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Chief whip of the DA in Parliament, John Steenhuisen. (Photo: Nasief Manie)
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There is absolutely no correlation between those who are good and conscientious servants of the people who elected them, and university degrees, writes Melanie Verwoerd.
family member, who I did not think was particularly religious, emailed me the
following Bible verse from Proverbs:
There are six things the Lord hates—
no, seven things he detests:
haughty (arrogant) eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that kill the innocent,
a heart that plots evil,
feet that race to do wrong,
a false witness who pours out lies,
a person who sows discord in a family.
that sound a lot like our politicians?" asked the sender.
we saw a furious debate on the necessity for academic qualifications for members
of Parliament. This was sparked by a decision by the DA in KwaZulu-Natal to
back a proposal that whips in Parliament should have a post graduate qualification.
This seemed clearly aimed at the DA's chief whip in the National Assembly, John
Steenhuisen, who has no university degree.
quickly descended into a social media spat between members of the EFF and DA,
with the wearers of mine and domestic worker outfits arguing that MPs should
have some form of tertiary qualification.
Visit News24 Voices for informed and expert opinions on the news
The issue was
quickly picked up by the media as was Steenhuisen's excellent response during a
debate in Parliament.
totally baffled that this issue was even raised in our country. It smacks of the
worst intellectual snobbery and goes against the spirit of the Constitution.
Of course I
will never diminish the tremendous value of formal education. I come from an
academic family, with both parents having worked and lectured at Stellenbosch
University. I have insisted that both my kids get at least a master's degree –
the rest is up to them.
all have multiple degrees as have, of course, my parents. I have three.
there is one thing I know for sure, it is that no number of degrees can make
you a good parliamentarian.
I was part
of that extraordinary Parliament of 1994. Yes, there were many people who were
highly qualified academically, but many were not. I recall one member of
Parliament who could not read or write. Yet, she spoke all 11 official languages.
She got children and grandchildren to read the paperwork for her – and she was
more prepared than 90% of MPs would be today for committee meetings.
multiple degrees, I knew nothing of the intricacies of Parliament when I was
elected. Frankly, until a few years earlier I had known very little about
politics in general.
What I had
learned about being a good political representative I had learned on the
streets of the townships, in the community halls and in the shacks of this
country. I was given brilliant training by people who often had no formal
education. They might not have passed Standard 5, but they knew political
ideology inside out.
importantly, they understood what was required of good political representatives.
representative was someone who was willing to serve (as oppose to govern or
rule) those that put them there. It was someone who would be more inclined to
listen than talk and someone who would not steal the resources that were meant for
those who they were serving. It was someone who went into Parliament not as a
career but because they felt a calling to do so.
parliamentarians and I were vigorously tested against these criteria in regular
community report meetings that we felt obligated to have.
controversy should prompt us to again ask what characteristics and value
systems we want to see in our elected representatives as a matter of urgency,
since all the political parties are in the process of drawing up their lists of
MPs in advance of next year's election.
Over the last
two decades the quality of representation in this country has seriously
declined. I often visit Parliament to observe committee meetings and National Assembly
sessions. At times I want to cry in despair at the level of the debate, or rather,
the total lack thereof.
I watch how
MPs who have not bothered to read their documents revert to racial stereotypes
and insults. I go to meeting after meeting where only a handful of MPs arrive.
In chamber I listen to racial insults being hurled by the back benchers of all
political parties and I watch how some political parties try consistently to disrupt
Let me be clear that there are many MPs who
work incredibly hard and take their jobs as representatives of the people very
seriously. But many don't – and they don't deserve to be there.
But there is absolutely no correlation between those who are good and conscientious servants of the people who elected them, and university degrees. Instead of debating this arrogant nonsense, we should have another serious look at who we want as members of Parliament.
- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland.Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.
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