Mr Yusuf Cassim (DA)


What is your political background and what attracted you to your political party? I have always been interested in politics dating as far back as 2009. I studied BCom Accounting and I got involved in my first year on campus in 2009 with what was the Muslim Student Association. I was approached when the DA wanted a student structure at the university. At the time I was not even a DA supporter; I grew up in an ANC family and I was an ANC supporter all my life. Some of my family members were prominent members of the ANC members during the apartheid era.

Whilst in my first year on campus, I immediately picked up that student governance was an issue. R2.5 million that could have been used to assist students was looted left right and centre by the ANC-aligned student structure at the university. Many young people at the time who wanted to do good did not feel they could do much. I then formed the DA structure at NMMU as a vehicle to change what was happening.

My political progression began when I won the election which was something that was not expected within a very short period of time. I became the SRC president and after that I was approached to run for the youth leadership at a national level. I stood for Federal Youth Chairperson elected at the congress with over 90% of the votes. Even at this time it was all about trying to drive change in terms of student issues within the university. I saw a gap within our national parliamentary caucus and also the higher education committee that the people who are representing the sector actually do not have an in depth understanding of student issues. Towards the end of 2013 I made myself available to be in Parliament and I went through the party’s procedures and processes and in 2014 I was elected to be a Member of Parliament for the DA.

Which constituency office are you assigned to and what do you find most interesting about constituency work? Interestingly, with the DA I pioneered together with Ms Helen Zille a new type of constituency, because ordinarily constituency offices are made up of local ward areas. So under the provisions of the DA provincial leadership we then started the DASO constituency which constituted the 50 campuses across the Eastern Cape including FET colleges. This contributed towards our victory at the University of Fort Hare, and a lot of people could not believe it. This model proved to be useful and beneficial for students to have someone they can directly go to in their campuses to register their issues. We have extrapolated that model across the country with DASO constituencies across the country with MPs and MPLs assigned to those offices.

There are massive amounts of students that are not getting the necessary support to succeed, and there are enormous administrative issues in student governance in the universities. We are now piloting new projects that will be able to assist students across the board from commuting to and fro campuses and home and financial support. For example, we are now working together with the Mayor’s Office in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro to subsidise free transportation for poor students to be able to commute from home to their campuses. These are some of the issues we are able drive that we would not be able to do if we did not have a constituency office dedicated to students.

what are you most passionate about? This applies both personally and professionally. There is a lot to juggle and those who actually do their work do not really have free time. However, when I do have free time I spend it with my family.

What do you think are the most prominent problems within our education system? I spoke in a debate on the fee crisis in Parliament and higher education is completely under-funded in the country. We spend around 0.62% on higher education as a percentage of GDP, which is less than half of what is spent by countries like Ghana let alone other African countries. Ghana and Senegal spend more than double on higher education and training as a percentage of their GDP than what South Africa does. It is clear that universities in the country are not funded properly and the increasing fees consequently affects students coming from poor backgrounds.

What is your message to South Africans? Young people need to become more politically aware and conscious, because we cannot wait for someone else to take care of our issues for us. If we do not rise up to become more politically aware and become involved in dealing with issues that affect us directly, we will not get the solutions that are most suitable for us.

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