Ms Ruth Bhengu (ANC)


What is your political background and what attracted you to your political party? My political interest was sparked in high school in 1963 when I started to understand the language differences in black and white schools during the apartheid regime. I did not understand why I was being taught in isiZulu whilst white children were taught in English. At university the language of instruction will be English, but I was being put at a disadvantage if I wanted to advance my education. That was about the time my interest to further understand the issue of race in South Africa came to the fore.

I was then recruited by a union that provided me with training through community development workshops. Through the workshops and training I gained a deep understanding of the history of South Africa and other African countries, as well as the implications of racial divisions and colonisation.

Later on I was recruited and educated further on uneven levels of development, inequality, lack of participation of the majority of the people in the main stream economy. This was about the time I became an activist, and then I was elected by my community to be a representative of the civic structure before it became the South African National Civic organisation (SANCO) – it was residential association at the time and issues around service delivery and inequality around the country were often discussed.

In 1987 I was recruited by an ANC member to become an activist, because of my passion to contribute towards community development. For people to attain liberation we had to first attain political liberation, hence, I embraced my membership within the ANC.

What does your job as an MP entail? I became an MP in 1999 and my first deployment was to serve as the chairperson of the sport and recreation committee. At the time I did not have any background in sport and recreation, but I understood the racial divisions within our sport and recreation space. I spent the five years serving as a chairperson of that committee learning more and I appreciated the opportunity I was given to serve. I was still the chairperson during South Africa’s failed 2006 Soccer World Cup bid. In 2010 South Africa won the bid and even though the budget was miniscule we were able to mobilise all relevant structures of government towards making the 2010 Soccer World Cup a success. Thereafter I was deployed to the Portfolio Committee of Small Business Development where I serve as the Chairperson. It is important to note that I also served as a deputy major of the Ugu District Municipality in 2006 and that role gave me the opportunity to learn about the role of municipalities in community and economic development. We do oversight for Parliament and most importantly, we hold the Department along with other organisations mandated by government to contribute towards community and economic development like SEFA, SEDA, the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) and many others, to account.

What is your impression of the Fifth Parliament so far? Parliament has been able to understand the role that the portfolio committees have to play towards holding departments accountable. It is important to note that this is the first time that Parliament has given the portfolio committees the mandate to develop their own strategic plans in order to hold the Departments accountable based on what is laid out in that plan. Strategic plans must be in line with the overall mandate of Parliament, because it serves as benchmarks.

Which Constituency are you assigned to? What is the most interesting thing about your constituency work? I have been assigned in Giyani in Limpopo, because I am a member of the National Executive Committee and a convener of the NEC deployees in the Limpopo. I am originally from KZN, but I would not have been able to function well if my constituency office was in KZN.

I do not use my office only to get the problems of service delivery and pass them on to departments, I also respond to community economic development through cooperatives. So I use my office to empower the politicians and municipal officials within my constituency area to understand the role and importance of cooperatives to foster economic and community development. I run workshops as well as seminars to educate them about cooperatives and their role in community development. However, I also get invited by other politicians to do talks and run workshops to educate other people within their constituency areas.

What are you most passionate about? I do not believe that South Africa is a poor country given the state of our mineral resources and other resources at our disposal. I would love to see a community development model that decreases the registry of people in the country dependant on social grants, because social grants should be a short-term intervention by Government. I am very passionate about community development and implementing a steady community development model that will address social issues in the medium- and long-term period through cooperatives. I am passionate about developing a culture and understanding of the role of cooperatives to contribute towards economic development within the communities.

What would your message to South Africans be? We all need to understand what we mean by building a developmental state. This kind of state will not be realised if government does all the work. It will only be realised by sharing a common understanding in terms of the role that communities must play to build or contribute towards their own development. It is important that we also have a business sector that is open enough to work with the community, so that people can not only be consumers and workers but be actively involved in all economic pillars to build a developmental state that will in turn empower them.


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