Two and a half years of pure magic

2014-06-11 10:00

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Working in Lindiwe Mazibuko’s office for two and half years has been an incredible opportunity for me.

Fresh out of an exam, I had to do my job interview in November 2011 telephonically, which was extremely intimidating. It was the day after Black Tuesday, when the Secrecy Bill was passed by the National Assembly.

Lindiwe asked me more about the bill and how in its current form it would infringe on media freedoms. She also asked how I would have constructed a press statement on this issue. Having never seen, let alone written, a press statement, I closed my eyes and, with great confidence, let words fly.

After a while, I heard chuckles on the other end of the line. It was a wrap. They would never hire an inexperienced 22-year-old student.

Much to my surprise, in the weeks to follow, I was bidding farewell to my family at the airport, heading off to Cape Town.

Obviously overdressed, my first day at the office was strange. I was met by a guy who did not look much older than me, who introduced himself as Ms Mazibuko’s chief of staff and tasked me with going through annual reports.

Later that day, I met Lindiwe, who sat me down on her couch, asked about my move to Cape Town and offered to help in any way possible.

Two cups of tea later, we had discussed the world, politics, feminism and everything else that would inform conversation in many of our trips across the country.

That was the relationship Lindiwe had with her staff – professional and compassionate.

Three moments stand out for me during my time in her office. It was at these times I was reminded once again why I had chosen to do what I do.

The first was the day we announced, with other opposition leaders, that we would be putting forward a motion of no confidence against President Jacob Zuma.

Hours before, in a meeting with seasoned politicians, Lindiwe took control of that meeting like the leader she is, in the most assertive and graceful manner. I was inspired.

The second moment was when we marched to the ANC headquarters in Joburg to highlight the plight of millions of unemployed South Africans.

Not long after we started, we received news that the SA Police Service was battling to keep armed ANC supporters from breaking through the barrier they had created.

It became clear to everyone the situation would become violent. Security bellowed instructions for us to get off the truck and get into cars, and the focus would be to get DA supporters to safety. Lindiwe refused to get off the truck. She started singing Siyaya.

Fear was thick in the air. As the sea of yellow ANC T-shirts got closer and closer, the crowd sang louder and louder. I got goose bumps watching it happen. I remember thinking to myself: “Now that is leadership!”

The most moving moment in my time in this office must have been the day of Nelson Mandela’s memorial ceremony in Parliament.

While Lindiwe had made a point of never involving her family in her work, that day we saw something we had never seen before. I remember listening to her sombre tribute to the father of our nation and having an absolute meltdown as she went off script.

I soon realised she was delivering a personal tribute to Madiba while remembering her own late father. For someone who seldom speaks about her family, it was an absolute tear-jerker listening to her recount the day her family went to Virginia Airport to greet Madiba as he landed shortly after he was released from prison.

She said that was the first time she had seen her father make a political statement when he raised his fist in the air to say Amandla to the man who had sacrificed so much for what we often take for granted today.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a colourful start to a career if it weren’t for downright weird headlines.

Sometime last year, Lindiwe sat down for a profile interview with the Daily Voice. When she was asked about whether or not she had someone special in her life, she delivered her standard response, which was something along the lines of not discussing her personal life in the media.

The reporter pressed on and asked whether she ever gets approached by men who are interested in her. She innocently answered that South Africans, men and women, are not a shy bunch and that she gets approached by many people even on Twitter.

The reporter relentlessly probed for the sake of clarity whether she also gets approached by women and Lindiwe candidly responded: “Absolutely!”

In typical Daily Voice fashion, the next day’s headline read: “Lesbians love me!” We never let her forget that interview. At the end of the day, she managed to achieve her goal of making Parliament the centre for public debate in an effort to ensure the institution remained relevant to ordinary South Africans.

As I leave the office of the parliamentary leader to gain civil service experience in the Western Cape government, I take with me invaluable experience in the world of political communication.

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