Mike Masutha: The reluctant politician

2014-06-01 15:00

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Newly appointed Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Michael Masutha lifts the ­newspaper until it almost touches his nose.

“I literally have to kiss the paper if I want to read print. And if the lighting is not so good, I can’t even read print,” says Masutha, describing how he is partially sighted as a result of being born with a cataract in his eye.

Ironically, it is Masutha’s disability that led to a career in politics. He says he went to Parliament “kicking and screaming”. “When I left varsity in 1990?...?it was my dream to practise law and have fun like Barry Roux, but each time I got hijacked into something else.”

Born in Valdezia in Limpopo, Masutha (49) grew up in the village of Shayandima and later studied law at the University of the North and Wits University.

After qualifying as a lawyer, he spent three years working at Lawyers for Human Rights, fighting for the rights of the disabled. He was involved in working towards the UN adopting measures to recognise disability as a civil rights issue, fought for disabled people in courts and ensured that disability rights were recognised under our new dispensation.

In 1996, Masutha joined the department of social development as its head of legal services. “[Three years later] I received a phone call and was told my name was number one on the list of names proposed by Disabled People SA to the ANC, of their preferred candidates to go to Parliament.

“I tried to ignore it because I didn’t think I was political material. I knew very little about politics except for activism.”

After 15 years as a “jack of all trades” in Parliament, Masutha was shocked to be made deputy minister of science and technology last year and more surprised when President Jacob Zuma announced that he would be the new minister of justice.

So what does the new minister see as his top priority?

“The primary thing?...?is what is it that we to do to reduce levels of crime and corruption in society and instil greater confidence in the justice system.” It’s not just about bringing the bad guys to book either?–?it’s about prevention.

“What are the other things we can do in collaboration with other role players to prevent another child from being raped, another woman from being killed, another house from being burgled?” he asks.

On the merging of the justice and correctional services ­departments, he won’t strictly speaking call it a “merger”, saying there are still two deputy ministers for each portfolio.

“I see parallel streams but where convergence comes to the fore?...?for example, the system of diversion, when you try to keep people who shouldn’t be in jail out of jail, that requires coordination.”

It remains to be seen if Masutha has the political clout to manage such a powerful portfolio.

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