A look into the minds of the new political generation.
Four young, up-and-coming politicians speak their minds about the state of the nation and their personal dreams ahead of the May elections.
United Democratic Movement’s Chief Whip Nqabayomzi Kwankwa
I was born and raised in Middeldrift, in the former Ciskei. Both my grandfathers were active members of the ANC, while my father was branch chair in my village.
After graduating, I worked in banking for nine years and in 2009 I went into full-time politics. I had left the ANC in 2006 because of all the infighting. I first joined Azapo, then the United Democratic Movement in 2007 and became an MP for the UDM in 2013 and the party’s chief whip in 2014.
The UDM is a social democratic party that is pragmatic and pro-poor. We acknowledge that past imbalances must be addressed. The fact that the party’s leaders had struggle credentials was critical to me.
There’s a great deal of despair following the long years of Jacob Zuma’s rule… As a politician it is difficult to campaign as the people think you too will lie or make promises you won’t keep.
In my home town we have a mobile clinic that is meant to visit villages so that senior citizens can pick up their medication. It’s not happening… it’s not even being supervised. Ailing senior citizens are regularly transported in wheelbarrows to get their meds – sometimes only to find the clinic [randomly] closed on that day.
These stories are heartbreaking. And don’t even think of getting any cooperation from the local health department if you’re from an opposition party. If the councillor in that area is ANC, it’s a zero-sum game if you try to escalate things.
The cry I am hearing is that there is a general lack of service delivery and basic amenities, especially in small villages. There is terrible unemployment and because there are no recreational facilities, young people are turning to drugs – even making their own drugs.
In my village, when I was growing up the situation was not so complicated. It was just alcohol and dagga. Today, there is nyaope and many people mix ARVs to turn it into a drug. They identify the people who are HIV-positive and target them to get their ARVs to smoke.
A cousin of mine who was HIV-positive was killed because people demanded his ARVs and he said no. They chopped him up with an axe, like a piece of wood. That was three years ago. The people responsible are languishing in jail, serving long terms but it won’t bring my cousin back.
If we had provided opportunities for education and employment, most of these things would not be happening. In previous times, there were agricultural programmes in Alice, Middeldrift and Keiskamma. These were a source of employment for people, as they would get a cut from the produce, but that is no longer the case since those schemes closed down. The unemployed youth have two choices – stay in the village and depend on their grandmothers’ social grants or move to the cities. Those who stay invariably end up using drugs to escape their reality. Many in my home village have tried to commit suicide. A friend of mine tried to hang himself in December, while I was home. Somebody walked in while he was hanging from the roof and pulled him down. We have been encouraging him to go for counselling but when you get to the clinics there is nobody available to help.
What happens in the villages is that the governing party takes food parcels and announces these Expanded Public Works Programmes (EPWPs) and then they disappear and there is nothing again.
The Eastern Cape has many mud schools. Education is really suffering in this province. One of the things we discovered in the Eastern Cape is that principals are telling learners that if they fail trials, they cannot sit down and write matric. This is to inflate the pass rates in that province.
The government has not been able to measure the economy’s informal sector properly so as to make the necessary interventions for them to transition to the formal sector. Yes, we have chronic unemployment, but part of the problem is that we haven’t measured it. Unfortunately the small-business ministry spends 80% of its budgets on the Setas.
The ANC has destroyed the Transkei region. When they took over, the Transkei had a basic infrastructure and things functioned quite well. Go to Umtata, Queenstown, King Williams Town and Stutterheim and those towns in the former Transkei today and they are completely destroyed. There has been no maintenance of buildings and infrastructure.
Money should have been spent to turn the Transkei into an economic hub but this has not happened. Business people tell me they have tried to do business in the province but politicians keep asking for bribes.
We must give credit where it is due – the commissions of inquiry established by President Cyril Ramaphosa are a good thing, even though you cannot say he was not responsible, as Zuma’s deputy.
The issues to be addressed after the election are socio-economic: unemployment, poverty and inequality. This will only work by creating policy certainty for investors. The ANC government has not provided clarity on land expropriation without compensation.
One of the biggest problems in the country is a shortage of resources at municipal level. It is all very well to sort out issues at national level, but at provincial and municipal level there is not only a shortage of resources but also no capacity to do anything. It’s not just about finance, it’s about competent people in those positions.
I went into politics believing I believe I have a contribution to make in building a better South Africa for all. We have the best constitution in the world. All we need is committed leaders who believe in a better South Africa for all – and making it enforceable.
There are many things to be hopeful about in South Africa. We just need to pull together. Compared with some other countries I have visited on the African continent, we are lucky, we have the most industrialised economy in Africa, we have something to build on but we do not appreciate this, we don’t build on it. We continue to fight about peripheral issues. Look at what we are not talking about.
