Eskom Inquiry chair opens up about her journey from a small town to Parliament

Zukiswa Rantho
Zukiswa Rantho

You may recognise Zukiswa Rantho as the chairperson of Parliament’s Eskom Inquiry, but before she became an ANC MP Rantho was a teacher and cut her teeth as a shop steward in the South African Democratic Teachers Union.

Fin24 spoke to Rantho after the Eskom Inquiry wrapped up, at the time Rantho had received final submissions from the public and the committee was compiling a report of the evidence they collected. Rantho had received telephonic threats relating to the inquiry, but said that the police informed her they had tracked down the person who called her, as the caller had not tried to hide the number.

Apart from the challenges of chairing the inquiry, Rantho shared more of her upbringing and journey to Parliament. Born in Jansenville in the Eastern Cape, Rantho said that the town is so small and if you asked for the Kulas (her maiden name) you will find her parents hand her family. “That is the only Kula family.”

Rantho’s political career started in 1976, when she was still a pupil. Teaching time was often disrupted by political developments, she recalled. She eventually matriculated at the Nathaniel Pamla High School in the Bantu State Ciskei. “I joined the ANC Youth league as a member of a branch called Jansenville Youth or JAYCO. And I was serving on the education desk of the ANC Youth League.”

Her interest in the student movement picked up while she was completing her teaching diploma in the 1980s. She later joined the ANC Women’s league after getting married.

Natural progression

Rantho said her move from teaching to politics happened naturally. “It was just a natural thing that happens. You could see what was happening outside and you got involved, by virtue of being in that community.”

Rantho then swiftly moved up the ranks from sitting on branches to provincial leadership. She was elected as an MP in 2009 and is now part of the portfolio committee on public enterprises.

In Rantho’s experience, South Africans are engaged with what’s happening in Parliament. “They will ask you on Parliament issues when they meet you. They will even ask you about a committee that you don’t serve in,” she said. “People really have interest and they need to have interest because Parliament passes laws. Parliament passes budgets.”

People were also interested in the Eskom Inquiry, because Eskom was turning off the lights at municipalities which do not pay, she explained. 

“If there was no corruption within the entity, would we find ourselves in the positions that we are in now - like having an inquiry into Eskom?”

Rantho said that the most important message South Africans must take from the inquiry is that corruption is evil. Secondly, in their places of employment they should not be corrupt and that their rights should never be at the expense of others'rights. “There is no right in corruption,” she emphasised.

Chairing the inquiry cost Rantho a few friendships. “I lost some of my friends who do not see that what I am doing as helping the country. Instead they see it as being promoting white monopoly capital.” But similarly many others have encouraged her for what she is doing.

Rantho said she likes to balance the pressure of her job by including time to meet with friends and family. “I like socialising,” she said. “Sometimes when I get to their houses and if they are watching  the inquiry- I would ask them to switch off the TV. Then we would interact with ordinary things on the ground.”

As for the lessons she’s learned in her political career, Rantho said that with every step you take, someone is watching you. “Somehow you have an influence – whether bad or good,” she said.

“I try my best to be an ordinary South African… but people will remind me every now and then, wherever I am they will remind me of my work.”

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