"I am accessible. An MP is not someone up there that nobody knows. My constituency knows me and I serve my people."
What is your political background? How did you come to join your political party and become an MP?
I was an activist in the Democratic Party (DP) pre-94. The reason why I joined to the DP is because I am liberal and the principles of the political party were what I aspired to most. At the time I was just an activist in the 90s, and I assisted during the first democratic elections. I enjoyed the process and this is when I got more and more involved. My branch suggested that I stand for Council election in 1995 with the first local government elections. I got elected and in 1999, when it was the second general elections, I decided to stand in the Legislature and I got elected. In 2009, I stood for Parliament and this is the beginning of my third term and I am enjoying it very much.
What does your job as an MP entail? What do you enjoy about being an MP?
There are two aspects to being an MP. The first is the legislative work in Parliament. The Committee work involves being able to influence government policies. So the real work is done in Portfolio Committees. That is where you really interact and are able to thrash out what needs to be done. We hold House meetings for confirmation and finalisation of decisions taken.
I use all the tools that are available to me in Parliament: questions, both written and oral statements, motions with notice and motions without notice. I try to use all these tools to fulfill what we want to do. The second aspect of being an MP is constituency work. I enjoy that the most. It requires that I interact with people directly and bring Parliament to the people. You meet people on the street, talk to them and try to make a positive difference in their lives.
What are your or your party's aspirations/plans for the Sixth Parliament?
I serve in the Tourism Portfolio Committee, and I would like tourism to become a real economic driver. It is an easy way of government creating job opportunities, creating jobs and growing the economy with minimal expense. We are able to grow the economy through tourism. So that is my ultimate goal in this Parliament. So I would like to make a difference in such a way that we can grow employment through the tourism sector and that'll be my long term plan. We have already started interacting with the Minister and Committee Chairpersons and seeing where we can contribute to make a difference to job creation, particularly in underprivileged communities, and in townships. Tourism is the easiest way of making or creating entrepreneurs without necessarily those entrepreneurs having a lot of money to start with because that is always the problem. For example, a person who owns a house in a township and has a spare room, and can use that room to lease up to tourists. They already have the assets, they already have the infrastructure. There is no additional costs. The great thing about modern tourism is that modern tourists are interested in experiences. They no longer want to go to a fancy hotel because once you have been to one fancy hotel, they are all the same. But, when you go to someone's home, the experience is very different. Your home will be very different from mine. So people want experiences and that is an exciting thing.
What obstacles prevent parliament from doing its work and how would you fix it?
They are many. One of the problems is the red tape and the long processes. That is something we have to work on consciously over time to try and create some shortcuts. The next barrier is party political stances. I have never tried to mix politics with my parliamentary duties because that causes unnecessary delays. Sometimes, people think there is a political motive behind your action and that does not help. I serve in the Portfolio Committee because I want to make a difference. I want to change the situation. I believe we are in an economic crisis right now and we need to get out of it as quickly as possible in whatever way we can. As I said, tourism is an easy way of doing it. That is what I want to do. I have met with the Minister, the Deputy Minister and the Chairperson of the Committee and we decided not to play politics with the matter. We all agreed that there is no significant difference in our political approach towards tourism and on how to achieve the goal. We need to influence the change positively.
Which constituency office have you been assigned to? Can you give examples of constituency work you engage in?
My constituency is Johannesburg South. I have been the political Head of that Constituency for many years, for as long as I have been in the Parliament, Legislature and so forth. I know the constituency and the community very well. We do a lot of activities. For example, the Information Table makes the Parliament accessible to the people. People like to see their representatives in constituencies. They need to be able to talk to and interact with MPs. So whenever I am in Johannesburg, I make sure I am in my constituency every day. I have an Information Table, team meetings, community meetings and so forth. I am accessible. An MP is not someone up there that nobody knows. My constituency knows me and I serve my people. People have my number and I am in the local newspaper. People should be part of our democracy. Those are the kind of things that we do. By whatever means, I make sure that I am as visible and accessible as I can be 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 do not think it does a very good job. Unfortunately, our political system is too strong and party affiliation is often more important than the country. That is particularly true of the ruling party and it is a big problem. As a result, people in government are not held to account. We saw this very obviously in the Zuma years. Zuma, with his Cabinet and buddies, were protected by very important people, like the former Speaker, who was the head of Parliament. She should be defending this institution and not a political party, be it the ANC or any other party. She should be fair. So I don't think there is enough accountability. Fortunately, the DA has a very strong whippery, we have very strong Chief Whips and they try to put things in the correct order wherever they are. They protect Members of Parliament. We need to bring the Ministers to account. That is the constant work we need to be doing because the reality is that we are still a young democracy. I believe in the future. Maybe a hundred years down the line, the party's hold won't be as strong and we will mature a lot and people will be able to freely operate on the principle of defending our country and not a particular party. So I think we'll get to that but at the moment we're not there. That's why our positions are important to hold the Executive accountable.
Are you happy with the proportional representation system or are you in favor of electoral reform?