When it comes to human rights globally, the voice of South Africa carries a lot of weight. We are too parochial.”
DA candidate for the Western Cape Provincial Parliament
“Recently, when we were campaigning in Lotus River and Pelican Park, Western Cape Premier Helen Zille, along with Western Cape Premier-elect Alan Winde and Mayor of Cape Town Dan Plato were canvassing door-to-door. An older woman walked up to me and asked, ‘Will you help us?’ She told me how SAPS are nowhere to be found when the community needs them. The DA wants to run provincial policing. Currently, SAPS is under-trained, understaffed, under-resourced and under-equipped. We want to overhaul the SAPS to actually serve the needs of communities.
The community I grew up in is a small neighbourhood called Hillside in Port Elizabeth. I come from a very public-service orientated family: my mother is a grade two teacher and my father, a policeman.
My proudest achievement is admitting myself as an advocate in December 2017. I have always been passionate about the law and justice and how the main role of legislators is to ensure that South Africans are protected by the law; that we foster an inclusive economic environment for growth; that laws are not overly cumbersome on people; and that the most vulnerable are protected. I love the law because we as a society need to be better than the individual.
I joined the DA in 2009 when I started studying at Stellenbosch University. I have worked as an activist and served as Stellenbosch branch leader of the DA Student Organisation (Daso), as well as dealing with campus-specific issues. Daso promoted the DA’s vision of an open society for all.
In September 2011 I was elected as the first politically affiliated SRC member at the University of Stellenbosch since 1994, with the support of Daso Stellenbosch.
I also participated in the DA’s Young Leaders development programme, designed to impart the skills, knowledge and confidence to be future leaders of the DA and of South Africa.
In 2012 I was elected as the Stellenbosch DA Youth leader and I remained involved while at university. In 2013 my mentor and I approached the Western Cape Premier with the idea for the Year Beyond project whereby selected young people acquire a leadership qualification and the chance to meet influential people. They also work in groups to come up with proposals to assist the Western Cape Government in preventing school drop-outs and improving academic excellence. The Year Beyond was officially launched in 2014 and the Premier allocated R10m to expand the programme.
I was appointed as DA NCOP Political Assistant in June 2015 and was promoted to DA NA Political Assistant to the Chief Whip and Whippery in 2018.
What disturbs me most about South Africa today is the rampant unemployment, especially among the youth.
I believe one needs to be a doer to achieve results for the most vulnerable of our communities, and a thinker to find the fairest solution when creating legislation and ensuring we move towards a more united South Africa.
I find hope in the fact that South Africa is a diverse nation with an abundance of skill, talent and resources. It is a strength of South Africans to persevere through adversity. That gives me hope. What makes me optimistic is our collective determination to find innovative solutions in a country restrained by its painful and horrific past.
South Africans are resilient. We overcame apartheid, we can overcome our current state. I believe there are enough honest people in our country with integrity to help pull South Africa up by its bootstraps.
Everybody wants to be in government, that’s the whole point of politics – you win votes so you can help govern. In the next ten years I’d love to serve the Western Cape community in provincial government and one day become Minister of Justice or of Finance. This is possible, especially given the academic records of previous ministers. I would love a portfolio where I could push for change.”
IFP Member of Parliament
“In 2014, when I was campaigning door-to-door in a deep rural area near Umzumbe in KwaZulu-Natal, an old lady said to me, ‘I have no interest in speaking to politicians… we have come to expect that you guys will steal our money; if we give you 100, don’t steal 80 and service us with 20, rather just steal 20 and service us with 80’. Politicians are just not seen as an honest group. That encounter will stay with me forever. It was a shocker.
Most South Africans, particularly young people, are in a state of complete uncertainty about the country as we go into elections. With each passing day, our problems in so far as economic growth, job creation, service delivery and general development are compounded. That 1994 promise of a better life for all has not materialised. There is a sense that the system has failed us all except of course those travelling on the gravy train. People are asking, ‘to what end should I vote?’
But these elections are critical as they offer a chance to correct things. Based on the IFP’s manifesto launch for the coming election, I’ve got a sense there’s a real urge among people to make use of the election. The message I am hearing is, ‘We are troubled but, fair enough, we will vote’.
I have a strong sense that this coming election will be a landmark one. So many expectations hinge on it, from economic growth, jobs and social cohesion, to regional integration – all things required to turn our situation around.
I come from a province where we’ve had political violence and I’ve been saying to young people: ‘Let’s take our country back, but not through the barrel of a gun’.
I am the youngest of five children born and raised in the Imfume district of KwaZulu-Natal. I matriculated at Port Shepstone High School and went to the University of KZN where I studied political science and community development. At university I joined the party’s student wing, became branch chair and served as national student spokesperson. I was on the national executive of the IFP Youth Brigade and was elected national chair in 2011, before being sent to Parliament in 2012.
