Local Government Elections



I have been meaning for sometime to write about my brief flirtation with party politics, when I stood as a ward Councilor this past election. In summary it was an interesting experience. Bland way of putting it I am sure, but really the speed at which things happen, Wade Van Niekerk setting a new record, Castor Semenya winning gold, a new Mayor in Egoli.

Interesting sums up my experience rather neatly.

So to begin with, why did I put my name forward? I did so, because the opportunity presented itself. My father has been involved in politics for a very long time and thus over the years I have cultivated an interest in politics, development, and social justice issues more broadly. And this was an avenue I was keen to explore and come to understand better.

I don’t belong to the school of thought that says ALL politicians are corrupt,- don’t get me wrong I am not a praise signer, and don’t think that politicians or public servants are never up to a good amount of “skelemheid”. I feel, however, irritated by people who say, “nothing has changed in SA”. That sentiment combined with the idea that only corrupt people enter politics has a devastating effect on the national psyche. I also feel that if we keep repeating that only ‘corrupt people want to enter public office’ as a mantra. Individuals who would be excellent candidates to hold public office will be dissuaded and we will have a self-fulfilling prophecy.

We need to support people, especially young people who want to enter public office and we need to keep working at building a more inclusive, more caring South Africa. This needs to be done and we need to encourage people to put their hands up and play a part in building our country. Veterans of the liberation years also need to create space for young people to assume leadership roles. These icons and heroes who have a wealth of experience need to act as guides and advisers, but need to step back from active leadership. One idea would be to set up a training programme that allows young people working on community issues in their area to partner with councilors and MPs. This would serve all interested parties well, for a young passionate individual wanting to see change they will gain knowledge and experience of the inner workings of democracy, its strengths and limitations. For a Councilor or MP it creates a space for open dialogue between themselves and their constituents.

COPE is a tiny party and I was under no illusion of my actually winning seat. For me it was to enjoy the experience of what the opportunity presented. The first thing I learned is that for a party to have a chance at election success they need money. COPE had to rely on volunteers and there was no way they could compete with the DA or the ANC. Which brings me to a very important point. To make sure we don’t take the USA route, we really need to have transparency regarding party funding. South Africans friends, this is an issue we must adopt and support the public campaigns like the Right to Know on this issue.

The part that I most enjoyed was participating in the TV and radio debates. I liked the interaction with the other candidates and the enthusiasm and passion people displayed. I didn’t like having to answer for the actions of party members and party leadership, but such is the nature of party politics.

What was also apparent was that at the events I participated in, there were NO young woman. At most of the engagements I was at, I was pretty much the only woman. Politics is still a man’s game. Which is why I am thus unsurprised by the stance of the ANC woman’s league when the 1 in 3 protesters made their bold statement when the President spoke at the IEC results.

I really appreciate the importance of institutional culture. What I hope for is that at all levels and in different settings in SA that culture can be diverse, respectful and nurturing.

My experience of working in a hyper masculine environment was pale in comparison to what my sister in law Yumna Moosa experienced you can watched her video here http://www.capetalk.co.za/articles/15657/yumna-moosa-exposes-bullying-of-junior-doctors-in-a-youtube-video

I draw attention to this, because people often ask if feminism is relevant. I believe it and has a significant role to play in transforming workspaces and society more broadly.

Perhaps it is the confluence of capitalism and masculinity that leads to these toxic work situations, where everyone needs to be “hardcore”. To show how tough you are, you need to be angry and disrespectful. I had an experience once where it was commonplace for my colleagues to swear at each other and to burst into fits of anger with each other because that was the best way to illustrate displeasure with the inequality in society. Speaking respectfully or calmly with one’s colleagues or the mere suggestion of wanting to have a work-life balance was viewed with hostility. Commitment, real commitment could only be measured by anger, disrespect and sheer rudeness and bullying.

I mention this because those in managerial roles need to create work environments that support diversity and where people are respected in their jobs and in their respective roles, and very importantly where it is no longer necessary to show your commitment or passion by not attempting to lead a healthy, balanced life.

There are two other incidents that stand out for me with regard to my election experience. The first is that I met a woman from the Local People’s party- “local is lekker” party. I was totally shocked by her statements. She preferred to be called coloured – which is fine, but the racism and hostility she showed for black African people set my teeth on edge. When I asked her about it, an aspect was economic and I quote “The ANC and DA throw us away like used condoms”.

At one of the 1001 SA Stories session MR Dinga Sekwebu spoke about the tension between coloureds and black Africans in Cape Town. In it he explained the animosity that arose because of apartheid and the fighting over limited resources

if you haven’t seen it please do https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tI051G2NTuI

1001 South African stories is an oral history project that aims to capture and document the stories of South Africans. The purpose of this is to fill gaps in our knowledge of our recent history. (Please like the FB page and share the videos.)

In any event it reminded me that we need to do a lot more work on race relations between the blacks of our country – divide and conquer worked very well. We need to think about black on black relations and explore those dynamics and hopefully reach a point beyond acrimony.

Recently Athol Trollip, (a White Xhosa speaker) was sworn in as Mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay. It is a sign that our democracy is alive and kicking. Furthermore this has dealt a substantial blow to the Matthew Theunissen’s in our society. This should make it clear to white South Africans that they too are part of South Africa, and that they can also play a role in building a prosperous South Africa. I hope these elections go some way in dispelling myths about lack of opportunities for white South Africans. As a nascent democracy we must delight in the knowledge that we had largely peaceful elections and celebrate that there was a shift in power in the major metros without violence. I say Mazeltov South Africa, we did well!

I am not sure if party politics is for me. I think I would be more enthusiastic if there was a Justin Trudeau like leader and not only because he is gorgeous (and I am madly in love with him). But because his style of hopeful politics is what appeals to me. It provides a vision and invites us to collaborate on attaining that vision.

I also hope that given our most recent elections that when people speak about SA they can speak in more measured terms, I find it very problematic and just downright false when people say things haven’t changed. I also feel that the way we speak has consequences. The USA is the perfect example of this. It was okay to besmirch Obama under the guise of policy because he is Black. Racism was often the key ingredient in attacking his policy positions and set the scene for a bigot like Donald Trump to mount a successful bid to become the Republican Presidential candidate. I too wish Obama closed the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and did more for peace in the ME. He was successful in many other areas and his charm, humor, and great oratory skills have made a lastly impression on me, and I am sure others reading this.

We still have a long road to travel in SA, but I for one continue to be optimistic and hopeful about the future of my country. I am still glowing with pride thinking about Wade van Niekerk and Castor Semenya. Their courage and tenacity is the stuff Hollywood movies are made from. And they are our own!

Shehnaz Cassim-Moosa



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