I would like electoral reform. I believe there should be a mixed system similar to what you have in local government councils. 50% of the Councillors represent actual communities that are present in actual wards and the other 50% represents political parties. I think we should do that in Parliament. This will ensure the smaller parties that cannot win the constituencies will still get elected through the list. So it ensures representivity as much as possible. The majority of the MPs, I would say about 300 of them, represent constituencies. This balances things out. It also means that MPs will then have a different attitude when defending the work in Parliament because they will not be only looking after their political party but after the community. And they know that they will have to look after their community if they want to be reelected. If that community sees that MP is defending them and fighting for their interests in a particular constituency, the MP will likely be reelected. I think it would be a good balance. Certainly we do need that reform. I think it's overdue and I'm hoping that this kind of issue will be dealt with in this Parliament.
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?
It is a good thing that Parliament gets a lot more attention now, partly because of the bad antics of the EFF. I do not think they have brought any dignity to Parliament. Parliament should not be a place for violence. It should be a place of respect and dignity. But at the same time, they have made Parliament more interesting and people are watching it through a number of channels. I think the SABC should make parliamentary channels free and available to everyone. This way, the poorest of the poor can have quick access to Parliament without having to pay for it. The same thing should happen over the radio. I think that would be a great way to start adding interest and it should be live. The stations can repeat meetings when Parliament is on recess. People should have universal access to Parliament. Interests have increased but I think a lot of work needs to be done to enhance accessibility. Parliament has been a lot more interesting and it's important that people know those that represent them and what they are up to. Politically speaking, I would want our economy to change. We're still molded within the apartheid design of economy, where poor people continue to get poorer. We need to create an environment where opportunities are developed for the people. I think part of the problem is that our educational system continues to be bad. South Africans aren't particularly well-educated, unless you're educated in a private school. That's a big problem and we need to change the whole educational system. If you're not good enough, you don't get promoted to the next level. We're going to see positive changes in the economy when the education system improves. Better educated people tend to think in a different way. They are able to make decisions themselves. So that is the first thing. The second is that government needs to create an attractive environment for investment. The reality is that investors have the whole world to choose from and they are not going to invest in a country that has bad labour laws. They are not going to invest in a country riddled with violence and protests where people from other countries feel unsafe and unwelcome. We must welcome people, particularly those with skills, those that are qualified and could contribute to the nation's economy. Of course, you don't want criminals or people that will do bad things. That is why it is necessary to control those who get in, who have access to a work permit. It is a very complicated matter but we want people who have skills and can contribute to the economy. Those that do not have anything to offer will not be allowed in just like in any other country. My mission, and those of my colleagues in Parliament, is to create jobs and grow the economy. That's our priority and we'll work hard to make that happen. As far as my personal life is concerned, I believe in health. I'm health freak. So I believe in being healthy in mind and body. When you are in that state, you are able to perform better as a person. You interact with other people in a better way. You have a balanced life. You balance the spiritual, physical and mental sides of life. You will be able to contribute more to society. But it's very difficult for unemployed people to have a balanced life. Most of them don't have opportunities and they feel frustrated and so they turn to violence. That is the reason behind these xenophobic attacks. It's actually about frustration, people not having opportunities to be employed, earn their own incomes and be their own person. That's really what it is about. All other things are peripheral. Certain South Africans are frustrated because they see foreigners being employed, whereas they are not. What they fail to ask is why are these people are being employed, whether they are Nigerians, Angolans, Mozambicans or whatever. Most foreigners come from an education system that makes them think as entrepreneurs and they say, how do I create opportunities for myself? Through the education system, I don't think South Africans have been taught to think for themselves and that is the root of the problem. So we need to change that. There's a lot of work ahead of us. A person who is employed will not think of harming another person. They can disagree but they will often sit at the table to debate the matter. An educated person will not be in a state of mind to hurt another person. But an unemployed man, who has a family to feed, feels frustrated and might resort to violence. The nation has been through terrible times. In the 1980s, there was a constant feeling of war and emergency situations but we got out of that. I think we can do it again. We have a lot of apologising to do to the world. I think we have handled a particular set of people in Africa in a very bad and disrespectful way. Sure, we must deal with criminals. On the other hand, we must welcome people with skills that can contribute to the economy. We must be grateful for those people and learn from them. We must let them help to build our economy.
What is your message to South Africa?
I think the message is that we all need to take responsibility. It's not just government, it's not just people in Parliament. It's not just MPs, MPLs or councillors. We all need to take responsibility. And I feel that there's just so much negativity that people would rather watch from the sidelines and not get involved. I mean you can get involved in your own way. Not by doing anything particularly special, but for example, if you belong to a local church, you can promote health, help out with a feeding scheme or help out in a poor community, or we can contribute somehow. That's how we can do it. And if we all do that, we would have a very, very different country, much more positive, better country. So stop spectating and participate. It doesn't mean we should all become Mandela. That kind of person happens once in a lifetime. But we can be the local person who can contribute a few hours a month in our local community, helping out somewhere, feeding, assisting, building or whatever. And that's what I would suggest that we all do.
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