Young people in my province want the dignity of a job; they want to fend for themselves. So many rural people say, ‘We slog it out for 12 years in schools which are under-resourced, living in conditions of dire poverty, travel many kilometres to school and then we pass matric – and that’s the end of it.”
NSFAS, the financial aid scheme is in disarray and there’s limited space in the higher learning institutions. The education system does not work. People ask ‘What’s the point of going to school when we won’t get a job?’ The whole system just fails young people.
Our political environment at present is toxic. We’re dealing with increased levels of populism, anchored by a drive for power. Increasingly people are resorting to violence as a means to corrective action. We have seen violent, vulgar and disrespectful scenes playing out in Parliament. When the holiest of holies, Parliament, finds itself in that kind of situation society will mirror that behaviour as a means to solving other problems. That’s why you have an escalation in violent service delivery protests. A noble cause is expressed in burning down of libraries etc. People tend to conduct themselves in a way consistent with that of their leaders.
When I left high school in 2005, our principal said to us: ‘As you go out into the world, never let things replace people’. That’s stayed in my head. I strongly believe I am in the duty of serving people. I want to at least leave behind a better South Africa than I found.
I think that in this election parties like the IFP that have been written off by pundits will be the comeback kids and be a huge influence in the future discourse of the country. We are now governing 13 municipalities in KZN and we also co-govern with the DA in the City of Johannesburg. If you look at the by-election trajectory, in the main it speaks to an IFP that’s growing. We have a proven track record of service delivery.
My constituency is the Umzinyathi district which covers towns like Msinga and Greytown.
I had the honour of being deployed to Nkandla for a while. The (IFP) mayor Thami Ntuli is doing well there. His name, through no fault of his own, is associated with all that was wrong with the Zuma years. But the IFP mayor is cleaning up Nkandla.
Just think: the municipality’s budget is R181m a year to service 14 municipal wards – and here, in the middle of Nkandla, you have a homestead for R246m, servicing one family… There is no better example of how the Zuma regime worked.”
ANC MP in the NCOP
The younger MPs in the ANC should not have to be involved and co-opted into the fights of the older generations. Most issues relating to corruption do not involve us at all. I have focused on what I am supposed to do as an MP and have not allowed myself to get sidetracked by the politics of some of our older members.
I was born in the East Rand and still live in Benoni. I’ve been an MP since 2014. I grew up in a politically active family – some lived in exile and some are still active in politics. I have was always been involved in community and volunteer work. I joined the ANC Youth League in 2000 and served in the ANC branch executive committees of different wards and branches in Benoni, where there are great disparities between poverty and wealth.
I studied psychology and am now doing a degree in economics. I am the youngest Member of Parliament for the ANC, but in the next administration there will be quite a few younger than me, which is a very good thing.
The years of Jacob Zuma’s presidency were demoralising. It was difficult, in the public eye, to detach oneself from him because, being part of the ANC, we were all tainted with the same brush. It was really unfair.
I feel much better about being a public representative under President Cyril Ramaphosa. I can go out with much less baggage.
A lot of people are disappointed in the ANC, given that, for many, their quality of life has not changed and there is still so much inequality.
What disturbs me most about South Africa today is the resurgence of racism. I come from a mixed-race family. My mom is coloured, my dad is Indian and, growing up, it was never a problem that we had different races in our family.
Our government policies mean that many liberties have been given to women at the expense of men and it makes them feel inadequate – an unintended consequence of wanting to equalise society. You do so at the expense of someone else, who then gets to a point where they fight back.
It disturbs me that the ANC is taking too long to modernise from the way the party is structured, how we do things and the culture of the organisation. The world is moving fast.
Some of us in the ANC don’t believe the exiles and freedom fighters are still relevant to lead either the country or the ANC. It is failing to stay relevant.
There’s definitely a new energy coming up from the younger people in the ANC. It is evident in Gauteng, where the oldest member of our executive is 51. We have nobody from the UDF, no exiles, no Robben Islanders… in fact there is nobody here from the pre-1970s – the only such executive committee in the country.
It’s not that older members hold back the party, it’s that there is a constant fight between what’s relevant and current versus what is known, safe, tried and tested. Our views of how to fix things are different. We really need the old to go and the new to come in.
My long-term plan is to work in a multinational organisation like the United Nations. I don’t want to be 60 and still at Parliament.
My hope is that South Africans will become their own liberators. Increasingly they are finding their voice, which is putting pressure on politicians. South Africans are beginning to demand a certain kind of politician.
South Africans have a lot to be grateful for. If we focus on what unites us, we can be a great country.
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