one of the few chosen to actually represent my people. I was very touched in one of my visits to George when I saw the faces of some of the people that I represent with my seat in Parliament. Seeing the faces of all those people was a stark reminder for me that I am here because of a multitude of people that are looking up to me to ensure that their interests and needs are articulated at a national level and for that reason, I must do my utmost best not to fail them.

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

I may sound biased, but I think the opposition party (DA) is doing a very good job in terms of holding the Executive accountable. We put out press statements. We are always on the ground. As DA MPs, we are always assessed on the work that we do. To do so, you must go and work in your constituency and you have to work in the legislature. To do so we have to be on the ground. In Parliament, we drive and put issues out there and hold relevant Ministers accountable. Due to these immense efforts, I humbly believe that the opposition party is doing its best. However, Parliament as a whole must do a lot better. We need to be on ground to solve most of the most pressing problems in South Africa. Issues such as xenophobia and gender- based violence can be resolved if we concentrate our efforts interacting with our people. We must make our people realise that sometimes it is not about what a politician can do for you but about what you can do to help government. We must get people out of a dependency mode where they are looking to government for everything. For instance, in order to curb the scourge of GBV parents have a role to play, it is about you as a parent teaching your boy to respect women and girls. We can do more and achieve these goals if we truly are on the ground more often and interact face to face with our constituents.

Are you happy with the proportional representation system or are you in favour of electoral reform?

I am in favour of electoral reform and want a constituency-based system. I am not happy with the current PR system. As I previously mentioned, you find that you vote for a party and then the party selects the people that will represent you in Parliament. And sometimes this leads to patronage because some people occupy political positions that they do not in all honesty deserve to occupy. And that's why I love the DA system because one has to apply to become a public representative and also has to be able to read and write. The ability to read and write are two important abilities that, in my opinion, a legislator must possess. A few years back, I went to Bahrain when I was still an official and I was impressed with the fact that their Parliament (Shura Council) is made up of MPs with a vast amount of professional experience. For example, I met a gentleman who holds a PhD in Accounting serving on their finance committee. The legislators were all professionals in their own right and that made such a huge contribution to the quality of the debate and the work of their Parliament. People that have work experience bring practical experience to the table. Practical experience is very important. In order for one to have a grasp and an understanding of issues and at all levels, local, regional and international level, I believe you ought to be a person who loves reading and writing, and be a humble and attentive listener when spoken to. Therefore, it is very important that we have a constituency-based system where people are able to say, ‘we want that person because he is a hard worker’. Or ‘we want that person because we know he can deliver for us’. But leaders are forced on people because of the current PR system, and many of these leaders are not necessarily good leaders let alone good people.

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?

Just before I transitioned to being an MP, I was fortunate to lead a team of officials. We were charged with developing a public involvement index for Parliament. Essentially, we were developing an instrument that Parliament can use to determine the extent to which the public is able to participate in its processes. While doing this work, I discovered that people enjoy watching Parliamentary sessions nowadays because there is a lot more action happening in Parliament. I think we need to take advantage of this and get more people involved in the processes of Parliament. I would like to see more Members of Parliament active on social media, be it through tweeting and telling people about Parliament and how it works or on Facebook posting on what they are doing and engaging people on the ground. Social media is ever growing and is a very important way to reach out to our youth. The only way you're going to get people to participate is if you get on the ground, listen to their concerns and understand their needs. Then you bring those here and you articulate them. There is plenty of room to do substantially more in this regard as we are in such a technological era. People say we are in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but I say we are in the Fifth, or even the Sixth Industrial Revolution. I would like to see us using a lot more technology because young people are very tech savvy. This doesn’t have to necessarily be done only through tweeting. I would like to explore the realm of online sessions where we can spend an hour just listening to members of the public, understanding and responding to their needs. This will hopefully encourage participation in politics from those who feel their voice is never heard. However, there are areas with no access to Wi-Fi or television. We need to reach out to this population as well, but to do so we must be on the ground, going to the most remote places. Gone are the days where it is lucrative to be in politics. This gives room for those of us that are truly called to lead. I am passionate about people. I love people. I love my country. I like to get to know people. I do not care what you do. I believe I can always learn from that ordinary person on the street. I do not always believe I have the answers. I am passionate about listening and hearing from people. One thing I do a lot when I am traveling is eavesdrop on people's conversations, especially when they are talking about politics or the economy. I like to listen to what people are saying so that I can ensure that I am a proactive politician, not a reactive one. I like to be in touch with people. When I am sitting next to somebody, I like to talk to the person to get know about them a bit. I do not ask them political questions, but simple questions like what they do for a living and I try to figure out what makes them tick. Clearly, I am passionate about people. I am passionate about making a difference in a person's life. I will always believe you don't always have to change the world. People say, I want to change the world but I say start by just changing an individual, then you move on to a society, then you move onto a nation, then you can touch the world. You start with that one person if you can. And you know, it can have a ripple effect, the little that you can do, do it. I am passionate about learning from other people. I do not and can never know enough. I believe I will stop learning only when I am dead. I am always open to learning, open to growing, especially from the people of South Africa. I love this country because it is so diverse. I am also passionate about languages. I try my best to learn other South African languages. I watch television shows that are broadcast in vernacular so that I can pick up other languages. I love my continent. I try and keep a network of friends that I met in America. We used to get together as Africans when I studied in Germany and America, which was a great way to stay connected to my roots. As such I have friends from Rwanda, Kenya and Eritrea, some of which are now based in Europe or America. I try to keep an array of friends. I talk to them a lot and we exchange ideas. We talk about what we are reading, what’s happening across the globe and so on. I will never know enough. People assume because you've got a PhD, you know everything. That is such a misnomer. On the contrary, you know only about a little bit. I am traditionally Tswana but I am learning to speak Afrikaans and IsiXhosa because those are the main languages in my constituency.

What is your message to South Africa?

There is a lot of hope for this country. I will say it again. There is a lot of hope for this country. Please don't give up on the country and on us, the politicians that you're looking up to and have the power to positively effect South Africa. South Africa has so much to offer, so many possibilities. South Africa has so much to offer the world and the continent and people should not give up. We will continue to strive for a better South Africa, a more peaceful South Africa, and a more equal South Africa. As leaders, we can't do everything alone. We need you. We need the private sector, we need big businesses. We need that gogo’s shop in the rural areas, we need everybody to believe in the country and to hold hands and to work together towards making it a better place. It is your job as an ordinary South African to make sure that you make a difference. Vote. Learn about politics to make a difference. It is about you starting to make a difference from your home. You move to the community then onto the society. Every good deed counts. So, never give up on doing good and try to make your society and the world a better place. South Africa is a beautiful country and I want to assure South Africans that there are still some hardworking MPs that are on the ground trying to make a difference. Do not paint us all with the same brush. Without you, I cannot be. So please do not give up hope in this country, and in people who are leading. I believe that one day we will have One South Africa for All. That is what the DA, as a party, wants. I believe we will have jobs in every home. Let us hold hands and remember, you make a difference when you vote. The local government elections are coming - please make the right choices. Do not stay at home and say, I do not want to vote. Your vote would ensure that there are more roads, there are more houses and there is more food on the table. But please, vote for the right candidate, vote for the right party, the party that you know can make a difference and that is made up of people that have integrity. Not just people that are out to fatten their pockets. Please help us stop corruption but reporting it - we cannot stop corruption alone.


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